The Damaging Effects of Dirt and Dampness

Slide scanning, or digitizing old film is a pretty time consuming activity. Thankfully the two can often be done at the same time – it’s pretty easy to put some film strips into the scanner and let it run while simultaneously using my camera set up to digitize the slides. But as I’ve stated before – digitizing the old analogue formats is often the easiest part of the equation. There are a couple of things that can throw a wrench in the process – dusty and damp being perhaps the biggest wrenches.

Well, dusty is rarely that bad. Between dusty or damp, dusty is the easier of the two to deal with. This is mostly because dust is dealt with before we even start digitizing. All it takes is a compressed air canister and a little soft lens brush. It is easier to clean film then slides, owing to the fact that with film you can brush the dust off the edges. Slides on the other hand are ninety nine point nine percent of the time encased in a little cardboard or plastic frame. This means that the dust can only be pushed to the edge of the frame before it gets trapped. Most of the time getting the dust to the edge is enough and it’s far enough out not to effect the final cropped image. But every so often, on particularly gritty slides, we have to go in and cut the slide out of it’s case. Once we’ve done this its much easier to gently wipe the dirt away. Dust doesn’t stand a chance. And if a few particles happen to hang on then the restoration software and the stamp tool in photoshop work wonders.

Now, slides stored in a dark damp place are quite a bit more concerning then dusty slides. Not only does the dampness make the dust adhere to the slide (creating much more work for me and the photoshop stamp tool) but damp slides seem to be the perfect petrie dish for mildew and mold. Murphy’s Law also dictates that your wedding or honeymoon images will be the images most effected. Like dust, mold can be dealt with before digitization by using a clean microfibre cloth dampened with a special type of rubbing alcohol. Truthfully, I rarely remove mold beforehand as there is too much likelihood of actually damaging the slide. Over time mold starts to make the emulsion water soluble so unless you are absolutely positive you are using isopropyl alcohol in a <98% concentration you can actually “melt/wash” away your image. And if for any reason there is even a single grain of grit on your microfibre cloth you can end up scratching your slide as you try to rub away the previous damage. Best to digitize the slide and spot correct in post.


Now that I’ve made slide restoration sound easy – lets get into this thing I casually refer to as post, or post production. Once your images have been cleaned and digitized a good majority of the restoration can happen in one program. This first program for me is Lightroom – in here I crop your images, straighten any horizons and do most of the necessary colour correction. Lightroom also gives me the capabilities to remedy red eye, (carefully) sharpen the subjects, and adjust the exposure. In many cases Lightroom is all I need to give you back a better picture then what you supplied me with.

But for those very special or very damaged images I use a second program. The legendary Photoshop. Here I can go in and completely change practically everything. I can do a myriad of different things including but not limited too – adding a person to a group shot or ‘deleting’ distracting components of an image. I change the white/colour balance of the highlights, midtones, and shadows all independently of one another. I can add different colour casts to different parts of the image (something that is somewhat detailed on the Magenta Restoration page), and last but certainly not least, I can spend hours with a couple different tools to undo the havoc that dust and mildew can wreck on a slide.

Directly below are a couple examples of how cleaning, and then post production can effect your images.

I forgot to take a picture before cleaning so this is the after cleaning, before post production shot.
If you imagine this about 20x dirtier then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what we were working with. The dust that’s left over is pretty easy to see – what you might not notice is the mildew starting to grow. See that tiny little slightly darker spot a third down from the top and a quarter over from the left? Thats the beginning of mildew.

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↓ Before and after the stamp, and patch tools.
↓ Before and after the first gentle round of colour correction.

↓ Colour correcting and lightening the harsh vignetting.d-vignette

↓ Doing a final colour correction and tweaking the exposure just every so slightly

↓ Done!! (+ a before and after slider)

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