Useful Photography Tip #173: A Common Misconception Involved with Scanning Film Negatives

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If you’re a photographer that started out in digital and then went to film, you’re going to be very surprised by what I’m about to tell you. Okay, ready? It’s almost impossible to get the most out of a film negative through scanning it. The best way to do it is to print directly from the negative in the darkroom by burning and dodging the image.

Why is this? Well, when most scanners scan film, they basically just take a picture of it. But the more advanced scanners do more than that. To understand what they do, consider what happens when a photographer shoots an HDR. They start with a perfectly exposed photo, then +1, -1, +2, -2 and so on. Then the image gets combined and put all together into a single massive TIFF file. That’s why some of them are gigabytes large. But even then, the sensors are limited and they’re still an approximation of what the film is capable of doing. With that said, when you edit a digital scan of your film photo, what you’re essentially editing still is a digital photo.

The same thing will need to be done with the image when trying to Macro DSLR scanning method.

Still, to get the best quality from a film photo, you’ll need to print in the darkroom to paper then dodge and burn or clone scenes accordingly. Time to dust off those enlargers!