I have scanned many slides, negatives, prints over the years. Since late December 2019, I have been doing it as a project to convert old photographs to digital and, in some ways, relive the memories. The end result, I hope will be an archive of family members, gatherings, events as well as many photographs I took in the good old film days. While working on this project, I have realized a few things that I would like to share here, not because they are the best but because they worked for me with several corrections along the way. You may prefer another approach and I would very much like to hear your ideas in the comments below.
The reason for scanning may define how you approach the process. As I said, this is an archiving project for me and I am scanning to create a digital record of who, what, when, where. While doing these, I have relived memories with Elif, Jan, my sisters, Ergun, and other friends. In fact, I have shared a whole bunch with my long time friends under the title “Memory Bus” where we don’t know who would get on the bus at the next stop!
Equipment and Tools
I have had an Epson V550 flatbed scanner and a Canon FS4000 film scanner for many years. The Canon is no longer supported by the company and is a bit on the slow side and the Epson is OK for the film. I decided to get a much better scanner that would do reflective and film scans in larger batches and with higher quality for both. I settled on an Epson V850 Pro that can scan a batch of 18 frames of 35mm film, 12 mounted slides, even multiple prints that will fit on the scanner glass. The quality so far has been very good for all formats.
For scanning software, I had three choices. Epson bundles SilverFast as well as their own Epson scanning software, and I have had for a long time another one, VueScan. I have tried all three under reasonably controlled conditions and settled on using the Epson scanning software because it proved to be the most intuitive. After all, they are all using the same scanner and all they do is their version of post-processing. Both SilverFast and VueScan are capable of doing additional things like multipass scanning to extract more information from the film. However, I can mimic that manually by scanning some frames multiple times with different settings then blend them in Photoshop. Of course, I have the option of using either one if there is something really special that they do much more easily. The interface of both SilverFast and VueScan is harder to use than the Epson scanning software.
In principle, scanning is a simple process. Present the medium to the scanner, let it do its thing, and save the result. But, the devil is in the detail! I wanted lossless content in the image files and chose to save the files in the TIFF format. The scanning resolution for the 35mm negatives are set at 3200 dpi and the prints at 600 – 1200 dpi depending on the size of the original. I scanned some B&W negatives at 4800 dpi because I may want to print them larger, or down-sample to increase the scan quality.
Although the software can auto adjust the exposure I decided to capture the maximum information in the scanning stage. I set the software to work in manual exposure and use Adobe RGB color space for color slides or negatives. By using a workflow I retained greater shadow and highlight detail although that made the scan look a little too flat. I wanted to adjust the tonal range in postprocessing. How I adjust the exposure for each frame is a little too much detail in this post, maybe a separate one for that based on the interest expressed for it in the comments.
One of the important things in scanning is to minimize the dust, lint, and scratches. I got an antistatic brush to wipe the film and prints and used a manual blower to blow the dust off the surface of the film and prints. No matter how hard you try, it is nearly impossible to get a dust-free scan and I decided not to lose sleep over it and handle it in Photoshop. All the scanning software has tools to reduce dust and scratches but that invariably involves blurring the image. I decided to deal with that myself and decide how much and where to blur the images.
I wanted to treat the original scanned TIFF files as “negatives” and process and save copies in case I needed to return to the original. The tool I chose for this task was Photoshop rather than Lightroom mainly because of the extensive spotting being necessary. Whereas Photoshop can actually create pixels to fill in the blank, even with content awareness, Lightroom can only grab pixels from someplace else on the image to do the same. I would open each image in Photoshop, and using an action I would first convert their scan dpi to regular print dpi, assign the grayscale images Adobe grayscale color space, and save the file with the new settings. The rest of the action would create a duplicate layer of the background for spotting and save the file in Photoshop format as a copy. Now I have two files of the same image, one original TIFF file and a copy in PSD format.
I found using my touch screen Microsoft Surface Book laptop, and Surface Pro 6 tablet extremely useful in doing the retouching for dust and scratches with their pressure-sensitive pens. So much so that I actually bought a tablet with a screen to use on my desktop, a Huion Kamvas Pro 13. That works like a charm next to my large screen and I do the dust and scratch editing with its pen. I highly recommend these tools for touch up work, the pressure-sensitive pen makes this kind of work much easier than using a mouse since the size of the brush depends on how hard you press on the pen.
On the duplicate copy layer, I would do all the spotting then merge it down and save it. Originally, I wanted to retain the TIFF files unedited in case something went wrong in the retouching process. After I gained more confidence, I slightly altered the first step in editing and saved all the retouch in the original TIFF file, then saved a PSD copy to do tonal and color editing in Photoshop. That would save me the work to remove the dust and scratches if I had to go back to the original.
When I felt it was time to do tonal and color editing, I decided to use Adobe Camera Raw filter with sliders for tones and additional ones for clarity, texture, and dehaze. Although these could be done in Photoshop, the ACR roundtrip proved to be a very efficient workflow. For monochrome scans, this meant mainly the tonal structure, local emphasis if needed, and a little capture sharpening. Since I captured the scans with a long tonal scale, I could adjust them with great flexibility depending on the results I wanted. Clarity, texture, and dehaze tools came in handy. For capture sharpening, I set the luminance noise control at around 12-20, sharpening masking at about 50, the radius at its maximum of 3, and applied the amount until some detail made its presence. Then I would accept the changes and return to Photoshop with all the edits on the new layer. At that point, I decided to merge the edited layer and then save the file. Since all the edits were in ACR, there was no reason to save that layer. For some images that were of the same subject or taken in a sequence, I wanted to retain the look among those images and save the ACR settings as a preset and applied it to the rest of the images in the series.
And, the process continues! Here are some results. I must confess that some locations I no longer recall or remember and there are no tell-tale signs to give me a hint. I do, however, recall the people or places on many, even most of them and relish the memories. That emphasizes the importance of good record-keeping and annotating the images with keywords and organizing them into collections in the digital world. I know some, heck, many photographers still do not use keywords to annotate their work. You should! And, I should finish the work of keywording the rest of my collection.
My immediate family, parents, sisters, Jan and Elif.
Some scenes from old Adana. The district used to have many ironsmiths, coppersmiths, shoemakers, and a few kebap houses. All B&W negative scans.
Adana vicinity, old ruins aplenty, here are a few selections. From Adana all the way to Antalya, the coast is full of historic ruins. These are just a couple of locations reasonably close to Adana, an easy one day drive. All B&W negative scans.