Blog | The Pros and Cons of Scanning Botanicals

The Pros and Cons of Scanning Botanicals

March 28, 2016

CU Scanner Demo copyJust like any relationship between human beings…being aware of and focusing on, the positive aspects rather than the ones we wish we could change in the other person, helps us to maximize and enjoy all that’s good. This is also true and applies to my relationship between my scanner and meFor the sake of helping anyone interested in understanding/seeing both sides, here is a litany of pros and cons starting with the latter.

 Seven Scanner Cons: 

  • Unlike a camera, it’s un-pocketable, un-transportable, un-wieldy, needs to be in a flat horizontal position and needs A/C power
  • Very minimal depth-of-field
  • Very limited ability to adjust its focus. Usually just enough to accommodate the difference between a transparency that is placed directly on the scanner glass compared to one that is slightly raised off the glass because it’s mounted between two pieces of cardboard.
  • A scanner’s light source cannot be adjusted. It is what it is. The light drops off rather quickly, almost in parallel with the distance at which the depthoffield looses sharpness. This distance is very short, after all, it’s purpose is to digitally capture two-dimensional paper or film
  • Gravity affects the botanical objects we place on the scanner glass. It causes a flattened, or to use a more technologically descriptive adjective, a “shmushed” appearance to any delicate flower, pistil or stamen that touches it due to the object’s weight and the gravitational pull.
  • The electrostatic charge of the scanner attracts every dust speck in a 100 yard radius no matter if you just cleaned the scanner flatbed glass surface a nano second ago. Oh yes, then even more troubling are the bits of detritus, pollen and bugs that deposit themselves during the process of composing
  • Speaking of composing, one has to visualize what’s being created as if one is inside the scanner looking up. Another limitation is that most objects rather than being in their natural vertical position have to be placed horizontally on the glass.

Seven Scanner Pros:

  • A soft luminescent light that due to it’s gentle quality provides evenly graduated highlights, mid-tones and shadows within a shortened depth of field and therefore ironically enhances a sense of depth and dimensionality to the subjects. Furthermore, the short range of the scanner’s focal plane appears to be in a parallel arc of diminishment with the range of illumination thus providing an additional sense of overall dimensionality to still life compositions. Hence, so many viewers remark on the three dimensionality of the compositions
  • Scanners offer the possibility of a huge digital negative. Most of the fine art on this site is scanned between 800-1200 dpi and the resulting files can be from 350 MB to 2GB. This allows for extra large prints with the capacity to depict and retain an amazing amount of detail. My “rule of thumb” guideline for scanning is “that which is closest to the glass is the sharpest and receives the most light”
  • Overcoming Gravity. This may be difficult to explain and a lot easier to see in a demonstration. (BTW I am happy to offer the latter to visitors during Open Studios, or to folks who come with a pre-arranged appointment to my studio/gallery.) I have two main ways to support the weight of objects. See illustration. 1) Extra hands. This is a device that is normally used as an aid for soldering objects. It has a set of two alligator clamps on adjustable arms that allow me to support the weight of botanicals and position them wherever I wish. 2) Using p.v.c pipe (see photo above), I have built a device that sits over the scanner and allows me to tie fishing line to it and suspend and position botanicals so they just barely touch the scanner glass, thus avoiding the “shmushing” effect mentioned earlier
  • Using the limitations to your advantage. This is even harder to explain without a demonstration. Imagine a flower being held at a 45 degree angle with the petals just barely making contact with the glass. So according to my rule of thumb mentioned above, the parts of the petals making contact with the glass are very sharp and well illuminated. The part that is from ½” to 1 ¼” is showing signs of less sharpness and a diminished amount of light. The next most distant section from about 1 ¼” to 2 ½” from the scanner glass is quite fuzzy, lacks focus and light. Now when these three aspects are seen as a whole flower there is a an enhanced interplay between the highlights, mid-tones and shadows that offers an opportunity to “paint with light and focus” and direct the eye towards areas that the artist wishes to draw attention to. It also provides an enhanced multi-dimensional depth.
  • WYSIWYG Preview. What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get, compensates for the fact that scanography requires us to imagine oneself inside the scanner looking up. Scanner software allows us to have a quick, low resolution preview. So within a few seconds we can make adjustments, rearrangements etc., to our compositions over and over as needed.
  • Gorgeous, deep, super black backgrounds are possible. (Note considerable time may be required using tools in Photoshop to eliminate the dust, detritus and pollen mentioned earlier). See another blog entry to read my son Zac’s description under – Tips: How to clean up dust and debris on a scanned image in Photoshop, and how to shorten the time required to achieve this. (Link)
  • No worries about whether the weather will cooperate. Power failures could be an issue, but no wind, blowing sand, rain, snow or sleet issues. No poison oak or ivy hazards. No schlepping lenses, tripods or other heavy gear, no getting up well before the crack of dawn, or trespassing concerns. Think of it this way, the fewer the bells and whistles…the less to go awry.




  1. Jo Kellar

    To Peter
    I have just watched your brief video on channel 722, KRCB. Your work is STUNNING!!
    How I love it- it made my morning. Thank you for your work, your vision, you ability to see the beautiful here, and to be grateful.
    Sincerely, Jo Kellar

  2. Judy Ann Ketchum

    Interesting explanation. Stimulating to think about trying this new process which I will probably have to try. Thank you for the tips and tricks.

  3. paula alsterlind

    Peter, somehow i stumbled on to your work and have spent the past few hours trying to slowly digest your manageable descriptions. YOU AND YOUR WORK HAVE MADE MY DAY! I will be contacting you and hopefully can arrange a visit, if possible during these times. Classical oil paintings of botanicals have been dreamscapes and incentives for my recreational work in oils, photography and more recently easy technology. I guess the universe thought it time for me to view a giant step into the world of scanners and the possibilities, Deep thanks for your extraordinary artistic contributions,
    Paula Alsterlind

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