Developing History – Levi Bettwieser of the Rescued Film Project

Beyond a spelling bee nightmare, the word syzygy describes an alignment, usually of celestial bodies. Recently I was sent a link to an amazing online video by the Rescued Film Project chronicling the efforts of photographer and film technician Levi Bettwieser as he hand-processed 31 rolls of World War II era film, scanned the negatives and presented the decades old never-before-seen images to the world.

After watching the video, already going viral at the time with more than half a million hits, I wanted to arrange an interview with Levi to get his thoughts on the project and the Epson scanner featured. Meanwhile, Levi sent a very complimentary note to us about his Epson Perfection V750-M Pro scanner and the many e-mails he was getting with questions about the scanner from those seeing the video.

Syzygy!

As a photographer, Levi switched from digital to film about three years ago and started processing his own film instead of sending it out to labs. His Rescued Film Project started out of pure curiosity when he would find undeveloped rolls in cameras from thrift shops. “There were these moments that people would really want to remember and have back,” he said of the images he was finding on the rolls and soon the project became a rescue mission.

Rescued image from the Rescued Film Project

Rescued image from the Rescued Film Project

After a year and a half of collecting images, the Rescued Film Project website was established along with social media channels to share the finds. The reactions were very positive and people were soon identifying locations in the online gallery. One person contacted Levi after an image from a birthday party was featured on Instagram because she had recognized her father. Levi was happy to send her the images via e-mail noting, “It’s crazy how serendipitous life can be.”

Rescued image from The Rescued Film Project

Rescued image from The Rescued Film Project

Levi chose the Perfection V750-M Pro for his own photography after doing research and determining that a drum scanner wasn’t versatile enough for the various items he would be working with. “It’s always done amazing work no matter what job I’ve thrown at it,” he said, estimating that he’s scanned around 20,000 images.

Working on the Rescued Film Project can involve 18 hour days of developing and scanning film, and Levi has seen plenty of rolls that didn’t yield any images, but it has happened on several occasions when he couldn’t see anything on a negative until he scanned it. “I like those images,” he said, “because it tells more of a story.”

Levi Bettwieser of The Rescued Film Project

Levi Bettwieser of The Rescued Film Project

Time, inadequate handling and storage can ravage undeveloped film, which is one of the reasons the World War II rolls were remarkable as the soldier who took them was very careful. “He knew he wouldn’t be able to develop them for a while,” Levi explained, “so he rewrapped all of the pictures and that was the saving grace.”

Levi with the 31 rolls of World War II film collected for the Rescued Film Project

Levi with the 31 rolls of World War II film collected for the Rescued Film Project

The identity of the photographer of the World War II rolls is still not known, but many locations have been identified in the recovered images including parts of France and Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, home to a military base that is interested in preserving some of the found images in their historical records.

One of the images in the WWII set made an emotional connection with Levi after it was scanned. “It’s a wide shot on this large boat and it’s apparent to me that it’s a religious service and they’re listening to the person way up high,” he explained. “To the left of the frame is this man looking directly at the camera and he stands out because he’s in all white and it makes me wonder why he’s looking at the camera and he’s not part of the congregation.”

This image from the World War II film made an emotional connection with Levi.

This image from the World War II film made an emotional connection with Levi.

Moving forward, Levi envisions the Rescued Film Project establishing an online community where people can tag and identify the photos. Despite the long hours, he is fully committed to the project as he recognizes a historical and personal significance to the photos he recovers. “When I’m rescuing film that is 70 years old, I have this deep respect for it,” he said. “I have this deep down respect for these images and what this film has gone through.”

Visit the Rescued Film Project at www.RescuedFilm.com.

Color Restoration: Bringing Memories Back From the Red

We’re officially into the fall and that means the Holiday Triumvirate – Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas that translate into costumes, parties, candy, food, shopping and lots of memories with friends and family.

If you’re like me, an ancient being from before the days when all pictures were stored digitally, then those holiday memories were saved in snapshots from film cameras. The snapshots would be carefully stored to be brought out years later to revel the memories of holidays long ago.

Except that a bunch of those pictures had turned red.

It’s a sad reality – pictures can fade. Many factors – from temperature to light, gasses or even the photo paper – can cause pictures to lose color and have red, green or blue overlays. The memories are still there, albeit with a bit of a different hue.

This is why one of my favorite Epson photo scanner features is Color Restoration. It’s a one-click function that balances the image and brings back the colors. Once you preview your image, selecting it and clicking the Color Restoration checkbox shows the results.

Color Restore

The Epson Scan interface with Color Restoration

During the testing phase of this feature, my mother gave me a stack of old photos from her albums that had turned red. Most were pictures of me from the Holiday Triumvirate. Some of these images immediately became favorites not because they were great pictures, but because of the memories they invoked.

Just as Halloween 2014 belonged to the Anna’s and Elsa’s of Frozen, Halloween 1977 belonged to Star Wars. Like thousands of other kids, I was immediately hooked on George Lucas’ space fantasy and could not wait to trick-or-treat in my vinyl Darth Vader costume complete with plastic mask. I even had the official Kenner lightsaber, which consisted of an inflatable yellow tube attached to a flashlight.

Vader

My 1977 Darth Vader costume – original on the left, color restored on the right.

The color-restored image on the right shows my costume in all of its black and yellow glory. It not only reminds me of how much I loved being Vader for Halloween, but also of my costume’s unfortunate fate. I’d made the mistake of hanging my Vader mask on my bedside lamp as I fell asleep, only to awake later to find the Dark Lord of the Sith melted into a black plastic puddle.

This Christmas time photo restoration reminds me not only of the cool toys I got that year, including Stretch Armstrong, whose head I seem to be ready to eat for some reason, but also of some sad events: the law that required all 1970’s household carpeting to be a hideous red-orange color and the Death of Stretch Armstrong.

Me as a wee tot with my Stretch Armstrong, original on left, restored on the right. (The carpet really was that color.)

Me as a wee tot with my Stretch Armstrong, original on left, restored on the right. (The carpet really was that color.)

For those that don’t know the toy, Stretch was a super-dude who had a rubber body filled with some kind of syrupy goo that allowed his arms, legs and torso to be stretched and snap back into shape. Seeing this photo reminds me of how my cousin convinced me to see if we could pull Stretch between two rooms, which resulted in Stretch becoming a fast moving rubber missile that went through my bedroom window. The window was fixed, but Stretch had lost too much syrupy goo and succumbed to his injuries.

So many memories come rushing back with an old photo, even beyond what is seen in the frame. I think of the photographer, my mother. Although she’s no longer with us, the memories of these holiday moments are magnified even more.

Perhaps now is the time to pull out those old boxes and albums and find those photos from Holiday Triumvirates of the past. Scan them. Use Color Restoration. Share them on social media for Throwback Thursdays. Or, slip prints into holiday cards. Best of all, let the memories come rushing back.

How Much Resolution is Enough?

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Humans are incredibly curious creatures and we like to ask the big questions such as “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” The answer, of course, is not “one, two, three *crunch*…three!” but “Do not give nocturnal predatory birds your Tootsie Pop because a lot of them are jerks.”

We also like our quantifiable data such as how many miles there are to the sun or what’s the longest palindromic word? (93 million miles and saippuakivikauppias, a 19-letter Finnish word for a lye dealer.)

Another question that humans love to ask, at least to me, is “Okay, wise guy, if scanner resolution doesn’t equal quality, how much is enough?” It’s a fair question because scanners, especially photo models, tout all kinds of really high resolution specifications. What are those 4800 and 6400 dpi ratings for?

The answer is enlargement, to embiggen, if you will.

The standard for a 1:1 image size from a scanner is generally 300 dpi. This is based on how well a typical human eye can resolve images made up of pixels (dots) at typical viewing distances of about 12”. In old printing technologies that used dot patterns lower than 150 dpi, like Golden Age comic books, the dots were very visible at normal viewing distances and it looked as if Superman’s face was covered with Kyrptonian super measles.

Given this information, if you are scanning prints or documents and want them to be reproduced at the same size, 300 dpi will give you enough pixels. Given that baseline, you can do some basic math to determine how much resolution you need for making enlargements. If you wanted to create an 8” x 10” print from a 4” x 6” original, divide the two short sides (8 ÷ 4 = 2), then multiply that by the 300 dpi base (2 x 300 = 600). The 600 dpi scan will give you enough pixels to resize up to 8” x 12” and with a little cropping (you didn’t want Uncle Schmendrick in that photo anyway) you have your 8” x 10”.

The big resolution numbers come into play when you’re scanning something very small, like a 35mm slide. If you wanted to create a 16” x 20” print from a slide (1.29” x 0.8” roughly), you can run through the formula of dividing the shorts sides (16 ÷ 0.8 = 20) and then multiplying that by 300 (20 x 300 = 6000) meaning you’d need one of our 6400 dpi models to get that big print from your slide.

Just like almost everything you learned in math class, now that you understand what the resolution numbers mean, you can let a machine do all of the actual work. In the Professional mode of your Epson scanner driver, you can leave the output resolution at 300 dpi and use the pull down menu to choose an output resolution. The driver scales the resolution accordingly and even provides a crop frame so you can see how best to crop out Uncle Schmendrick.

Epson Scan dialog box showing resolution and output size.

Epson Scan dialog box showing resolution and output size.

 

A thumbnail 35mm slide with the scaled crop frame.

A thumbnail 35mm slide with the scaled crop frame.

So in conclusion, that’s how your scanner’s resolution works. Don’t give owls candy unless you want your heart broken and please send me the contact for a good saippuakivikauppias, I’m almost out of lye.

Image: ©iStock.com/ChrisCrafter

Resolution ≠ Quality

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In my senior year of high school, I took an elective semester course in archaeology. On day one of class, the instructor wanted everyone to understand that real archaeology has no resemblance to the adventures of Henry Jones, Jr. (aka Indiana). Those of us in the classroom with bullwhips and fedoras in our backpacks were disappointed to learn that real archaeology was about slowly digging around shards of pottery with very small brushes and not about melting bad guys with ancient artifacts.

As the crew of MythBusters has demonstrated for over a decade, a lot of what is depicted in film and television is about spectacle over reality. You can sit back and enjoy the cinematic ride, but it can be hard to turn off that part of your brain that really understands how certain things work. My poor wife must cringe whenever something appears on screen that might put me into a scanner-nerd fugue state where I am compelled to explain, yet again, how “it doesn’t work that way.”

Take for instance the popular spy/action movie trope of the heroes enhancing the footage from a security camera to get a crystal clear image of the bad guy. If you’ve seen real security footage on the evening news, even the enlarged version is usually badly pixelated and motion blurred, but it seems as if every security camera in a movie is at least HD quality and can be zoomed in to see the miniature map to the bad guy’s lair hidden in the design of his cuff links. (“Hah, your fashion sense has done you in again, Baron Nefarious!”)

In working with scanners all these years, the myth of “resolution = quality” is one I’ve encountered a lot. There is a correlation with printers and the dots per inch on paper to image quality, but in scanners, the dots per inch of resolution has a lot more to do with image enlargement than quality. In an imaging system, the quality of the image is ultimately decided by the optical sensors. A scanner with a good sensor and high resolution can give you a great enlargement from small media, like a 35mm slide, but only if the source is also great.

Once at a trade show, a gentleman wanted me to scan his 35mm slide at highest resolution and was irritated that the final image wasn’t as tack sharp as the other slides I was scanning. He was not aware that his slide was simply out of focus and the scanner was enlarging exactly what it was scanning – a fuzzy, out of focus image.

As the great humorist Tom Lehrer quipped on his album That Was the Year That Was, “Life is like a sewer, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.”

The same can be said about scanning – no amount of resolution can fix a bad image.

Thoughts? Questions? Tom Lehrer Quotes? Drop me a line!