Editing Magic: Post-processing Film Scans

Why is post-processing necessary after scanning film?

Post-processing is a crucial step in film scanning. First and foremost, this is the step where the negative image is converted into a positive. Additionally, post-processing helps correct any imperfections that might have occurred during the scanning process. This is also your opportunity to bring the digital image as close as possible to the original look of the film, or even to enhance it further. The goal is to restore colors, correct exposure, adjust contrast, and fix any dust or scratches that might be present on the film.  Slides require considerably less efforts if captured properly.

What software is best for post-processing film scans?

There are numerous software options available for post-processing, including Adobe Lightroom, Capture One, and open-source options like Darktable. Each of these applications has its strengths. Lightroom and Capture One offer powerful color correction tools, while Darktable provides more in-depth control over your image processing workflow. See upcoming page with software reviews. 

What should I focus on when post-processing my film scans?

When post-processing, your main focus should be on color correction, exposure adjustment, and dust/scratch removal. Depending on the condition of your film, you may also need to address issues like fading and color shifts. Always aim to retain the character and quality of the original film image - though you are free to express yourself like any film photographer does in darkroom.

How can I get the colors right in my post-processing?

Getting the colors right can be challenging, especially with color negatives. Consider that an art. Tools like color balance, hue, saturation, and luminance can help adjust colors to match the original as closely as possible. Capturing on film and then scanning images of color cards like Gretag-Macbet can provide a reference point for color correction. Very important starting point is having proper back light when digitizing with camera.  Note from March, 2024: The best  light now widely available and affordable is CS-Lite from Cinestill - carefully follow manufacturer's instructions.

How can I reduce grain in my film scans during post-processing?

Digital noise reduction tools can help reduce the appearance of grain, but use them sparingly. Overuse can lead to a loss of detail and a 'plasticky' look. Remember, grain is a characteristic of film photography and can add to the aesthetic of your image.

Can I digitize B&W and color film the same way in post-processing?

While the scanning process might be similar, the post-processing for B&W and color film can differ significantly. B&W film typically requires adjustments to contrast, brightness, and potentially dodge & burn techniques. In contrast, color film also involves color correction.

How can I remove dust and scratches from my film scans?

Most editing software includes tools for spot removal, healing, or cloning that can effectively remove dust and scratches. Some software even has automated dust and scratch removal features. However, the best prevention is always to keep your film and equipment as clean as possible. The advanced system of defects removal is built-in in certain scanners and called "ICE". Note ICE is based on the infrared light and  unfortunately does not work for silver-based film (like classic b/w negative film). 

What's the best file format to save my post-processed film scans?

For archiving, it's best to save your post-processed scans as 16-bit TIFF with LZW compression. This format is lossless, supports high color depth, and is widely compatible. For sharing and online use, high-quality JPEGs or newer WEBP format are usually sufficient.

Can I batch process film scans?

Yes, many software applications allow for batch processing, which can save you a lot of time, especially when applying similar corrections to a series of images. Negative Lab Pro allows batch inversion of scans.  Lightroom has extensive tools to perform complex corrections against the array of images. However, each image should still be individually reviewed for best results.

What if I can't get the results I want with post-processing?

If you're not getting the desired results from post-processing, you may need to review your shooting settings and the quality of your lighting, as well as your camera's exposure settings. The issue could stem from the initial digitizing process rather than the post-processing stage. Post-processing is a skill that improves with time and practice. There are numerous resources online, including tutorials and forums, where you can learn more and ask for advice. If you're still having difficulty, it might be worth consulting with a professional retoucher or enrolling in a course to develop your skills.