I’ve been having a ton of fun scanning film negatives at home lately.
Shooting film is plenty expensive. 8 bucks for a roll of Portra, 20-30 for developing and scanning the roll at decent resolution just isn’t in the realm of sustainable practice for me. As a result I had a backlog of 8 rolls of 35mm and 120 film sitting around waiting for a chunk of money with their name on it.
I decided to buy a refurbished Epson V600 and have the film developed and not scanned. All in, the cost was about the same as having paid someone else to develop and scan for me.
But scanning isn’t just about throwing the negative on the scanner bed and waiting a few minutes for a perfect digital representation of what you saw when you pressed the shutter.
There is a sizable learning curve in wrapping one’s head around how the scanner sees things and how that is recorded to a digital file.
With black and white, how one slider or another influences what turns to grey/black mush or noisy, ugly white. With color it is even more complicated than just luminance and shades of grey: On top of the exposure itself, there are 3 channels of colors to mix, match, balance and tweak (Red, Green and Blue). Being able to massage each of these variables is meditative for me if somewhat frustrating. I’m finding that if I am frustrated, I’m doing it wrong.
I’ve frequently been disappointed with the scans I get back from the lab when I have sent my film out. In fairness, they’re developing and scanning a roll of film among hundreds with vanilla settings. I don’t care for vanilla.
Scanning a file to capture all of the tonality and the range of light captured on the film results in a bland, blah file. That however is a great starting point for the next phase of the process which is adding contrast, dodging/burning, all the better things.
Black and white speaks to me more profoundly than color. It is simple in its…simplicity…and yet so very difficult to get just right.
Here are some of the frames shot on Ilford XP2 black and white film from a day trip up the coast to Sonoma in the middle of a mighty rainstorm. There is dust. There is underexposure. There is nothing like shooting and scanning film.