Still Scanning (after all these years)

Last time we talked some about why you should be scanning your transparencies and negatives; this time a few words on how and what to do with the result.

If you are working with a reflective (print) scanner but want to do film, it must be configured so that light can be transmitted through the film to the sensor. The one that I use allows this by the removal of a reflective background built into the scanner. If you are using a dedicated film scanner, you are ready to go. As most people shoot the smaller 35 mm format, the less expensive scanners dedicated to that size are good; if you have some film in the 6 x 6 to 6 x 9 sizes, you will need either a larger format scanner like the Nikon 9000 or to compromise by using a reflective (flatbed) unit for the larger film.

Clean the film before scanning; never add to your work load on the back end if you can fix something easily on the front end. Often a soft brush or a puff of air will do the job; there are chemical cleaners available if needed, but be very careful with them and note that they will not eliminate the damage that fungus has done to film.

Scanning software is provided by the manufacturer, and is satisfactory to large degree. LaserSoft has a superior product for many different scanners, but they are too pricey for me. Depending on the erudition of your software, you will be able to influence variables of film type, focus, brightness, color and contrast as well as, in many cases, enhancing shadow detail and removing surface blemishes from the finished product. Generally speaking, you want to do what you can before pressing the scan button. It’s better to make a good digital file than to spend a lot of time trying to correct a bad one in Photoshop.

The downside to do this is that it takes some time to do it right; although batch scanners are available, they add to the expense and I don’t trust the automated decision making process. Unlike current cameras where autofocus and exposure are pretty reliable, I don’t like a lot of the judgments my scanner software makes and adjust each slide or negative independently. Once you get into the rhythm of the process, it goes pretty fast, particularly if you can be doing something else while the actual scanning is going on.

Look at your finished scan. If it looks OK, good. If not, decide whether it can be improved if you redo it and consider repeating; you won’t have to do this often. Then check the size you have. This can be set before you make the scan, but I tend to scan at full resolution then reduce the size if I don’t want the whole big file. Since I am concerned with print more than internet usage, I work at 300 dpi. Finally, save as either a tif or a high quality jpeg; this is your new digital negative. Not perfect probably, but safely stored and away from further deterioration from fading, fungus and foul-ups of the other sorts that affect film. Further tuning of the now stable file can be done at any time.

As you save your files, it’s time for some workflow discipline. Now is the time to see that the file is in the right folder - “Races,” “Family,” “My Pet Puma,” whatever works. My personal scheme would involve putting these folders inside another folder naming the year, but that’s not universal practice, and in the case of scans you will want to identify when the film was shot anyway. This can be done by typing a useful slide title, as “F Porsche-Watkins Glen-1971.”

Next add the keywords to each image. Photoshop and Photoshop Elements and a number of other programs can do the job, and if you have or expect to ever have more than a few hundred images, you need to do this. Create and save a keyword file as you go; in Photoshop once a keyword is filed it can be added to one or multiple images by highlighting them and clicking on the appropriate keywords. A given image file might have several keywords: “Race” “Flying Lizard” “GT3RSR” “Mid-Ohio” “Long, Patrick” might all wind up on the same file. Keywords then both identify the image when you look back later, and provide a means to search your database for an image tagged with any of the keywords you use. With the proper software, you can find a specific image or group of images by doing a keyword search or a title search. Highly useful if you have thousands of images and are not even sure which year or at what location you might have photographed your subject!

This is a bare-bones outline of some things that I think are very important. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to drop me a note and I’ll be glad to tell you what I know or what my practice is.

I’m at leonardt@pca.org.  Next month we’ll get back to some real-time shooting.