A couple months ago, we had a family friend who got a hold of some really old family photos. She came over and asked me if there was any way that I could convert her old slides to digital images. Since I do not own a slide scanner, I was about to tell her that there was nothing I could do, that was until I came up with a plan B.
I was holding one of her slides up to a light to see the image, when I came up with an idea.
I knew that I needed to backlight the slide to see the image, and I also knew that if I could get in close enough, I could capture a digital image of the slide. In order to get a good solid backlight, Here is what I came up with
I turned on my desktop computer and launched Microsoft Word. I then opened a blank document so that I would have a large white light behind my slides.
I tried shooting some images of an old slide and quickly realized that I needed a better way to keep everything in focus.
I set up one of my Joby Gorilla Pods and a Manfrotto clamp to hold the slides.
I then mounted my Canon 5D Mark IV camera with the Canon 100mm macro lens on my Gitzo tripod. I moved the camera so that it was right up to the slide and then manually focused the lens to get a good sharp image. I set the camera to a 2 second timer mode (so that I would not shake the camera at all), and fired a shot of each slide. (Note: you do not need an expensive tripod or camera to do this, but a decent macro lens sure helps.)
One by one, I would take a photo and then replace the slide with another one. This worked so well that I ended up going deep into my closet and finding old slides that my father had taken back in the 1950s and 1960s. I wanted to convert all these too!
Here are a couple of things I learned in the process.
- Do not put the slide too close to your monitor, as the pixels will show up behind the slide image.
- It is best to have a clip or something to hold the slides in exactly the same position. this saves you having to reposition the lens before capturing each photo.
- It is set up the camera to capture all the slide in the sideways position. If the image was in portrait mode, it was easier to capture it sideways (instead of rotating the camera each time) and then rotate it later in Photo Mechanic or Photoshop.
So…what did slides did I convert? See for yourself. And yes, that is little ole me in the photos below.
Oh – and don’t forget the other advantage to scanning old slides. You can clean them up and correct them.
For instance, here is a slide that I found of my father and brother when Dave was a newborn.
As you can see, the white balance is way off and there are lots of scratches and dirt on the slide. I adjusted the white balance in Adobe Camera Raw to warm it up. I know for sure that my dad did not have blue skin.
Then I straightened the image and cropped the border out.
But I still had a really dirty image to clean up.
I used the healing brush to remove all the larger marks on my father face and background. I then created a separate layer and ran the “Dust & Scratches” filter in Photoshop to remove a lot of the dirt from his shirt and the wall paper in the background. Ta da! I have a nice image for myself and my family to remember my father by.
And just for the fun of it, I decided to do a little more retouching. I removed the harsh shadow to the left of my father, fixed his tie, and removed the chimney sticking out of the top of his head. I know, I know…I just changed history, but even though this is not what I would share with others, it was fun to do anyways.
I hope that this inspires all of you to get that old box of slides out of the closet and start converting them to digital images for you and your family.
About the Author
Jeff Cable is a world renowned, five-time Olympic photographer having covered Beijing, Vancouver, London, Sochi and Rio. He is one of the most sought after presenters and educators in the photography space. You can find out more about Jeff on his website, follow his adventures on his blog, or reach out to him through Facebook. This article was also published here and shared with permission