Well, it is summer time and life is supposed to be about leisure. Therefore, I thought instead of writing some treatise on imagery correction or our focus on customer service, I would share with you an elegant and outstanding video from Kodak. This makes me feel like my old history teacher who used to take us outside for “class” towards the end of the school year to enjoy the nice weather – “class” being a loose term for a bunch of 17 year olds running around the school grounds at Oak Park High. Just click on the video below and enjoy!
This runs about six minutes – see below for the shorter version
We knew before we launched ScanCafe that the care and safety of customer orders would be paramount to success. Therefore, we spent the better part of a year (2006) and a couple of hundred thousand dollars of our own money investing in the logistics and support processes that are so critical to our success. We put this in place and heavily tested it prior to taking a single customer order. We have built a phenomenal back end infrastructure that allows us to physically track thousands of packages on a daily basis. On top of this, we created a set of database management tools that can tell me, at a moment’s notice, where every single ScanCafe customer order is located, anywhere on the globe.
It was also important to us to tie our name to a global leader in shipping – so we have fully integrated our logistics and database management with that of UPS. After placing your order at www.scancafe.com you simply print out a fully completed UPS label from your computer – you will notice that there are several barcodes on the label. The one at the bottom is the ScanCafe barcode – it is this barcode that provides the platform for our logistical triumph. Everywhere that your order goes inside of either UPS or ScanCafe, we track your order by that barcode. Automation is key to logistical achievement.
Anyway, we thought we had a pretty phenomenal system – and our track record of 10,000,000 images processed without a single order loss supports this – but compared with the magicians at UPS, we are still neophytes. Check out this story about a typical day in the Worldport UPS facility where over one million packages a day are sorted. It is my goal to have tens of thousands of ScanCafe packages coming through this amazing facility every night. Towards this goal, we will continue to make logistical expertise and the laser focus of customer care pillars of ScanCafe.
A major reason people choose to have their analog images converted into digital files is fear of loss. We all know that the first thing we want to grab when running out of our burning or flooding home (besides our family and pets) is our photographs. Unfortunately, it is too hard to grab 15 albums, the framed photos off the walls, the stacks of slide carousels, negatives from the filing cabinet, etc, etc, so in such situations many irreplaceable and priceless family memories literally go up in smoke. This is exactly why I always say “just scan your images – whether you use ScanCafe or not”.
So, it was with great concern that I followed the wild fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains last week. I knew that many people would lose their homes and, in so doing, lose their precious memories. Thankfully, no residents or brave firefighters were injured in the blaze but dozens of homes were lost. I was in Palo Alto on the 23rd and the smoke was palpable from 35 miles away. I was speaking with a neighbor of mine who is a Firefighter with the Redwood City Fire Dept who had spent a long weekend battling the conflagration. He said that it was always unfortunate to see the charred images hanging on walls or to come across a destroyed wedding album.
Therefore, we at ScanCafe would like to do what we can to help the victims of the Santa Cruz fire. If you are such a person and have photos, slides or negatives that have been damaged as a result of this fire, I would like you to contact us. We are offering free restoration services for up to 20 images. You would be amazed at what our graphics artists can accomplish so please don’t assume an image is beyond repair until we get a chance to look at it. Simply call us at 866-745-0392 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will get back to you shortly with next steps.
Our deepest condolences for the losses suffered – let us know if we can help. Hopefully recovering some precious images will provide some consolation.
PMA Magazine has dedicated a cover story titled “Tale of Two Scanners” to the nascent but quickly growing scanning market in its Trends & Technology section. As regards our fun little business, both “Trends” and “Technology” are apropos. In the 20 months that we have been in operation, we have experienced phenomenal growth, thanks mostly to our fantastic affordability and our revolutionary “freedom of choice” model that allows customers to review images online and delete the ones they don’t wish to keep. We have also seen an increasing level of awareness in the minds of both the consumers and the pros which has led to our current environment of fledgling network effect, but we have a long way to go. I don’t have data to support this but probably well over 90% of Americans wake up in the morning and don’t realize that such a service exists. So although the trends are pointing north, we need to continue to do what we can to build category awareness. So getting continued coverage in the press is critical to not only ScanCafe, but to this industry as a whole. As I have said in previous posts – I just want people to convert their imagery. Allowing memories to languish in closets is just not acceptable.
Having best in class quality, of course, helps in building awareness as well (see previous post re: Money Magazine). This is where technology comes into play – to a point. ScanCafe and the other folks in the market use the best equipment and software available. But, guess what, no technology exists that can effectively manipulate or correct imagery in an automated fashion. In a nutshell, technology works where patterns are evident – and patterns are hard to define in an image. For instance, let’s say you have an image that has too much contrast in one section but the rest of the image is acceptable. Technical solutions would apply a correction, in this case adjusting the contrast, to the entire image as opposed to just the section where the correction was needed, resulting in a poor or dull image. This is why ScanCafe provides such outstanding quality – we bridge the technical gap with the trained human eye. Our technicians and graphics artists in Bangalore are truly world class and can apply the human attention that an image deserves, resulting in sharp, crisp images that can be greatly enjoyed by the customer. Again, it is critical for people to convert their analog imagery – but make sure you do so in an environment that results in high levels of quality.
A photograph is expected to capture the exact image seen by the human eye at that moment in time. This is an accurate expectation IF the lighting conditions are acceptable and have balanced exposure, meaning no major shadows, no major bright spots contrasting with dark areas etc. Most of the time, photographs have a good exposure; however, there are a lot of photographs captured where the light is acceptable for the human eye but not for the camera. This results in a “dark image” that does not resonate with the memory of the photographer.
One of our most challenging tasks in image editing and optimization is the “brightening” of dark images. This is a very tricky issue due to the subjectivity of the assessment and the individual’s knowledge of photography. The determination of whether or not an image is “too dark” depends upon:
Exposure of the image: photos taken indoors with low lighting, outdoors with shadows, or with excessive flash typically suffer from image darkness issues.
Calibration of the monitor being used for viewing the digital image (for example, your laptop can show a very different image in comparison to a stand alone LCD monitor). In many instances, the image is actually fine but the monitor isn’t calibrated correctly. Run a basic test on monitor calibration.
An individual’s preference on the degree of brightness/contrast (for example, professionals and amateur photographers have zero tolerance for brightening images whereas average point-and-shoot photographers are only interested in the main object in the image looking nice and bright).
Lastly, in brightening an image, “grain” and “highlights” will develop that may or may not be acceptable to the viewer. Typically, a professional or an amateur has a very good understanding of highlights and grain.
A picture is worth a thousand words and here I am writing an essay…stop! See the image below. We tested this image on 20 customers and asked them “which one do you like the most?” 2 chose A, 5 chose B, 10 chose C and 3 chose D. Different customers chose different images as the “ideal” one. Professionals leaned towards “A”, amateurs and semi-professionals chose “B or C”, the average point and shoot photographer chose “D”. In our standard offering for scanning and image enhancement services (19 cents for negatives and 24 cents for slides), our graphics artists spend about 3 minutes on each image, which will take you from “A” to “C”.
I chose an image with poor lighting as an example primarily because this type is by far the most prevalent example of a “dark image”. People tend to underestimate the amount of light required indoors and assume that because they can see perfectly, then the clarity will be mirrored in a photo but this isn’t the case. This is why you always see so many lights and reflectors when a professional photographer is shooting.
So how do we manage this conundrum: How bright is bright enough?
First of all, all our monitors are calibrated using the latest software and Spyder3 hardware from Datacolor. We also use only diffused ambient lighting in our work spaces. Such lighting is optimal for a graphics work environment.
Secondly, our artists do not use the generic “brightness” tool in an image editor software product such as Adobe Photoshop because doing so brightens ALL the pixels in an image without discretion, which typically ruins the image. The brightness tool will enhance the dull regions in an image, but completely over brightens the brighter regions (see window in image above, this artifact is known commonly as “blown highlights”). This is actually a good reason to use ScanCafe – because it requires the manual touch of a human to make the appropriate level of correction. ScanCafe artists use the “levels” and “curves” tool in Photoshop which allows us to selectively adjust the brightness of pixels based how bright or dark they are to begin with. We prefer to lean on the side of not brightening images too much since the change is irreversible.
Hope this helps in understanding the challenge with dark images. I would like to thank my COO, Dr. Naren Dubey, for contributing to this post. We welcome other technical questions – just let us know what we can do to help.