Improving Scanned Print Sharpness and Noise


Today’s Question: I continue to scan in old paper photos to build up a digital archive of my travels past and present. The photos are 5×4 prints. I have made good progress with the Lightroom Classic to Photoshop workflow, but the problem of sharpness and noise remains. Would Topaz help? Or can you suggest anything extra/extraordinary in the Lightroom Classic to Photoshop process?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I think Lightroom Classic is very well suited to improving the overall look of these photos. For that purpose, I would focus on noise reduction and sharpening, as well as Texture, Clarity, and possibly Dehaze. If there are blemishes that need to be dealt with, I would primarily use Photoshop for that work.

More Detail: The first step here is to try to ensure you are getting the best original digital image from your analog originals. A flatbed scanner can do a good job in general, but you’ll actually likely get better results by photographing the originals. I recommend using a copy stand with lights set at a 45-degree angle above the original. I also recommend avoiding the use of glass over the original if possible, opting for a document holder that will hold by the edges to keep the print flat.

Once you have a digital image, of course, you’ll want to optimize that result. If there is color noise that can be handled very well with Lightroom Classic. I would use a moderately high value for Smoothness (around 75 or so is reasonable), a relatively low setting for Detail (generally under 10), and a moderate setting for Color (the actual noise reduction amount) as needed. The Color slider will probably call for anywhere from around 25 to perhaps as high as 75 depending on the source image.

Sharpening can be applied in the normal way but being careful not to increase the Amount too high, resulting in an enhancement of paper texture and grain, for example, rather than the overall sharpness. I would take a very modest approach to sharpening.

For the overall texture of the image, I would generally use a positive value for Clarity in order to enhance midtone contrast and perceived sharpness. Values of at least 20 and possibly much higher can be helpful. For some images you may also find that increasing the value for Dehaze helps to enhance contrast and perceived sharpness.

It is possible that a positive value for Texture could help to enhance fine detail and the overall appearance of sharpness. However, having scanned an analog print there’s a good chance that Texture will lead to problems. Instead, you might consider a slightly negative value for texture (perhaps around -10 depending on the image), with a positive value for Clarity. This will diminish fine detail from the paper and film grain, for example, while enhancing midtone contrast for the actual photo.

Obviously, the general adjustments such as Whites, Blacks, Highlights, and Shadows can also be helpful for these images. And as noted above, if there are blemishes you need to deal with those are probably best worked on in Photoshop, where among other things you have the Content-Aware technology available with several of the image cleanup tools.