Friday, January 04, 2008

Photoshop versus Reality

I'm mostly an analogue photographer...but I don't have a darkroom. I develop my own film and, after that, I have to scan the negatives on my computer. For the most part, I just clean up the dust and stray hairs and maybe tone the image, or adjust the contrast when needed. My scanner is a Canoscan 8400F. I think I paid maybe $150 for it new. Now, I'm not sure if it's the scanner, or the software, or most likely a combination of the two, but it just doesn't scan very well sometimes. Other times, though, it's a photo saver.
Okay, so there are really two sides to the coin. On the one side, the scanner and photoshop isn't very good at scanning. It quite often leaves scanlines, or artifacting across the entire print. It doesn't always pick out the detail, often posterizing along the edges of things, or in gradations. I have a great shot that I can see on the neg. It was a dark room looking towards a window. I can see all the detail in the room, I can see the counter, I can see the jar on the counter. I can even see all of this stuff in the image preview for the scanner. When I scan it, I get black, and a white square for the window, and the lid of the jar. Granted, it's a very thin negative. It was very dark in the room. But I can see everything with my own eyes. The software absolutely refuses to acknowledge any detail in the neg. I have tried 20 different variations in settings, even brightening the entire image. I still get the exact same thing, a white window and a jar lid. I have a feeling I could probably bring this print out with an enlarger and the proper paper/developer.
The other side of the coin. There are shots that would probably print like complete crap if I used an enlarger. Usually it's dark, but not dark enough that the scanner can't pick everything out. Low light shots with toy cameras tend to be very low in contrast, and very grainy. If I can get the software to scan an image, I can almost always pull something out in Photoshop. This is particularly useful with expired film, as the images are often very faint, or very noisy. And it's obviously useful when scanning Polaroid goops, as it generally follows the same steps as pulling an image from a thin, bad negative.
What brought all this about? Well, I was just going through old negatives looking for shots I might have skipped over for whatever reason. I was in Jerome last year and took quite a few Diana shots. It was very cloudy and cold and just kind of dark. Not very toy camera friendly weather. Didn't stop me from shooting. One of the shots I was looking at today was this one. This is how Photoshop scanned the image.


Low light, low contrast, grainy. Also what tends to happen is that when the scanner software has to try harder to grab an image from the film, it picks out 10 times as much garbage at the same time. Gobs of dust and hair magically appear. So I fiddled with it in Photoshop, cleaned it up, and this is the end result.


Still maybe not the most exciting shot. I haven't decided how much I like it, but it certainly looks better than the original scan. Here are some other examples of shots I've manipulated in Photoshop.

Before


After


Before


After


Before


After


Before


After



Now, these changes aren't extreme. I'm not adding or subtracting objects from the photographs. I'm not altering anything, really, except maybe the look and the mood of the photograph. You might almost say they don't really look all that different after than they did before.
I'm kind of on the line when combining past technology and present technology. I certainly don't deny the usefulness of such tools as Photoshop. But I hesitate to rely on them. I like some of the purity of analogue photography. Technology is almost too easy (though, really, it does take some skill and experience to make a program like Photoshop work for you). I'm not an elitist, either, turning my nose up at the digital generation (as I'm really part of it). I just feel like I'm cheating myself if I don't rely on other skills to produce my photographs. That being said, I'm obviously relying on digital technology quite a bit for the presentation of my photographs. All this goes through my head as I see film slowly dying. Sure, there will always be film photography at some level, but when you can't even buy a film camera at an electronics store, or even have trouble finding disposable film cameras in some areas, you realize it is a dying art form.
And at the top of my list of dying photographic methods...Polaroid! Man, I will be so bummed when Polaroid film is gone for good. And it will happen one day. They halt production on one Polaroid film after another. Fuji fortunately makes instant film, and they seem to be very dedicated to continuing in the film market...but it is still going by the wayside.
And, I am so excited, because I just obtained some rolls of Type 47, which is 3000 speed Polaroid rollfilm! Expired in 1980, but it may still work if it's not bone dry. Can't wait to try. Of course, I had to buy a rollfilm camera. I picked up a Polaroid 150 for 12 bucks. Huge camera, weighs a ton. I'll report back when I get the film and try it out. I love photography schtuff.

4 comments:

  1. Adobe and Epson are like the mafia. Without the two, our photography is basically dead. Well for me anyhow. Nice write up with the comparisons. Interested in seeing what you do with that great 150. I threw two of these away already...tho different models. Where the hell do you put them at....

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  2. I've been in the same situation as you are and your thoughts mirror very well mine.
    I'm glad to have my personal work flow that involves medium format film and a scanner. This is how I do my photos mainly for the web at the moment. If I had a lab, I'd love to do black an white prints.
    When it comes to altering the images I guess I go mostly by the rule: what I could do in the lab is fine in digital.

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  3. What you're doing digitally is what you would have had to do in the darkroom a decade ago.

    In terms of getting more control with your scanner, try SilverFast software. It has more controls than the bundled scanner drivers and also has film profiles built-in. I like using it with my Epson scanner.

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  4. how do you even scan negatives? i've tried and can't get it..at all

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