If you’re like many photographers, you vividly remember the days of film. Even in today’s digital world, the allure of film photography continues to draw enthusiasts who have a passion for the particulars of the format. Just explore the world of Holga photography and you’ll get the idea. Chances are that if you’ve been a photographer long enough – amateur or pro – you have hundreds if not thousands of film negatives stored here and there. Well, in the spirit of Spring cleaning we thought it’d be fun to help you digitize and store your old film negatives.
Its actually a question we get regularly from the Viovio community. Before the prevalence of computers and the Web you had only one good choice for showing off your photos – create prints. However with today’s technology you have a wide range of options, from creating a custom photo book to sharing them with friends and family on Facebook. And its never been easier to turn your film negatives into digital files to make sharing and creating even easier.
STEP ONE: FIND & ORGANIZE YOUR NEGATIVES
Perhaps you’re someone who has kept negatives organized over the years. However if you’re like most of us you have some work to do as you revisit your negatives. Its helpful that as you go through the negatives that you organize them by a certain criteria that is relevant to you (e.g. year, event or person) as well as jot down ideas for captions that you can use later.
Also, please remember to be careful when handling your negatives. Hold them near the edges as they can tear easily. Also wash your hands with a mild soap and do your organizing in a dust-free (or as close as you can get) area. This will help you minimize damage to the negatives caused by skin oils and dust.
STEP TWO: SCAN YOUR NEGATIVES
The great thing about technology is that it only getts better and less expensive over time. Today’s at-home scanners benefit from this trajectory and allow you to produce very high resolution scans of your negatives without ever having to leave your house. There are special film scanners such as Nikon’s Super Coolscan 9000 ED, however these specialized scanners can get a little pricey. Thankfully, today’s multi-purpose flatbed scanners offer a nice balance of quality and cost. Some flatbed scanners even offer a film negative mode that can help you get high quality scans. You can read reviews of some good scanner options here and here. Just keep in mind that the key to producing great digital scans of your negatives is to scan in super high resolution and to a lossless image file format such as RAW or TIFF. 6400 dpi (dots per inch) would be ideal, however with some experimenting you may be able to get away at a lower resolution.
STEP THREE: WORKING WITH YOUR DIGITAL NEGATIVES
Now that you’ve scanned in your negatives, its time to turn them into something you can use online. The first thing to do is import the files into an image editor such as Adobe Photoshop (although a free editor like Picnik.com will work with TIFF files). Assuming you’re working with Photoshop, to import create a new file and place your scanned images into the Photoshop document. This will be your digital roll of film, but you can also split them into multiple files based on the individual image. Please note that due to the high resolution you used to scan in your negatives that this file will be rather large. You can resize the individual images (taken from the negatives) based on your needs, but please keep in mind that the image should be 300 dpi or greater if you intend to print them in a photo book.
Once you have a set of negatives imported into Photoshop, its time to straighten. You can learn more about the proper way to do this from our previous blog post, Straighten Up! Correcting Your Horizon. Once you have the straightening taken care of, use the Marquee Tool in Photoshop to highlight part of the blank film at the front of the role. This will be used to create a color profile for your photos. Otherwise, your photo’s color balance will be off as a result of the natural color of the film. After you have created a sample by copying and pasting a section with both the blank black and film colored areas, blur each area heavily with the Gaussian Blur Tool under Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur to blend any off colored specs of dust.
Notice the how blur tool eliminates and smoothes the image
When you feel you have blurred each sample color thoroughly, open up the Color Curve Tool under Image>Adjustments>Curves. Keep the channel set to RGB color negatives. If you are working with black and white negatives, you can work in grey scale IF you scanned the film in greyscale. On the bottom right, you will notice three eye dropper tools; one black, one grey, and one white. Pick the white tool on the right and move it into the blurred orange area. This will set your white balance and compensate for the film color. Do the same with the black tool and select the black sample you blurred.
This sets the point where color is totally saturated: Red 255, Green 255, Blue 255. You can also learn more about color profiles by reading our earlier blog post about Understanding Color.
STEP FOUR: INVERT THE COLORS
Under the Image menu, move your cursor to Adjustments>Invert. Release your mouse and watch the magic happen. You may need to adjust the colors for each indiviual photo frame, but if you followed the earlier steps correctly, your negatives should look like positives. If you’re interested in automating the process, and are using Photoshop, you can use a plugin such as the Kodak ROC to help you speed up this process.
Now that you have your old negatives scanned in and looking beautiful, start sharing your favorite pictures with friends and creating your photo books. Please also feel free to post your best images and stories in the comments section below too. We love to see what you’re creating.