Being Positive about Negatives - Zen And The Art of Scanning Colour Into Lightroom As DNGs...

"It's lovely, I mean, great. But just one question: Why?"

It wasn't quite the response I was expecting from my wife, but it was a fair one. Why would anyone bother to sort through a box-load of old pictures - especially someone else's old pictures - and try to resurrect some of them for the digital age?

Getting older means you accrue stuff. Lots of stuff. Often whether you like it or not. It sticks to you like newspapers to De Niro at the end of Brazil. Like it or not, I became the legal guardian of a lifetime of family photography from my late in-laws.

For two years much of it has sat under my desk in plastic crates, giving me a permanent side-eye every time I sat down to use Lightroom. I felt increasingly guilty and so something had to be done...

I already have a slide scanner (a Plustek 8200i since you asked) as my father-in-law shot loads of slides in the decades before digital and when the crates first arrived I thought it would be fun to scan some just for fun. Just for shits and giggles.

Long story short: The upshot of this was that just recently I've found an affordable service that is going to bulk scan the whole lot (there's a couple of thousand of them). Sorting, organising and scanning these slides was a hill I felt I just couldn't climb, let alone one I was prepared to die on.

And I also already had the scanning software (VueScan) which I used to drive the Plustek because I needed it for a rubbish HP flatbed scanner/laser printer that we use for boring office stuff before iPhones and Google Photos made life easier.

So I set about spending some time browsing through the yellow packets to see which bundles of prints also still had their negatives and maybe pick just one or two of the best ones and have a go at scanning them in as DNGs. somehow, this seemed an easier job - maybe because of the prints as a guide.

After a vital few hours spent studying at Internet University, I bought Negative Lab Pro software ($99 lifetime purchase - well worth it), set up VueScan according to the best practice I could find, rolled up my sleeves and dived in. (This page by Gareth Bevan is REALLY useful and does a lot of the heavy lifting you don't want to).

Because I'd scanned a few slides over the years I sort of had a rough idea of what to expect. I'd already set up Lightroom to watch and auto-import from the folder that the scans  went into.

I use Lightroom tools to clean up the dust and scratches on the images because I know, understand and like them. Yes  I know, Photoshop is probably better and faster and I should learn how to do it there. But I couldn't work out how I could do that and keep the files as DNGs rather than TIFFs. Maybe you can't. I don't know.

Playing around with NLP until you get the process look and feel of the image that you're happiest with is definitely the way to go. Tweaking the various sliders - most of which I have no real understanding of - and seeing how they affect your scanned images is absolutely the way to do it.

Once in Lightroom, most the usual sliders work opposite to how you'd expect them to (I guess because you're dealing with a negative) but some seem to work the same. Either way, they all become very blunt tools to be used with care.

Play and prey seems to be the way forward, and practice makes - if not perfect - then better and improving all the time. 

I'm pretty sure I'm not doing it right, but honestly, that doesn't really matter. Because once a negative is cleaned, scanned and tweaked,  I get to spend as long as I like (or have available) digitally cleaning it up with the spot healing brush.

Lightroom should market this as a relaxation/mindufullness technique for photographers. Looking at the zoomed in photo and playing whack the rat with dust spots is a way to comfortably lose a couple of very restful hours.

Personally, I like to sit in silence and listen to the rain outside while I click, click, click.... But I can see how you might want to crank up the music or talk radio. Maybe with a tea, coffee or glass of wine. It's a simple, repetitive but ultimately creative task that can quickly transport you into "the zone" and happily keep you there for a while. Whatever works for you.

And, at the end - whatever you decide is "the end" -  you have a lovely sharp, clean digital (DNG) version of a picture that was probably the best one of that entire roll.

The single best image from a holiday or a day out that probably hasn't been looked at since it was developed way back when. Now you can easily knock out beautiful looking JPGs that can easily be shared around family and friends or on the socials.

Do it.

But just don't expect anyone else to understand what you're doing or why.




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