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Film Scanning (Part II)


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Film Scanning (Part II)

13 Mar 2022 8:57PM   Views : 325 Unique : 209

You've got your film originals ready to scan, so let's look at how you can get the best out of them.

Scanning colour transparencies can be a little tricky as they can sometimes be very high in contrast. That's great for projection, and as it should be because that's how they were designed to be viewed. Ion the positive side (no pun intended!) it's easy to see if the colour and exposure of the scan are on target as you can directly compare it to the original. That said, most transparency film scans well and indeed some films produced from the late 1990s onwards were designed to give 'great results when scanned'.


Colour negatives are often lower in contrast (than transparencies) and have good exposure latitude so over light or dark originals can often be more easily corrected without loss of detail, but colour is much more subjective. However, there's nothing new in that as it was always a decision that had to be made when creating darkroom colour prints. It's much easier on screen, as long as the screen is calibrated properly.

With that in mind the colours recorded on a transparency may or may not be appealing. For example, those taken on a cloudy day can look cold, if the photographer didn't use a warming filter. So the scan may be an accurate representation of the original but will 'correcting' those colours make for a more appealing image or not. Your choice. Make two different versions. With storage so cheap these days there is a case for an 'as scanned' version and a 'corrected' version for more general showing. Indeed, even with digital originals I can make different versions that are all good but have very different looks and mood. What may be technically 'correct' may not be the most pleasing.


To correct or not correct can be a big question. Bad exposure, fading and colour changes are the most common that need to be considered. For some archive use the scan needs to be as accurate a representation of the original as possible without colour 'corrections' or dust and scratch removal. That's something you'd need to check with the organisation or client but not essentially an issue if doing your own work. However, you can always keep a copy of the original scan and a 'corrected' version so you or someone else can go back to the original and reprocess it when skills and experience improve. There's a parallel there to shooting RAW files in the digital world.

I'll describe a typical scenario just to give you some idea of my workflow. Yours may vary depending on your scanner and what you want but so long as you adopt a methodical and good practice approach then you should soon get good results. If you're well practised with processing RAW files then it;s not much of a leap to make.

I set the scanner software to give me the best result to work on. That means scanning at the highest optical resolution and outputting a 16 bit file in Adobe RGB colour space.I find dust and scratch removal set to 'Light' is sufficient but of course on occasion that may need altering. If there are any profiles for particular fils try them.

Once into editing software things should be familiar. Crop and rotate where required. Adjust for exposure. I find a Curves adjustment for brightness works well and often a tweak to the Shadow/Highlight tool rings out details in the shadow areas after a Levels adjustment. See what I mean by familiar? That is often that and the result is an accurate copy of the original in the case of a transparency and a pleasing result from a negative.

Further processing is sometimes appropriate but also subjective. Adjusting the White Balance even by a small amount can make a big difference. Adjusting Vibrance or Saturation can help with faded colours but you also need to bear in mind that the original film may not have faded and that a softer tonal representation may have been part of the film's character. Similarly with Colour Balance which is rather different to White Balance.


Colour Balance allows the adjustment of red/cyan, magenta/green and yellow/blue. The different colour layers in film can fade at different rates over time leading to odd colour rendition. Add to that the colour changes can be different in the shadow and mid-tone areas so be prepared to apply different adjustments to those tonal ranges, or at least in different amounts. Bear in mind that you may be removing a film's characteristics for example a naturally warm or cool rendition. The same scene shot on Fujichrome will look different to that on Ektachrome. The good news is you shouldn't need to go to such lengths often but knowing you can will help.

If you don't use them already, make all your adjustments using Adjustment Layers.

In the next and final part on film scanning I'll look at monochrome.

All text and images Keith Rowley 2022

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