Photos from the archive

One thing that’s great about digital photography is the ease with which color matching can be done. Negative film, on the other hand, has a color shift that depends on the exposure and the film type… I’ve never acquired the habit of working with positive transparency; my brother used to, simply because it is (or rather was) easier to display slides to an audience. So although my scanner is calibrated (I have an Epson 4990 Pro – great scanner, great software from Monaco), that applies only to reflective and positive transparency scans. With negatives, the final color balance has to be done manually.

So it took me some time to really play around with the process enough to get satisfactory results. I’ve determined that the best workflow (in terms of both simplicity and color perception) is to:

  1. Scan as a negative transparency using Epson’s TWAIN driver (at 16-bit per channel of course, Digital ICE, with no auto-exposure, using the calibrated ICC profile and transformed to Adobe RGB 1998). I select the area manually, to be sure I get the full exposed area. The resolution is satisfactory at 2400dpi, which renders around 8Mpixel on a 35mm frame. With my older (28-80mm, 75-300mm USM consumer-grade Canon) lenses, it’s not worth scanning at higher dpi.
  2. Crop to the required area in Photoshop (hiding, not removing the unseen pixels).
  3. Duplicate the layer and lock the old one (so I always have the original scan)
  4. Apply a lens correction (primarily to remove chromatic aberration, which was visible with the 28-80mm at high magnification).
  5. Apply noise reduction and unmask sharpening, as necessary.
  6. Use a Curves layer to get the white balance right (picking a white or mid-gray area if there are any in the picture, and tweaking manually).
  7. Use another Curves layer to get the contrast/brightness right.
  8. If I’m happy and it’s ready for printing, duplicate the image (merged layers), rescale to 300dpi at 8×12″, reduce bit depth to 8-bit, and save as JPEG (max quality, with embedded ICC profile), which is the best format that seems to be accepted by the Digital Photo Finisher at the local Fuji labs.

Any additional processing (like cleaning up any damages, etc) of course need to be done on the corrected pixel layer at some point. Layers are great in PS because it’s easy to undo things or quickly compare different methods. I like to keep the edited PS as-is. What’s a few tens of megabytes these days?

Anyway, enough with the talk. The attached images are three from my archive dating from around 1998 to 2000. All are taken with my EOS Elan II on (consumer grade) Fuji Superia 200 film. In order:

  • “Thrown Away” is a shot of a discarded pram and car tires, taken circa March 1998 (or maybe 1999) at Għajn Tuffieħa, on the cliffs overlooking the bay. Even junk can look photogenic. [28-80mm lens, tele]
  • “Belvedere” is taken around the same time (it’s on the same film) and shows the “new” parish church of my home-town (built just before the French Revolution) and a belvedere tower that used to be in the middle of a privately-owned orange grove. [28-80mm lens, wide]
  • “Angel” is taken around March 2000 and is a close-up of one of the bronze statues in front of the Kresge Library at Oakland University. In winter everything looks more monochromatic, much like the mood… [75-300mm]
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