Tips on getting the most out of very badly exposed images using a scanner.
This is the story of a doomed roll of Lomo colour negative film. After the whole roll was shot and during the course of winding the film back into the canister, the camera back was accidentally opened. The part of the film that had not been wound back into the can was briefly exposed to light (indoor artificial lighting). Uh-oh!
The film was sent for processing to the LomoLab with the print and scan options. But when it came back, the packet had an ‘unexposed’ sticker on it and no prints nor scans.
Unexposed? I knew there were images on the film, since I took them! Checking the negatives, there appeared to be some faint images. I carefully cut up the long single strip of uncut film so I can put it in a negative sleeve to take a better look on a light box…
The processed film: some terrible exposures and 1.5 frames of properly exposed images at the end (the first and fourth strips are shown up-side down).
There were 1.5 frames of properly exposed images at frames 19 and 20. Five or so of the other frames had faint images on them. I decided to scan the good images and see what I can get from the rest.
The correctly exposed images were easy to scan. The other frames called for some ‘extreme-scanning’! Look at the photo above and guess how many shots I managed to rescue.
Here are the results…
Surprisingly, I got more images than expected by taking the time to play around with the scanner’s software and really pushing the settings to the extremes.
The films were scanned on an Epson flatbed scanner using the Epson Scan software. The description below sometimes refers to the controls in Epson Scan (given in italics), but other scanning software will have similar settings.
You must control the settings manually, so switch off all automatic scanning and image adjustments (in Epson Scan: select ‘Professional mode’), such as: auto exposure, auto level, unsharp mask, grain reduction, colour restoration, descreen, etc. In the case of this film, the poor exposure means that the edges of each frame are no longer distinguishable. This scanner uses software to automatically detect the frame edges; this feature has to be switched off so the frames can be defined manually (in Epson Scan: switch off ‘Thumbnail preview’).
Having switched off all auto features, the only controls I used were:
- Tone correction
- Brightness/Contrast/Saturation/Color Balance
- Digital Ice for dust removal (if your scanner has this)
The images I got were the results of tweaking the first three parameters in the list above. You have to do this in the scanning software (not in a post-processing software, such as Adobe Photoshop) so the adjustments can be applied at the time of scanning in order to get the most information out of the raw film.
Pushing the exposure, brightness and contrast settings to the extremes initially introduced colour distortion to the images (or at least it did using Epson Scan), which I decided not to try and correct but to work with it. Given such poor exposure, there really is no ‘true colour’ information in the film anymore. So rather than getting what would otherwise be muddy looking shots, I think the distorted colours actually added some interest to the images. What do you think? Is this kind of image adjustment acceptable if we want to stay true to analogue?
Well, with these images (below) taken at a boxing ring, I decided to add more grit to the action by applying a dust filter. In Photoshop, select >Filter >Noise >Dust & Scratches…
Yah, I am just winding you up. Actually, I added an analogue dust filter – don’t clean the film and switch off Digital Ice! (To increase the ‘threshold’ setting, put the film on a carpet first.) For these images, I thought the lack of frame edges (which merged the sequence of action shots together) and the graininess caused by poor exposure added to the mood of a fight. (You can click on this photo and use the superviewer feature to get a better look.) (Note that these shots are from the first few frames in the third strip of film, which showed no sign of any image at first glance!)
The moral of the story is… if you know there was something on your film, even if the lab says there’s no image, don’t give up on it – rescue it. Give it some extreme-scanning love and see what you can get, you may be surprised by the results!