How to Get Better Film Scans

Collaborative communication with your film lab is the key to getting better film scans. What does collaborative communication look like? Reference images, side-by-sides and good ol’ phone calls and emails. Let’s explore how these tools can help you achieve film scans that draw closer to your vision.

Reference Images

Matoli Keely / Maddy Bratcher / Erich McVey

Reference images are what we use to draw close to your vision. We use your reference images as we scan film and color check your scans, so each frame is individually matched to your aesthetic—making your editing in post a breeze and greatly reducing the time you have to spend behind a computer!

Reference images are 3–5 cohesive images you send us that are kept on file to reference while processing each of your orders. Reference images should clearly illustrate the skin tones, contrast, density (e.g. brightness) and saturation you’re striving for in your work. The images should be from environments you shoot in most often (like in lots of greenery, indoors or at the beach). They can be from your own portfolio or from someone who inspires you. ⁠The best part? There is no charge to use or update reference images.

How to Pick Reference Images:

Keep in Mind:⁠

What if Your Style Changes?

Then your reference images should change as well. As a photographer, your vision is bound to shift over time. Be sure to keep us in the loop and update your reference images when your aesthetic shifts, so we can continue to provide film scans as close to your vision as we can!

Ready to Submit or Update Reference Images?

You can do so here!

Order-Specific Reference Images

The difference between standard reference images and order-specific references is this:

Standard Reference Images are kept on file and used for every order you send in, unless otherwise specified.

Order-Specific Reference Images are used for one order only. They are designed to be used in 2 scenarios:

  1. You want to get the color of an object just right, taking priority over skintones. Objects like an invitation suite, place setting, bridesmaid dress, suit, floral installation, backdrop, etc. When using order-specific references in this way, a phone capture or a shot from your digital camera will work just fine!
  2. You want to try a photography style that differs from your standard reference images. Maybe you want to try a “dark and moody look” or a flatter scan with less contrast. Order-specific references are a great way to test out a new aesthetic prior to overhauling your standard references. When using order-specific references in this way, you can either send in edited digital files from your shoot or send inspiration images that clearly depict the aesthetic you are aiming to achieve in terms of skintones, density (e.g. brightness), contrast and saturation.

When you upload your order-specific reference online at time of ordering, just be sure to indicate if it’s an exact color match for us to follow or if it’s just to give us a general sense of the environment.

The Power of Order-Specific References.

Sarah Ingram sent us an order a few years back filled with beautiful tablescapes and flatlays. At the time of scanning, we didn’t have any order-specific references. So our scanning techs used their best judgment to determine what they thought the invitations and tablescape looked like. Here’s how we scanned the images the first time around:

After viewing her scans, Sarah reached out and sent us a few helpful images she had snapped on her phone that showed us the correct color of the invitation suite and tablescape.

Now, with Sarah’s order-specific references in hand, our expert color techs could see the correct color and “real-life” lighting situation and scan accordingly—which saved Sarah so much time in post!

Order-Specific References (Snapped on Phone):

actual order specific refs she sent.jpg

Film Scans After Using Order-Specific References:

Ready to Send Order-Specific References?

You can upload them when you order film scanning online or email them to us with the order number they belong to.

Side-by-Sides Can Help You Hone in Your Film Scans.

Written feedback can be tricky to decipher. Side-by-sides are the best way to communicate with us when your film scans feel “off.” These simple “before and afters” help us draw closer to your vision and save you time editing!⁠

⁠⁠What is a Side-by-Side?

Side-by-sides show our original scan next to your edited version of that same scan. They help us see what edits you’re making, and allow us to determine what adjustments we might be able to make at scanning and color check to better match your aesthetic!⁠⁠

⁠⁠How to Make a Side-by-Side:

Place our original scan as we sent it to you on the left side of your canvas. Then, add your edited version of the same scan to the right side of the canvas. That way we always know which is which!⁠⁠ Alternatively, you can take a screenshot of your before/after in Lightroom. Just be sure your ideal image is on the right.

Remember: Our Controls Have Limits.

One “click” of adjustment made at our film scanner is equivalent to roughly 5 points of adjustment in Lightroom. So while we may not be able to perfectly match your edit, we will draw as close as we can!⁠⁠

Side-by-Sides Photographers Have Sent Us:

The Poffs' side-by-side shows their original scan on the left and their edited version on the right. Their edited image helps us see they'd like greater warmth, saturation and a bit more contrast in their final scans. Now we know how to best match their vision!

Katie Grant's side-by-side shows our original scan on the left and her edited scan on the right. This edit shows us she prefers a darker scan that retains greater detail in the highlights.

Natalie Broach’s side-by-side show us she'd like a slightly brighter scan with a touch more saturation and contrast.

Emily March Payne shows us she'd like a brighter scan with a touch more warmth, saturation and contrast.

⁠⁠How to Send Us a Side-by-Side:

Email them to us at We'll add them to your reference images for future orders. Questions? We're always happy to help. Call 503-588-3686.

How to Talk to Your Film Lab.

We Promise We’re Not Scary.

We’re not gonna judge you or shame you. Really! We want to hear what you think of your scans and we want to know if you have questions so we can help you reach your image goals! We won't know unless you tell us.

“I remember back to the days when I used to be nervous to call my old film lab or ask them questions out of fear of embarrassing myself or bothering them. Even after hearing, ‘Communicate with your lab!’ and encouraging others to do the same, I often held back. I now realize that there should truly be no fear in the matter. The entire PhotoVision Team is made up of humans who understand that mistakes happen. And they not only want you to succeed in your work and business, they want you to love your work AND your process.” — Kallie Dawn Photography

Let’s Talk!

Please don’t ever hesitate to reach out, the entire team is here to help! You can email, call 503-588-3686 or schedule a Zoom call.