Specialists offer tips for digitizing family memories
Many families keep old home videos and photos stashed away until a family reunion prompts these treasures to be dusted off and enjoyed once again.
Yet, with time, if not stored properly, film reels will deteriorate and photos will fade, making the need to digitize and preserve these memories all the more urgent.
Some local specialists offer advice for ensuring quality digitization whether it’s done professionally or at home.
Digitizing film reels and VHS tapes
Ralph and Mel Squiers, owners of Videomaster Productions on Merrimon Ave., Asheville, have been converting old movies and tapes to digital formats for more than 20 years.
One of the biggest mistakes customers make is keeping home movies stashed in boxes in the attic. For film reels, the hot environment causes the film to shrink or become brittle and break, which then can’t be properly fed through the projector. The film also falls victim to what Ralph calls ‘vinegar syndrome,’ where acetic acid is released, emitting a vinegar smell and quickly reducing the film’s life span to 20 months or less.
Instead, film reels are best stored in a cool, dark area.
Little can be done to repair damaged film.
“The best we can do is try to make the [technology] play as well as it did originally,” Mel said. “We can’t transform something that’s in old and terrible condition into high definition quality.”
If eight hours of film were recorded on a two-hour lower end VHS tape, digitizing the tape is not going to improve the quality of the video, Mel said. Three sizes of film – 16 mm, 8 mm and super 8 mm - can be digitized at home through an off the wall transfer, Ralph said.
The film is fed onto a projector while a video camera records the image being projected onto the white screen. For reels with sound, an audio cable can be connected from the projector to the camcorder to preserve the sound quality while eliminating the noise interference from the projector. A cable is then run from the camcorder to transfer the movie to the computer where it is burned to a DVD using the appropriate editing software.
One of the biggest disadvantages to digitizing film at home, Ralph said, is the lack of control most machines afford to ensure a quality picture.
At his business, Ralph feeds the film through a top-of-the-line Telecine projector, which contains built-in color correction and flicker adjustment mechanisms. Because the original film was shot at a slower frame per second speed than the running speed of the video, without the proper projector, off the wall transfers result in excessive flickering.
Instead of recording a projected image on a camcorder, Ralph feeds the image from the projector onto a television screen, which is then recorded onto a mini DV where he can make proper adjustments to the film focus, framing and exposure. To Ralph’s knowledge, no local stores sell or refurbish projectors; instead, he recommends shopping on eBay or at thrifts stores and yard sales to find the right equipment.
Digitizing and restoring old photos
To prevent fading, family photos should be kept away from humidity and direct sunlight and, if at all possible, stored beneath UV glass, said Dan Palmer, manager of Ball Photo Supply in Asheville. As a general rule, color photos fade faster than black and white shots – lasting anywhere from 30 to 10 years depending on storage conditions.
Unlike digitizing reels of film, the equipment for digitizing and restoring family photos – a flatbed scanner with a light source at the top and Adobe Photoshop CS6 – are much easier to come by.
Scan images at the highest resolution or dots per inch (dpi) possible. The bigger the desired print, the higher the dpi; Palmer advises a 2400 dpi for an 11X14 print. Larger photos must be scanned in pieces and spliced together in Photoshop.
For the best printing results, print from a pigment based, instead of dye based ink jet printer, such as a Cannon, Epson or Hewlett Packard, Palmer said.
Sidebar - While most scanners contain photo restoration software, Palmer recommends utilizing a few restoration techniques in Photoshop for a cleaner image.
Color correction – For faded photographs, utilize the ‘curves’ panel under the ‘image adjustment’ menu. Adjust the brightness and contrast by using the black eyedropper to select the darkest part of the photo and the white eyedropper to select the lightest part of the photo. The photo automatically adjusts to your selections.
Repairing ripped or missing sections – Use the clone stamp tool to sample a similar section of the photo that is intact. Select the appropriate brush size with a feathered edge and run over the missing or ripped section with the clone tool to recreate it based on the sample.
Removing dust and scratches – Using the healing brush tool (the icon that looks like a Band-Aid), sample a part of the photo similar to that with the defect by pressing the ‘Alt’ key and clicking the mouse. Then, place the cursor over the dust or scratch and click to eliminate it