Thursday, May 19, 2016

Why you should scan your negatives

For quite a while I’ve had a love/hate relationship with shooting film. I love the actual process of using and shooting with film. I love the creative choices involved with film; which make/colour palette/speed will I use today? I love being able to buy some seriously great film cameras for a song. I love the fact that you can be involved in the whole process – from woe to go – especially with black and white. I love the way film really does make you slow down and not burn through thousands of frames in a day. And I love the ‘look’ of film achieved naturally, rather than artificially on a computer. So far so good.

Before and After. Print received from lab - and my own scanned negative processed on the right.
What I hate about film (although maybe ‘hate’ is a bit harsh) is a much shorter list. I hate that the cost of film has gone up so much (supply and demand I guess). I hate that there are less and less places to go nowadays to get (colour) film processed. But mostly, I hate (or am at least disappointed with) the way the prints look when they come back from the lab.

Maybe it’s just me? Maybe it’s because ‘expert’ colour printing labs have gone the way of the dodo (or are just far too darn expensive to consider using). Maybe the training for lab technicians isn’t there anymore? Maybe the chemicals and processors aren’t maintained as often as they used to be? But whatever the reason, whenever I get prints back, they are always flat, dull, lifeless and disappointing.

Yes, I know I can ask them to reprint. But seriously, who can be bothered? If my suspicions about technician training is true, would it really make a difference? I live in a fairly small town, with only one lab. And I get the very distinct impression that if it isn’t digital, they aren’t all that interested. If I lived in a major city then I’m sure my options would increase. But once again, at a cost.

I could forego the print and just pay for developing only – and I often do. Sometimes, though, it’s just nice to also have the print in your hand – even if it’s only for proofing purposes. Just never take the lab-rendered print of your negatives as the gospel truth of what you shot. In my experience at least, they are more often than not incredibly disappointing.

Another Before and After. The difference is almost night and day...
 Even as film shooters, we should be embracing the digital age. In the same way that photographers enjoyed developing and printing their own black and white film (and some colour) in the “good old days”, film photographers should adopt digital technology and scan their own negatives for printing.
And just as developing and printing your own black and white film in the darkroom allows you to be involved in the whole analogue process, scanning your own negatives allows you to be involved creatively with the digitising process. All the images on this post show the remarkable improvements made to the image when you scan your own negatives and have creative control. The before and after examples show the disappointing lab print as delivered to me, next to my own ‘processing’ of the scanned negative. The results are almost literally night and day.

Caravan. Canon T70. July 2011

If you’re a film shooter and don’t own a decent film scanner, then you are at the mercy of your lab for scans and prints. Scanning your own negatives gives complete creative control back to you, the creator of the image. As film shooters, isn’t that we want?  

1 comment:

  1. And the lab scans are more expensive because your reluctance to invest in a film scanner


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