Saturday, April 25, 2015

Scanning Negatives the Easy Way - Part 1 Flatbed Scanner + Vuescan

Let me start by saying scanning film is complex.  Truth be told, it's actually quite simple once you have your workflow down pat but finding a workflow, yup that's the tough part! I wanted to put together a guide of how I scan my colour negatives as a resource not only for myself but for other lost souls out there.  Before I go any further, I just want to say, photographer, Michael Fraser was my little angle, sent from above.  Most of my workflow is based on his, so if you want, stop reading mine and go read his

Using a Flatbed Scanner:
The way I do my scans is by using my MP980 Canon flatbed scanner. This scanner has a designated loader/area for scans so it’s really straight forward.

Using Vuescan:
I use vuescan, which is a third party scanning software to do my scans.  Vuescan does have a cost ($89.95) and if you're trying to do your whole process on the cheap, I do have a section down the bottom (scanning for free) if you want to head down that road.  Personally, I found vuescan was the best option in getting my scans base ready for final edits in photoshop (which I'll go on to discuss in Part 2)

Below is a screenshot of my Vuescan settings, there are 6 tabs - INPUT/CROP/FILTER/COLOR/OUTPUT/PREFS and each one has a lot of options!  These settings work for me and perhaps will make a nice starting point for yourself if you're completely lost


Loading Film into the Scanner:

How you load the film will depend on whether you need to tick 'mirror' on vuescan or not. 

So how do you know which way to load your film? My scanner’s film loader has a symbol to show you which way to load it – for my scanner it wants the film face down. If you load it this way, you won’t need to tick the mirror option in vuescan. This is all good and dandy but sometimes the film has a slight bend in it and if the bend points towards the glass this is uncool. With flatbed scanners you really don’t want the film touching the glass or you’ll be left with what are known as Newton Rings (think 'oil slick' on your final scanned image and not in a good way either). With this issue I often have to ignore the film loaders symbol and put the film in the other way with the curve of the film facing away from the glass and when I do this I need to tick 'mirror' in vuescan. Got it? Okay

My boyfriend will probably hate me posting this but it's a good example of some newton rings running across his face.

Using Vuescan :

Vuescan isn't what you would call, user friendly, so below I've laid out how to get actual scans and how to get them retaining as much detail as possible but also somewhat colour corrected to make editing them later on that little bit easier.

1) first up you need to make sure  'lock film base color' + 'lock image color' found in the 'input' tab are unticked

You'll need to  hit the 'advanced' button at the bottom for these to appear and 'lock image color' only comes up once you hit 'lock film base color' which I’ll talk about in a second. Also there is lock exposure but my scanner doesn’t seem to allow for this – so I manually move the brightness in the 'color' tab – which I’ll explain later also.


2)  then you simply hit the 'preview' button which you'll find bottom left.

3)  once you have your initial scan you'll need to sample some of the film to lock in the film's base colour.  So using the right mouse button drag and draw a rectangle box in between, or on the outer ends of the frames (essentially wherever there's black).  Then tick 'lock film base color' and do another preview. Note you can use the + magnifying button in the bottom right of vuescan to make the preview area enlarged and easier to isolate the film between frames.


4)  next you need to tick 'lock image color' if this option isn’t available in your input tab hit 'advanced' down the bottom – hit preview again and now the colour will be a-okay for the whole roll of film and you won't have to go through those steps again - phew! 

TIP - if you need to close down your computer/scanner before finishing the roll, go to file - save options and make a preset of the film you're working on.  Then next time you open vuescan go to file - load and choose the preset to resume scanning with the same colours and settings.


5)  now we need to work on each frame. Using your mouse drag and draw around the frame you want scanned – include some outer black film edge because you’ll need this in Photoshop later.  I also enlarged my preview area again (using the magnifying glass at the bottom) to see more clearly where to position the box.


6) now you need to use the histogram box in the lower lefthand corner and play around with the sliders (to have the histogram visible go into the the very top 'image' tab in vuescan and click on 'graph b/w').  Basically you bring each slider red, green and blue until it clips the histrogram.  Mine were pretty much perfect but I did the right hand sides slightly to get a more desirable colour.   Put a comment below if this sounds confusing and I'll try and explain it in more detail for those of you who are lost.


I also go into the 'color' tab and move the brightness slider as far to the right as possible (before loosing too much detail). I do this step because I don’t have exposure lock but if you do use that!


7) once I have a fairly flat, colour corrected image (it doesn’t have to perfect because we’ll correct later in Photoshop). I’ll hit 'scan' I have vuescan set to 3 passes (for more detail) and also the highest resolution my scanner will go to 4800 DPI.


8) I then hit 'save' at the bottom and it puts my scanned image into my pictures folder.

From there it's time to do some colour/brightness/contrast correcting in a photo editor (I use Photoshop and if I really want to give my photos some extra love I'll throw them into Lightroom as well).  You can read Part 2 here to see how I do my final edits and get my scans to a place where I love them :)


Don’t touch your fingers onto the negatives when placing them into your scanner rather hold the outer edge or use cotton gloves. Owning a simple dust blower and lens cloth to wipe down/blow your negatives and scanner is kind of a must! Removing dust in a software after you've scanned is a lot more painful then doing a quick wipe/blow beforehand - you can see how I didn't do that in the scan showing the newton rings above, lots of dust - tsk tsk!

HELP – my screen looks like this (see below) after I’d scanned! Don’t worry it just means you have to move your histogram sliders.  I have noticed sometimes (don't know if this is a bug in vuescan or not) but I have to move the red green and blue blackpoints in the 'color' tab before they'll play nice in the histogram.



My canon scanner came with free scanning software called MP NAVIGATOR EX 2.0 which when opened has an option for film, clicking on that will lead you to a second interface. In this interface ( above the green “scanner” button) there is a blank tick box and the words, “use the scanner driver” if you tick this box and then click “open scanner driver” you’ll be taken to scan gear a program that has a lot of options and in my opinion works pretty good. I’m sure most scanners come with software similar to this and if you put the time in you can come up with your own free and cheap way to get your images initially scanned. 

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