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Scanning 101

Lesson 14 from: Introduction to Black & White Film Photography

Daniel Gregory

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Lesson Info

14. Scanning 101

Lesson Info

Scanning 101

We're gonna jump into scanning now. And when I was thinking about somebody who is starting into film or returning to film developing in your bathroom or finding a local darkroom to actually work with seemed pretty easy. But then the actual printing process, I was like, hm, that involves enlargers and big trays and big sinks. And so we're gonna talk about that in the next segment. But for a lot of people, I thought, well, they're already familiar with the digital workflow. They already have a digital workflow. And you want to take these images and share them on social media, you want to put them on your web site, so at some point you're gonna be involved in the digital capture of either the film or the print. So that's kinda what led me to thinking about what would we want to do from the standpoint of actually making the digital capture? My pure analog friends always laugh at me at this point. Because they're like, so you've taken all the work to take the photograph to make a negative t...

o then take another picture of it and then process it. Which is basically what the scanner is. Its just a big huge digital capture device. I think the scanning process is a challenge to get started. Because there's a number of things that can bite you in that process. But, once you kinda get the hang of it, it's not that bad. There's also a really great sidestep you can do. If you have a good digital camera and you get a macro lens and the site right, you can actually photograph your negatives with a high resolution digital camera; and basically get the equivalent of a capture. And, that's a pretty easy way if you don't have a scanner and don't wanna deal with all the scanning software of making the capture. You still would go through the same steps we're gonna go through in Photoshop but that is an option. And if you wanna make a higher resolution image than just the standard capture, you would capture sections of your negative and then stitch those together in Photoshop to end up with a larger capture. We're not gonna do that today, but I did wanna mention that. Because that is, I think, a more common way for people to start to get their negatives captured into a digital format. For me though, I have gone the scanning route and the home scanning route. This price point on a scanner you can get an entry level scanner for $100. You can get a high end flatbed home scanner for somewhere between 800 and 1,000. Epson continues and Plustek continues to make new scanners so occasionally you'll see a new scanner come out and you can pick some out of the market. The jump after this, if you're in the home market, is to a Hasselblad scanner. And that's gonna run you about 15,000. So you gotta be really all in and you really need to be a good scanner to do that. So one of the things that scanning, when you work with a lab, they're on the higher end scanners like a Frontier scanner and they will come in and scan. And those scan technicians have spent a lifetime learning how to make the most out of a negative. There's a lot of things they can do with a scanner. They can do some color correction, and they can basically deal with brightness values or gamma values. Well in the black and white world, other than a slight potential tint to the film base, we don't have color to deal with. So really it's about how much data can they capture out of the scan? So the lab can really do a great job. And if you work with Richards, whoever you work with from a lab standpoint, amazing scanners who can help you do that. If you're gonna do it at home, we're in the same basic boat that they are. What we want to do is get the most detail out of the negative so we have the most information possible to work with. And that scanner has a limited range. So just like your digital sensor on your camera has a limited range, a scanner has a limited range. So there are some things we can do to kind of help extend that. But you're still somewhat predicated on the power of whatever your digital capture device is. There's also a number of different pieces of software that are used. So there's the secret sauce of, the light's gonna go down the scanner, capture the information, and then it has to be cooked up somehow to turn it into the actual digital file. There's a couple of different pieces of software that can do that. And every one has a little bit of different taste. And it's kinda like a Canon-Nikon fight, it's kinda like a Ford-Chevy fight. There are people in the VueScan camp, there's people in the scanner manufacturer camp, there's people in the SilverFast camp. They all basically do the same thing but they all do it slightly different. So we're gonna take a look at one of the scanning pieces of software. I'm gonna kind of cover some of the basics that you would think about in the other scanning softwares as well. Because for my process, which is mine, so I'm gonna show you what I like to do. You may decide on something else, and that's totally cool. But I'm gonna show you want I like to do. And I like to do it two different ways (laughs) so it's not really I like one way. I have a couple of different ways. But we'll talk about the pros and cons of those here in a second. So I've got basically my flatbed scanner here. It's got a resolution right around, it says it goes up to 6400. Really it's somewhere around 2300 to is its true resolving power to get the kind of quality you need. The average print, and we'll look at this in the software, the average print you're gonna print somewhere between 200 and 300 DPI. So if I'm scanning at 2400, I have a 6x enlargement there, is that right? 7x enlargement there. Told ya I'm terrible at math. I'd say a 7x enlargement. So if I've got a four by five negative, I could go to 20 by 35 without any-- 28 by 35 without any interpolation. So really what I'm trying to do is scan the biggest file possible without doing any weird interpolation from the scanner so that I can not have to re-interpolate the pixels later. So some people come in, and they're like oh, I'm just gonna scan something really small and just whip it up really fast. You're gonna double your workload. So when you start to scan, you're gonna have bigger files. The bigger the negative, the bigger the file. So it's not uncommon, if I scan an 8x10 negative, I have a multi-gigabit file. That's multi-gigabits on the hard drive, multi-gigabits in the backup, multiple gigabits in the offsite backup. So as you start to think about that, that's all gonna come into play. The great news is, hard drives are dirt cheap. So five or ten years ago, this was a way more expensive proposition. But now, just keep pushing hard drives in. So the other thing that's gonna happen with a scanner is there's a couple things that will make a big difference. One is the film holder for the scanner. Your scanner will come with them. I have a couple I'm gonna show you in a second. There's also companies that are third party companies that sell after-market holders for that. Those after-market holders a lot of times allow you a little bit more refinement in terms of the focus point of the scanner and how much detail they can pull out. They'll use anti-Newtonian glass so you don't get any weird halos and things like that. sells a number of different ones for all the different printers. That's a good place to start. So getting the right holder in place because you need that film to be held as flat as possible and you also need it to be at the right height for this focus. The other one is, dust is the devil. The absolute devil when it comes to scanning. Because every time something's in there on the scanner, on the film, and you scan it, then you gotta deal with it in post-production. So you want as clean a negative as possible. The scanning method that helps with that the most with black and white, is if you do something called wet mounting your images. So basically what wet mounting is, is you take the scanner and you're gonna float your negative in this solution that basically is gonna help mask the dust and actually create a sharper, more robust scan. And then you end up cleaning the scanner afterwards. Not all scanners support wet mounting. We are not gonna be wet mounting today. It's an advanced scanning piece and so we're not even gonna talk about it but it is available. There's lots of resources on the web for it. And if I have a high-end scan I'm gonna do at home I will wet mount it. The resolution quality is worth that. The other reason I do that is in color scanning, there's some technology called an infrared scan. Basically what happens is, the scanner reads a negative and then it makes a second pass through the infrared spectrum. And it can figure out and see what dust is, and then it works its way around the dust and fills in the missing information. Dust to infrared looks like grain. And so when it scans along, it's like, piece of grain, dust! Piece of grain, dust! Piece of grain, dust! And man, you get some weird stuff, and you'll scan again, and it's weird. And then sometimes it sorta works. So there is no infrared scanning in grayscale. So the thing that a lot of people do when they first start, they scan color, then they switch to black and white and you can't actually do that. So the film holders, I have two different ones that I brought in. They come in all different sizes. But this is four by five. So this holds the four by five negative. So basically there's just a little piece that pops up, and this smashes down and helps hold it flat so that there's not much curve in the negative. Any curve in here is gonna cause it to go slightly out of focus. That's why the wet mounting is nice, because it's flat and the weight of the solution helps keep it. So four by five. Then we have six by seven. So these are the negatives we looked at earlier. And these pieces, as you come in and just make sure they're completely put in flat, and press down, that'll help hold the negative nice and flat. Like I said, some of the aftermarket ones are a little better or worse. And then they do all have these little feet that pull out and they'll help you adjust microfocus. And this little piece pulls-- that sounds terrible! Went away, and there's a plus and a minus. And so you basically kind of scan and look at how focused. Like I scan a piece of paper or something that's really sharp and I know what it is, and then those little feet will go in. So that'll help you get your focus nailed a little bit more. Can I get that guy pushed back in? Okay. The other piece that loads is if you look here, it tells you... I'm gonna get it held the right way. ABC is bad, backwards is good. So what you need is, you need the emulsion to face the sensor that's being recorded, how the light passes through. If you don't, it'll still record and build the scan, and it'll be backwards, but it also may have the reflectiveness of the film base will actually cause the image to not be as clear. So we wanna be on this side. When you're scanning at home then, a can of compressed air. I used to actually have a little air compressor. These little things, I go through them like they're water. Now I'm gonna do it on the table. Cuz what people do, if this is my negative, they're like (sprays air) This is compressed air, so there's chemicals in there to compress that out. And that'll actually spray onto the negative and it'll get this frosty look for a second. I don't like stuff on my negatives. I'm trying to get stuff off the negatives. Why do I want to put stuff on the negatives? And also, if I have a piece of dust right there, and I'm doing this, I'm basically just telling the dust, please burrow yourself down like a gopher into my negative. So dust gets removed across the negative. So on these negatives, basically I'm trying to get the dust off, I'm gonna work on the sides. So I'm gonna try to blow that dust off now. I'm going this way and this way. And the dust sometimes is weird. Cuz its being held by static. So sometimes it won't go off this way, but you loosen it up, it'll go off this way. And then I gotta do this side. Dust gets on both sides. Then the spot everybody forgets, which is the scanner bed. So I clean this off, get all the fingerprints and everything off. The last thing I do is I'm then gonna blow the scanner as dry as possible. These cans get really cold. That's one reason I also don't like them. I'm now freezing. It's like 40 below in here. Okay, then that's just gonna go into the scanner, and then that's gonna go down. So now dust is theoretically out of the equation. I guarantee there's dust on there, there's little hairs on there, there's little fibers on there. There's all sorts of stuff that we're gonna have to clean up. But it's in there for that. And now I actually get to start the scanning software.

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Ratings and Reviews


I am really fond of Daniel Gregory as a teacher. He does a great job. To me, his enthousiasm, his passion for and his dedication to film photography are infectuous. It's great that CreativeLive makes place for film photography and for such a pro teaching it. It can never do so enough for me. Thanks. I am a fan.

Texas Beauty Photography

Great class!! It's jam packed with usable information for anyone wanting to shoot, process, and print black and white images. There is so much detail presented in this class, I can practically guarantee you'll come back to it again and again. I successfully used this class to capture b/w photographs, process the negatives, capture them digitally, and finally, produce beautiful prints that I'm proud to show my friends and clients. This may well be one of the best classes on all of CreativeLive. Highly recommended!


This is an excellent course and Daniel is a great teacher! I'm coming back to shooting film and darkroom work after 20 years away. I have some wonderful film cameras sitting in my cabinet and I decided I wanted to use them--so I have decided to shoot BW with film, and shoot color with my digital cameras. I will develop the BW film myself and scan and print digitally. This class is perfect for me!

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