How to Get the Most Out of Your Film Scans.

You’ve downloaded your scans and they look fantastic—but now what? We’re breaking down how to get the most out of your film scans—from the time of capture, to in-lab processing to post-processing at home. Learn how to spend less time behind your computer and more time doing what you love.

Time of Capture

A beautiful image starts at the time of capture. When you shoot in the right light and make a proper exposure, you lay the foundation for great scans that best reflect your vision, leading to less time spent in post.

Exposure

Film needs light. Ideally, you want to overexpose your film by 1–2 stops. This will lower your chances of underexposing your shadows, which can create a “muddy” look.

Use a Light Meter

We recommend all photographers meter their subjects. And the best, most accurate way to do this is with a light meter! While in-camera meter readings work great in a pinch, a handheld light meter will provide the most consistent readings from frame-to-frame. And consistent readings create consistent exposures—which leads to consistent scans. Here's how to properly meter.

Bulb + Placement

Where you place your light meter in relation to your subject is important. Place your meter directly in front of your subject, bulb out, facing directly toward where you will be standing when you shoot.⁠

Stretch Out Your Arm

And stand to the side of your meter to avoid bouncing any reflective light off of yourself, which would affect the meter reading.

Meter Frequently

Light changes constantly, every time your light shifts, take a new meter reading. Consistent exposure leads to consistent scans—and allows your film to move through the lab quicker!⁠

Can't Meter Your Subject Directly?

Not a problem, as long as you and your subject are in the same light, simply reach your meter high above your head point it bulb out away from your subjects and boop take a meter reading.

Looking for a handheld light meter? We like the Sekonic L-358 or Gossen DigiPro F2.

Know Your Light + Your Style

Lighting can make or break any image! You can have the best model, in a gorgeous gown, with the most beautiful backdrop, but if the light is harsh, your image won’t be what you are expecting. Then you must reconsider your shooting environment.

Light + Airy

Are you a fan of “light + airy” with soft, creamy skin tones? If so, aim to shoot in soft light where contrast is low. This type of lighting is found in open shade when the sun is low in the sky. Aim to shoot just after sunrise or close to sunset (e.g. golden hour). And don’t forget to overexpose by 1–2 stops.

Shooting in Midday Sun?

Search for open shade where light is naturally diffused. No open shade available? Aim to keep the sun behind your client’s back!

Dark + Moody

Is dark + moody more your style? We got you—dark spaces are A-OK! Just be careful not to underexpose your film and be sure to send us Preference Images that exemplify the style you’re seeking, so we can scan to best match your vision.

Backgrounds are Important

If you are aiming for a lower contrast look, be sure to keep an eye on your background! If your subject is well lit but your background consists of dark shadows or dark scenery, the overall scene will lend itself to the appearance of higher contrast. This is also true when your subject is in shade, a background in direct light will appear harsh and glaring.

Reflective Coloring

Though your clients may be neutral, avoid shooting next to bright colors. Bright colors (like a brick wall, neon clothing or lots of green foliage) can cause strong color casts as the sun reflects off of them and onto your client’s shadows (think under-chin). Aim to shoot in neutrally colored environments and as the photographer, be sure to wear neutral clothing.

In-lab Processing

You have just had a blast out on your shoot and it’s time to ship those precious rolls off to PhotoVision! We will take it from here, but there are a few important steps you can take to help ensure we match our scans to your vision.

Submit Preference Images

Bar none, the most important step you can take is submitting Preferences Images. Preference Images are key to helping us understand your aesthetic! These are what our color techs reference as they scan your work. And there is never a charge to send them in or update them! Preference Images are 3–5 images that exemplify your creative vision in terms of skin—tones, contrast and density. While scanning, we always keep skin-tones as priority—your clients just want to look good!

Use Order-Specific References When Needed

There might be some circumstances where your standard Preference Images don’t successfully portray a specific scene or your vision for a shoot. This is where Order-Specific References come into play! Order-Specific References are most handy when working with manufactured products—believe it or not, manufactured products can be tricky to scan! The way film renders products (like dress or invitation) is not always accurate. To get an idea of what colors we need to be aiming for, send us a quick digital example the same day you ship us your film, so we can use it as a color guide! This is a quick step that can save you lots of time in post.

Number Your Rolls

When it comes to saving time in post, numbering your rolls is key! Numbering your rolls will save you time in 3 different ways:

First off, numbering your rolls helps your order travel through the lab faster. When film is scanned chronologically, our expert color techs see your images in the order you shot them, meaning they don’t have to stop and go back 5 rolls to see what color an invitation was or what a bouquet looked like—it’s right there.

Second, your scans are more consistent. When our expert color techs can scan complete scenes at once, your scans are naturally more consistent! This saves you precious time in post.

Finally, your scans will be uploaded chronologically, meaning the organization is already done for you! No more renaming or moving files around.

Post Processing

Now that our expert color techs have created beautiful scans out of your negatives, it’s time for you to put your finishing touches on your images! If all goes according to plan, post processing consists of fine-tune tweaks, which will look different for everyone, but generally include adjusting brightness, color balance and contrast. We’ll be exploring post processing using Lightroom Classic.

Let’s Start With an Underexposed Image

When film doesn’t receive enough light, it becomes underexposed. Characteristics of underexposure include “muddy” shadows, low contrast and a shift in color palette. Though not ideal, these scans need just a little bit of love to be client ready!

Begin by opening your Develop module in Lightroom and looking at the Histogram. The first thing to notice is that there is virtually no information in the shadows—this is the first thing to fix. We can do this by adjusting the black slider to increase the black point.

After adjusting your image’s contrast, you can adjust the exposure to your liking.

The next thing to notice is that the image's color palette isn’t quite right. We know it can be tempting to edit color right off the bat, but by adjusting exposure and contrast first you are inherently adjusting color, so it is best to hold off on color correction until your exposure and contrast are corrected. In this particular example, there are strong hues of green. To cancel out these hues, simply add green’s opposite—magenta! Do this by adjusting your tint slider until the color begins to look right.

Pro Tip: While adjusting color, keep a close eye on your histogram. Notice the three color peaks on the left side? While adjusting color, you do not want these peaks to completely overlap—doing so will cause your image to shift toward gray.

Now that you have made slight adjustments to the color, take a close look at your client’s skin tone. Do they look a little lifeless? If so, we want to adjust their skin tones by adding red to the midtones of your image via White Balance. To create red slowly, add both yellow + magenta in small increments. Be sure to focus on your client’s skin tone, not the rest of the image! We’ll focus on their surroundings next.

While correcting with our client’s skin tone as priority, we made the coloring of our grass less than ideal. In order to restore true-to-life greens without compromising skin tones, we want to add red’s opposite—cyan—via Split Toning*. To do this, open the Split Toning tab and go to the hue slider underneath the shadows section, and slide it to cyan (or 180). Then, slowly increase the saturation slider (under shadows) to your liking . As you increase cyan’s saturation, you will begin to see your client’s skin tone take on a cyan tone. Because our subject’s complexion is lighter than our shadows, we want to adjust the balance slider to the right—this will suppress the correction into the shadows of our image (and maintain our client’s beautiful skin).

Now, Let’s Correct an Overexposed Frame

Film loves light, but it certainly has its limits. When film is severely overexposed (+5 stops or greater), it develops its own set of characteristics, including compressed highlight and shadow details, which result in a lack of contrast and magenta/red highlights.

Just like with correcting for underexposure, we want to start by adjusting our shadows. However, instead of using the blacks slider first, we'll adjust shadows by decreasing the shadows slider and then, if necessary, the blacks slider to your liking. If your whites are looking bright and glare-y, adjust your whites then highlights sliders to compensate.

Sometimes tone adjustments from the Basic panel aren't quite enough to fix contrast, as is the case for this image. We'll use the Tone Curve panel with a point curve to bring the shadows back the rest of the way.

Next up is color. Identify which colors are showing up where they shouldn't be and add their opposites. We do this in two stages:

Midtone Correction

Shadow Correction

Avoid Hue Saturation + Luminance

While manipulating color in post, avoid adjusting the hue, saturation and luminance sliders. When adjusting these sliders you run the risk of dropping out parts of the color spectrum! Yikes. This will create an image with an unnatural color palette that just inherently looks “off.” Remember: when manipulating color, begin with tint and temperature. Only use hue, saturation and luminance as a last ditch effort. Your clients will thank you!

Sharpening

“Hey, PhotoVision,” you say, “Why don’t you add sharpening at the scanner to save me a step in post?”

Glad you asked! The thing is, when sharpening is added at time of scanning, the scanner sharpens each and every pixel (read: you will have super-enhanced grain!). This extra grain makes your scans very difficult to edit. To save you time and headaches in editing, we strongly recommend you add sharpening yourself as your very last step in post.

After you have completed every edit you wish to make to your images, you can sharpen them by opening the Detail tab and zoom your image in to 100%. Adjust the amount and radius sliders to suit your aesthetic. When sharpening your images, your goal is to match the amount of edge blur in pixels with the radius. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, a good place to start is with a radius of 1 and an amount somewhere between 70–120.

Export Settings for Clients

When exporting your images to be delivered to clients, your ideal output is a JPG in the sRGB colorspace with a quality around 97. Why 97 and not 100? Well, the difference in information lost between a JPG with 100 quality and 97 quality is unnoticeable, yet this small reduction will save you about 30% in file size, which adds up quickly when it comes to hard drives and digital storage!

Ready to Experience Our Top-Notch Film Scans for Yourself?

Photos by Sue Neuenschwander, Ashley Faiman, Meredith Kerr, Mouna Tahar, Adriana Klas, Erich McVey, Ashley Faiman, Matoli Keely, Sarah Ingram, Emily Sweet, Brushfire Photography.