Mysterious Forest – Learning from the Negative

Hasselblad 500 C/M, Ilford Delta 100, D76 1+3, Post processed in LightRoomHasselblad 500 C/M, Ilford Delta 100, D76 1+3, Post processed in LightRoom

This image represents the next steps in my learning about development, scanning, and post-processing. They all go together and even though there was a good amount of additional contrast added to this image (as well as some dodging and burning), the feel of medium format and film are still very present with an expansive feel and lovely tones.

The first thing about this image is that, straight off the scanner, it was amazingly flat. I can’t even tell you have flat it was. It was so flat that I thought I’d completely messed up the processing. However, after some help from my friend on Facebook community “Film Shooters Collective” I was able to reverse engineer what was going on.

1) The image was somewhat under-exposed.

This was one of Southern California’s typical “June Gloom” days (even though we are now in August!) with high overcast and flat lighting. It was precisely this lighting that encouraged me to go out shooting. Shooting in a strong sunny day is nearly impossible to manage the highlights and shadows. However, still having shot way more digital than film (in an intentional way) I was too concerned about the highlights and I let the shadows go too dark. The upshot was that most of the image was underexposed.

2) The scanner software, left to its own devices, wants to make a neutral gray image

Much like the metering in our cameras, the scanner software, by default, wants to find an image that averages out to neutral gray. In the case of my first scan, this produced a really gray image, and I thought it was the negative itself. It wasn’t, it was the scan. After I figured out what was really going on with the negative by using the densitometer in the SilverFast software, I was able to tweak my scanning parameters to get an image that was easier to modify in post. I still added quite a bit of contrast and then the normal dodge and burn but there is a beauty in the gray tones of this image that reflects the film itself.

3) My film holder was not positioned properly for a sharp scan

Flatbed scanners have a specific place where they focus – as some distance above the glass. It turns out that this is variable from scanner to scanner and there are little feet on the film-holders that can be adjusted. However you need to figure out how to adjust them and then run the experiments to find just the right height. In my case, I have the Epson film-holders set to the + position and added one-ply of post-it note paper in addition. I’m now really happy with the sharpness of the scan.

4) You will need multiple scanning software

Just like post-processing software and camera bags, one-size does not fit all. I ended up using SilverFast to judge the quality of the negative (it has a densitometer), once I figured out what was going on with the density itself, I was able to get nearly identical scans with either SilverFast or VueScan. VueScan is still easier if you know where you need to go with the negative itself.

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