You should read last week's Part I before reading this one if you haven't already. This picks up directly where that left off.
For scanning negatives, whether black-and-white or color, Adobe RGB is the best choice for output space from the scanner. It can easily capture the full range of such negatives, and it's fairly similar in gamut to what a printer can render. For scanning color slides, though, you will need to use a larger color space such as Wide-Gamut RGB or ProPhoto RGB. If you limit yourself to the Adobe RGB color space, you're likely to see clipping in one or more channels in highly saturated colors. You don't want that! The ideal histogram from a scan contains no data at absolute black or absolute white in any of the channels. You can push tones to pure blacks and whites later when you decide how you want to print them.
Black-and-white film can be especially tricky to scan, because the silver particles that comprise the image scatter light very effectively. To the scanner, with its highly collimated light source, a black-and-white negative appears to be much denser and more contrasty than you'd expect. Scanning black-and-white film so as to capture the full density range of the film is probably the most difficult thing to do. But, having said that, I would note that even a medium-quality film scanner captures a density range from black-and-white film that's equivalent to printing on Grade 1 or even Grade 0 paper. That may not include every bit of detail that's in the negative, but it's more than most people usually printed in the darkroom.
Many people believe that the orange mask layer in color negative films makes them difficult to scan and work with. In fact, just the opposite is true. That orange mask layer may look peculiar to the human eye, but what it's doing is linearizing the characteristic curves for the image-forming dye layers in the film and eliminating unwanted spectral absorptions that cause crosstalk between the color channels. It makes scans (and prints) better, with cleaner tones and purer colors. Restoring visually-normal black-and-white points to a negative scan is a trivial matter in Photoshop; just create a Curves layer and use the black and white eyedropper tools on those portions of the image that you want come out as black and white. You will frequently get a credible rendition of color just by doing that. If not, use the middle gray eyedropper to click on an area that should be neutral, and, nine times out of ten, you'll have a color balance that's good enough to be a decent starting point for doing serious work. Be sure to set the eyedropper radius to 5 pixels or so. You don't want the dropper selecting a single film grain/pixel as the reference point; you want the average of a bunch of adjacent grains.
This brings me to my two final points on scanning:
Your scanning should be done at the highest resolution that you can feasibly work with, not only to capture maximum detail in the film but to minimize film grain and artifacts. Scanning tends to increase the appearance of grain. There are several reasons for this, but the most basic one is that in a digital file a "grain" can never be smaller than one pixel in size. Even in relatively coarse-grained films, the actual grains (or dye clouds in the case of color images) are still much smaller than a low-resolution-scan pixel. The higher the scan resolution you can use, the smaller the minimum-size pixel-grain can be.
1. and 2. Wet scanning markedly improves grain and noise in film scans. The lower enlargement is from a wet scan. The one above it, a normal dry scan. The scans are, in all cases, unretouched and just as they came from the scanner.
Wet (liquid immersion) film scanning will, in many cases, substantially reduce the appearance of grain as well as help suppress dust and scratches (above). It adds preparation time to doing scans, but these days I do 100% of my scans that way. The improvement in image quality is more than worth it. You don't need a special scanner for this; companies like ScanScience (below) sell kits that work with many different models of film scanners.
ScanScience makes nice, easy to use wet-scan adapters
for many film scanners.
The digital file is only the starting point. Really, most of the work lies in how you manipulate the image in Photoshop. This is the custom printing part of the business, and as such is the hardest to explain. I'm afraid there is really no substitute for lots of practice, lots of reading, and possibly attending expert workshops. Do expect to have to climb a substantially long learning curve; it is reasonable for it to take many months to years to become a good printer. It is also reasonable to expect to continue to get better year after year and to find yourself looking back on earlier efforts that you previously thought were wonderful and find it difficult to imagine how you could ever have let the world see results that you now perceive as well below your standards. This is not a bad thing; it just means you're getting better and better.
Next time I'll wrap this up with some tips on image manipulation and for printing the best of all possible prints from your efforts.
Ctein's regular weekly column appears on TOP on Thursday mornings.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.