I’ve been complaining about lab scans a lot in my recent posts. Of the rolls of landscape shots on the Mamiya 7 II that I’ve showed so far, only a couple of the scans I received from the lab were usable in my opinion. I ended up re-scanning the majority of the negatives myself, and in the process of doing so I’ve realized just how important the scanning process is. A couple minor modifications to the the scanner’s settings will result in a dramatically different image. Things like color balance and highlight/shadow clipping are very much up to the discretion of the technician doing the scanning.
That seems obvious in hindsight, but it’s not something that I fully understood until I started scanning myself. Sometimes I’d look at the scan that the technician produced and compare it to the negative and almost not realize that they’re the same picture. I can’t count the number of times I got washed out highlights in my image only to look at the negative and realize the issue wasn’t with the exposure but rather with the scanning. I’d re-scan the image myself and get exactly what I had in mind when I took the image.
I think this emphasizes the importance of being clear about what you want with your lab (if you’re not doing the scanning yourself). This is easier said than done, though. No matter what I say, I’ll be relying on some technician to interpret it appropriately. I can ask them to “scan for the highlights on landscape shots”, but just how much room do they leave in the highlights? It’s always going to be a judgment call, and unfortunately that means I’m turning over a lot of the creative process to some stranger who probably doesn’t care about my photos.
For me, part of the draw of shooting film was to simplify my photography. This has worked out wonderfully in the shooting process, but it’s been much less successful in post-production. I had naively thought that nearly all the tedious decisions I used to make in post-production would be eliminated. No longer would I need to browse through hundreds of VSCO film presets – I already used a film! No longer would I need to toy with white balance or color palettes – the film would take care of all of that for me. I figured I’d just need to tweak contrast a bit and be done.
Sadly, that’s not turning out to be the case at all. If I get a technician who has a different artistic vision than me, I can end up with unsalvageable JPEGs with orange instead of red rocks and white skies. Then I re-scan the images myself and am faced with a maddening array of color palette decisions…exactly what I was trying to avoid in the first place. And not only that, the scanner that I have inevitably does a poor job of resolving all the detail in these medium format negatives, so I end up trying to massage the right amount of sharpening out of my files with high pass filters and the like. And then there are the dust spots…oh the dust spots… shudders
Oh well. I suppose it’s a good thing that I care this much about the images I’m producing. In the end, I guess I don’t really want a super-simple process to create art. I like the challenge and the tedium. Quality isn’t something that’s achieved through deliberate effort. I just need to remember that next time I pull out the clone stamp to get rid of another dust spot…
As for this particular roll of film, these were taken in Bryce Canyon National Park during my trip to Utah last March (I’m so behind on posting!). Some of these scans came back from the lab in ok shape, and since most of the shots weren’t anything special I didn’t hassle with re-scanning the whole roll. I did re-scan a couple sunrise shots that were especially abhorrent, though. These cases are pointed out below with a note of which scan is mine and which scan is the lab’s (not that you’ll need any help figuring out which is which…).
All shots were taken with my Mamiya 7 II and the 80mm f/4 lens. The film was Ektar 100, and it was developed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab. For the scans I did myself, I used an Epson V850 scanner and Silverfast software. All files were processed to some degree in Lightroom and/or Photoshop. Enjoy!