Film Scanning Technique 101

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In this audioblog I present a philosophy of scanning film based on the understanding that in the end photographers make prints and our entire process from film capture to scan to Photoshop to printer is all based on making prints. I outline in detail techniques and settings which will apply to most scanners and will help you get the most of your film and scanner combination. This is a very long audioblog- 27 minutes- and as such have paper and pencil ready, as you won’t want to listen to my voice for this long twice!

Full Process Example Image


Yellow Spring, Vermont. 2009

This recent artwork of mine is a good example of the process outlined in the audioblog. I started with Kodak Ektar 100 film (35mm)- I’ve tested this film and understand how to get the most out of it in a variety of different lighting situations. The camera was my Leica M7 with a 28mm Zone Plate, and the image was made using my Overlapping Frame Panoramic Technique outlined here on FR. After processing (C41) the negative was scanned dry on my Imacon at 4000 optical dpi, 16 bit as an RGB positive, with miminal sharpening and dust removal. All other editing and contrast adjustments were done in Photoshop.  My chosen Photoshop color working space as well as the scanning color space?sRGB.

Final thought

Knowing the real limits of your workflow, technology and skill level and having a clear understanding/ feeling for your visualized final print helps make the entire process a very fluid and creative endeavour. Test first and remember: experimentation is key!

Viva la Revolution- Stephen

UPDATE: 5.16.09

Link to BETA RGB:

Click on Info, then click on Beta RGB: A New Working Space Proposal… the BETA RGB download if found on this page… spend some time on this site as it is a wealth of knowledge.

12 thoughts on “Film Scanning Technique 101

  1. I think you should make an additional podcast about your ways of post processing that scanned positive of negative in Photoshop.

    You talked about rather obivious things, similarly to other stuff about scanning… resolution…sharpening…ble ble ble.

    Heyyy let’s talk about scanning seriously! The fact is that all scanning software is just a $#@!, it is like shooting in jpegs.
    If you want to get a nice tonality and colours you need to do everything manually in Ps. You said that, but it was not enought.

    Inverting a negative is a big deal and I think the way of doing that we can call the art of scanning.

    B&W is easier, but what about a colour negative? Orange mask? After inverting we get a blue colored image. How you deal with that? I’m sure you don’t spend 2 hours at every frame correcting it individually. You must have your own technique in PS!!! Share it with us!!!

    1. Jack-

      1. I will put on the list a post on working on a scanned positive in PS.
      2. I disagree that most scanning software is $#@!… most people just don’t use it right or over use it and expect miracles with the push of a button.
      3. If you follow my outline and open in PS and hit auto color, auto contrast and auto levels I think you would be amazed… this is not what I do nor suggest doing but the tech outlined does produce a scan that makes sense to PS in most cases.
      4. Inverting the negative can be a “big deal” but the art of scanning in my opinion is seeing the whole negative (something which is based for a large part on experience) and capturing the full expressive range for use in PS- the inverting is just one part.
      5. The Orange mask is a big issue with some films but not all films. I will outline my technique when I do the post I mentioned in #1.


  2. ahhh!! u missed out the link i’m looking forward to see. the link about scanning oil mounts on a flatbed scanner. But it’s okay, no rush. post it while you free k!


  3. Nice audioblog indeed, agree with Jack re: Another 1 on processing scanned positives in PS, look forward to that. Many thanks yet again for your time & efforts!

  4. Your observation about the “operator” was spot on. A lot of effort in learning what works best for you will go a long way to getting good scans. And I think you provided a good foundation for people to start.

    Thanks for putting forth the effort in getting information like this out there.

  5. I am dying to hear this blog but after at least twenty attempts, it will not load/save. any chance of uploading to itunes?

  6. Dear Stephen-

    Thank you for that audio-blog most informative & very educational. Thanks!

    Question? What is your opinion on the setting “UNSHARP MASK” on my EPSON V750-PRO flat-bed scanner when scanning B&W 35mm negs like Tri-X, T-Max, (v.2), or Kodak BW400CN/C-41?

    Would you recommend to ENABLE, or DIS-ABLE this setting on my Scans?

    Thanks again!


    DM Brown

    1. I’d use as little as possible… just enough to correct for the loss in sharpness due to analog to digital conversion… if no sharpening is ok then go with that but I suspect you will need just a little.

  7. Dear Stephen,

    It is possible to tell something about how to deal with the orange mask when scanning color negatives as RGB positives?


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