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  How I Scan My Negatives
  by Wallace Billingham

I get a lot of emails and questions about my scanning workflow. I also see a lot of questions about scanning on various forums that I visit online. So I decided to post my workflow here on this page. For this page I used screen captures from my system. I purposely left them large so they are easier to see.

The first thing you will notice is that I use the regular Epson software that came with my 4490. I use it in what they call "professional mode" which simply means that you can control everything that is going on under the hood. After I put the negatives in the holder I run a preview scan and it looks like this. In this example I am scanning a series of negatives shot with a Diana clone. For B&W negatives I scan in 16bit grayscale and at 3200 DPI

Once the preview scan is made it is time to get to work. I next adjust the target document size in order to select the area I want scanned. For these Diana Clone negatives I use 1.65x1.65 inches. That creates the "dancing ants" lines which I then drag to the first negative to scan. Once I do that I press the Zoom button to enlarge what I am scanning on screen

 

One the zoom scan happens your screen will look like this. You can adjust the "dancing ants" grid line where you want the scan happen. As you can see this Diana Clone has a very uneven film mask which makes the negatives have sloppy borders. I am not a big fan of those so I simply scan my negatives as big as I can while getting clean borders. Once you adjust your scanned area the Epson software will automatically adjust the exposure to what it thinks is best. As you can see in this image the sky is blown out. I never use the auto exposure and instead adjust it using the "Histogram Tool"

When you bring up the Histogram tool it will display the histogram of your image. Each image is different and as such each histogram will be different. A histogram is just a graph that shows you how light and dark each pixel in your image is. In the Epson software the Histogram is represented in 8bits so total black has a value of zero and total white has a value of 256. The autoexposure used also clips the histogram on each end. Which is OK for a quick and dirty scan, however I want the best scan that I can get and I don't want to clip anything. The histogram is all of the data on your negative and once clipped that data is gone and you can not get it back.

The first thing you want to do it stretch the output sliders to have values of zero and 255 as shown above. This will make sure you scan is able to store the full data set of the values of your image. The next step is to adjust the white and black points on your histogram so that they are just touching the edges of your histogram. What you are doing here is telling the scanner what is white and what is black. Everything else will fall somewhere in between. As you adjust these the changes will be reflected in your preview image. Notice how the sky is no longer blown out in the preview. To make sure you have the correct points set hit the "show output" button. That will then show you what the histogram will look like on your output.

As you can see our output looks just right. There is just a tiny gap on each side. What you don't want is to have the histogram touching the sides which would mean that your image would have blocked shadows or blown highlights. As you can see in the histogram below. If you find yourself with clipped data just readjust and try again.

Once scanned your image may look a bit flat. That is OK as you are not done yet. What you have in your RAW scan is a full copy of all the data contained in your negative. From here I bring the image into Photoshop and clone out any stray pieces of dust and then down sample the image into an 8"x8" image at 399 DPI. Then I bring it into Adobe Lightroom to work on the over all tonality. Those are topics however for another page however.