Scanning Film

I find when scanning film it pays to follow a procedure. Failure to do this often equals failure to achieve a successful scan (or archived copy). I mentioned earlier the steps I had to go through to get the scanner working so this time I will concentrate on the actual scanning process. I follow the same regime whether I am working with slides or negatives. It can be broken down into three steps – scanning, produce an archive, produce the required useful image.


I use Vuescan to control the scanner. It has the advantage of being cross platform but I principally run it under Linux.

After selecting the shot to be scanned I select the appropriate settings in Vuescan. I have set the defaults to be close to what I need so the main settings to be made are negative or slide and type of film. Vuescan comes with presets for common film so this is easy if I can identify the film. With negatives it is printed on the film strip but with mounted slides it is not possible to tell.

I sometimes change the presets particularly if the film is faded or otherwise degraded, some of the film I am working with is more than 20 years old. Next a preview is made. Although the quality is a little less than the final scan it is a good indication of what I will get. At this point I may try some changes to the settings. Eg, I may preview different white balance settings. The area to be scanned is selected at this point too. There are options to keep the existing aspect ratio if that is important. I don’t crop too heavily at this stage especially if any perspective adjustments are going to be made later.

When I am happy with the preview I select scan. When the scanner has finished it will ask for a file name. Over time I have developed a naming procedure that works for me, it is YYYY_mmddtitle-nnnn.ext. This is year followed by an underscore then month and day, a title (or subject) follows then the image number. The image number is made up of my film catalogue number and the frame number on the film. (I use the same system with digital images but there is no film number so I just use a shot number.) I save the output of the scanner as a tiff.

Produce an Archive

As the output of the scanner has been saved I have an archive but I may do some additional work with a photo editing package. I use the Gimp for most editing. This includes fixing any perspective problem (ie. straightening sloping horizons or leaning buildings) and cleaning up any dust or scratches. A graphic tablet is an ideal tool for cleaning up images. It allows excellent control. I find it a must for detailed editing.

When I am satisfied with the results I save it, still as a tiff. I usually replace the scanned image but I sometimes rename it, usually by appending an “a”, if I consider I have altered it to the stage it is a new image, although this is rare.

Most importantly I save and backup this original scanned image.

The Final (or Useful) Image

This can be done at any time but usually I have scanned an image with the intention of using it, often as a post on my photo blog, “cewatticey”. So at this stage I make any changes to the image I think it needs and resize it and save as a jpeg if it is for use online. I will save in a different format if needed for some other use. I keep the name, just changing the extension unless the site has restrictions on file names, this applies to my photo blog. In this case I rename it to a generic name often using the title. If I have changed a colour photo to monochrome for example I will append a “m” to the filename to make it easy to identify in future.

The copy is saved with the original, if I want to post it somewhere else it saves reprocessing it. If I want to create a version for a different purpose it is created from the original.


Author: Jim

A sixty something living in the Hawkesbury Valley on the edge of Sydney Australia.

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