Thoughts on Digitisation Thoughts on Shooting Film

My Colour Film Photography Workflow, or: A Rant about how Software isn’t the Enemy!

There’s been a large amount of chatter on some of the analogue photography Facebook groups recently about whether or not it’s cheating to use software to tweak your film photos to look how you want them to. Personally – as someone who uses Lightroom as part of my workflow – I find the whole conversation absurd. It’s my process, they are my photos, I know how I want them to look, so why shouldn’t I achieve that outcome by whatever means I see fit?

The fact is though, whilst I have learned to have this confidence in myself and my processes, I see many other people online who haven’t, and in some cases are questioning their approach just because they’re being told it’s somehow less valid by a minority of detractors.

For a long time, I was actually quite hesitant to talk about some of this stuff on here. I do think I lacked the confidence in my approach to feel like I could stand by it as valid. But now that’s changed, I am confident and happy in my processes. Of course, as I say, there are plenty of people out there who aren’t so confident. There are also a few people who seem to be very closed minded when it comes to different approaches to shooting film. These two factors are how these conversations on social media seem to start. Either someone will come forward questioning the validity of an approach through their own humility, or worse, someone will start questioning other people’s approaches though their own hubris. Both result in the same conversations.

I’d guess the conversations about the validity of using digital software within broader analogue processes have been around for as long as the concept of digitising film has – it’s just one of those conversations that never finds a conclusion. One half of the community seems to think that software manipulation is distorting the true nature of the film, with the other half making the argument that there are so many potential distortions within any workflow, software manipulation either doesn’t matter, or in fact can help bring out the true nature of the film.

Personally, I take the latter point of view. Unless you are exposing perfectly, shooting a lens that’s completely neutral in its colour transmission, you are highly skilled at developing colour film, and are also more than competent at colour printing; there’s a hell of a lot of room for error even before you enter the digital domain.

And when you do enter the digital domain, you’ve got the colour science of the scanner and scanning software to contend with, alongside any colour profiling issues that are specific to individual films and potential issues with the orange base of colour film to correct. In short, it’s a minefield, which is why it’s a subject I have long been quite hesitant to dip into.

As I’ve alluded to, I think a lot of that hesitation comes from a place of concern that there are holes in my own workflow that perhaps mean I’m not quite getting the most out of the films I shoot. More recently though, I’ve begun to feel like I’m plugging those holes, reducing the variables, and finding more consistency in my results.

Konica Hexar RF, Voigtlander 50mm 1.2

Portra 800, Shot in a Konica Hexar RF & Scanned with my Noritsu Ls1100

I have also quite recently come to the conclusion that my workflow is probably similar to quite a few other people’s out there, so the results I get should be reasonably representative of what a lot of other people can and do achieve themselves following similar paths. As such I hope, at very least, that me coming out of the workflow-closet as a fully signed up prescriber to the software-route to good results, might actually be of some use, or perhaps even reassure people that this sort of approach is ok – despite what some people out there seem to think.

That said, I feel I should emphasise here, I’m not trying to prescribe this route to end results, I’m just highlighting it as my personal process, the key to good results is not doing what I do, it’s finding and learning a path that works for you, both in terms of the processes, but also how it fits into your lifestyle – a point I will come back to in a moment.

My colour workflow

I’ve talked about my 35mm workflow a bit before here, though that was in relation to black and white film rather than colour. To be honest, the process is fairly similar, though – at least these days – I have a slightly more on-the-ball approach to exposure when it comes to colour film. As I talk about in the previous post, I find black and white film to be a little more forgiving, but now I’m scanning myself, I’ve found it to be highly beneficial to expose colour film more precisely if I want good colours – especially when trying new films.

For those who haven’t read that previous post, my workflow (once the film is exposed) first involves sending the roll of film away to be developed. I shoot a little less than a roll of film a week, on average, so the cost is palatable and the volume too low to home-develop without wasting lots of chemicals. I’m also too lazy, and worry about my abilities to continue to get good results if I start home developing colour. I’m not ruling it out long term – it’s just not something I do at the moment.

The benefit of sending my film to a lab is that I get pretty consistent results, and so I know where I stand when it comes to my scanning process. I’ve chosen a lab, and for a long time have stuck with them. As I talked about in my previous post about my black and white workflow, the benefit of picking a lab and sticking with them is in the fact that you’re essentially – at least as much as possible – removing a variable, or perhaps even series of variables. I use AG photo lab currently, and as far as I know they have always used the same chemicals and keep them nice and fresh. I’ve had a tour of the lab, and seen how they work, so have a good amount of faith in their ability to return my colour negs to me in a consistent manner.

When it comes to scanning, I’m lucky enough to have a Noritsu LS1100 scanner to play with. Unfortunately, I’m also too lazy to set it up as well as some people do. As such, apart from some tweaks to the density correction control, the most I do in the scan is adjust the contrast to create slightly flatter .tiff file scans.

Depending on the subject matter and lighting conditions, I tend to apply the same scanning setting to all the frames to start with. As I go through the frames I might then apply further contrast adjustments if I’m scanning particularly high-contrast scenes, or frames taken in low light conditions. I also turn off the sharpening, as I find sharpening in post to be more effective.

Exposing correctly gives me good negatives that rarely require much if any need to tweak the colour channels in the scan – this is great, but unfortunately, despite all its positive traits, I find the output from the Noritsu to have a slightly yellow/orange cast which I believe to be a remanent of the orange base.

To remove this, I pull the scans into Lightroom and tinker slightly with the white balance, colour channels and camera calibration. Each colour film I shoot has a starting-point preset that I’ve created that I apply to the whole roll. This starting point also includes some basic contrast adjustments to counteract most of the flatness that I created in the scan. I do it this way round as scanning flatter pulls more detail out of the negative for me to play with in post. As we all know, I’m sure, contrast is easier to add than it is to take away. This is especially beneficial when it comes to scanning frames taken of high contrast scenes.

The above comparison is a flat scan I did to give me plenty to work with in Lightroom vs. the final image

Once I’ve pulled the images in to Lightroom and applied my base adjustments to the whole set, I then go through the shots and pick the ones I want to keep. Once selected I then do a further run through the chosen images making a few subtle tweaks to any images that need a bit more work. Once I’m happy, I output them and share them on the internet.

Now I must admit, I’m rarely completely 100% happy with the results. It feels like there’s always someone out there who’s getting sharper, higher quality scans with better colour than I am. But whilst I always feel I have room to improve, I know my results are pretty good, and are pretty accurate to what the film should look like. I also enjoy the process: I get to shoot film (which I enjoy for all the reasons many of us do), I outsource the messy bit, then deal with the bit where I get to impart my creative desires onto the end results in a way that suits me and my lifestyle. How can anything about this possibly be cheating?

The ranty bit

The answer is, at least in my opinion, it isn’t cheating – it’s just one of many ways to do it. It also happens to be the way I do it. I have the utmost respect for those out there who have the patience and skills to shoot, develop and produce images with greater skill, experience and with different methods to me; of course I do… I might, in time, even learn some of those skills and gain the greater knowledge required to improve my output or change my approach. But, what I am doing now suits me, and more importantly, when I look back at some of my scans from as little as six months ago, I can see improvements in my results, so I know I must be doing something right – at very least, I’m learning…

And the point is, I’m learning in my way, and tapping into the knowledge I already have, combining it with information I find reading around online to improve. I’ve been learning like this for years too – both in terms of my analogue and fully digital photography. The reality is, there’s no magic bullet to perfect results – Lightroom doesn’t come with a “fix my scan” switch. And without experience, it can lead you down a garden path to some pretty bloody dodgy results. I’ve had to learn to “see” colours, understand how white balance works, how the camera calibration sliders impact on the results, and how to harness it all together to get the results closer and closer to how I want them to be.

Konica Hexar RF, Voigtlander 50mm 1.2

A recent portrait of my good mate Gianni – It’s really only recently that I have found myself able to get scans as good as this 

I don’t have any experience in a darkroom printing from colour negs to tap into. The skill set I tap into is based in Lightroom – a piece of software I’ve been using in its various versions since v.2 about 12 years ago. I’ve spent a lot of time working out how to make this software work for me, how to harness it to improve my photography. There’s a lot of man hours in all those years that I’ve dedicated to learning this software, so why shouldn’t I be allowed to tap into those skills? Why are those skills regarded by some as cheating, when other skill sets aren’t?

The answer, I suspect, lies in the nature of analogue photography as a pursuit with many more traditional methods. Those who detract from methods like mine likely lack the knowledge to understand what goes into them – just as I lack the knowledge and the skills that they have. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, what’s new is seen as less valid than what’s old, so processes like mine get judged negatively by comparison to more traditional darkroom methods.

Of course, actually, just because certain processes are judged negatively by some, doesn’t mean they any less valid. In fact – or at least in my opinion – the only person who has the right to judge a process as valid or otherwise is the person partaking in that process. After all, we’re all different, all like different things, all have different personality traits that lead to slightly different reasons for doing things. As such our appreciation for what works for us as individuals, is bound to be different from person to person.

Ultimately, my advice is this: If you feel like you’re cheating, or somehow taking a shortcut, the first thing I would do is ask yourself why you feel like that? Is it because some knobby-know-it-all on Facebook said it’s cheating, or is it because you’re not finding what you’re doing  personally satisfying?

If it’s the former, I suggest you ignore them and carry on doing what makes you happy. If it’s the latter, then maybe you need to change things up a bit – maybe it’s time to learn something new or different as part of your personal journey to finding what does make you happy and gets you the results you want.

After all, finding the process that makes you the happiest whilst also resulting in images that are how you want them to look, has to be the end goal! Else really, what would be the point in taking part?

“I enjoy photography because it makes me sad and I hate the outcome” said no one ever!

Some thoughts about my black & white process can be found here

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60 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Steven Bleistein
    April 8, 2019 at 10:28 am

    I use Lightroom all the time to adjust both color and monochrome scans. I am always amazed how much detail film captures that Lightroom can bring out even minor adjustments or automatic optimization. Back in the day, I imagine lab techs and photographers made similar adjustments when processing prints, albeit with much greater labor intensity. Wouldn’t it be silly to assert they were somehow cheating too?

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 11:37 am

      Indeed. I do wonder sometimes if some of the detractors are those who were involved in more labour intensive processes. There does seem to be a sense in some people that if something is harder to do, then the outcome is better…

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    Reply
    barry reid
    April 8, 2019 at 10:33 am

    Re the chatter – Presumably the chatter is coming from the sort of hair-shirt mentalists who think there should be no automation, no meter, no plastic parts and never, under any circumstance whatsoever batteries in a camera. The kind of people who judge SLR cameras and lenses by wight – heavier is ALWAYS better…

    Ultimately, photography is a technical art, and there are many paths to whatever image the photographer wants to achieve. Everyone should embrace whatever technology they enjoy/find productive.

    FWIW I was scanning on a flatbed back and making inkjet prints as a camera club member back in the ’90’s and fought the digital processing battle back then (one elderly judge dismissed a print on silvered paper as not being a photograph). It’s not an argument that should need made any more.

    One way or another images are manipulated in shooting, development and printing. There’s no issue, beyond petty semantics, with digital tools. The terms ‘dodge’ ‘burn’ ‘cut’ and ‘paste’ didn’t arrive with PS 1.0 and all have real world antecedents – as an architecture student 30 years ago i was ‘stithcing’ using 6×4″ prints and a scaplel.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 11:39 am

      “hair-shirt mentalists”, I’m really sad that I didn’t use this phrase somewhere in my post! Excellent!

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    Reply
    Pure.amateur
    April 8, 2019 at 10:36 am

    I completely agree with you. Opinions that using the software to make your photo as you want is cheating are rubbish. In an old era after developing which already could give different results on the negatives depending on the chemicals, temperature etc. you would process it and that involved large numbers of possible alternations of the photos. Lightroom is exactly that process but digitally and is faster. In few occasions I used lightroom to change my photos to gray-scale because expired film was so bad i couldn’t get any decent colour pictures. Does it make it cheating or lesser photography because I should shoot b/w film..no I just wanted my pictures to look clean, nice and presentable.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 11:41 am

      Ha, converting colour to black and white is a massive sin, by some people’s standards. Probably the same people who would roll their eyes at the idea of a blacks and white digital camera… 😉

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Michael Kay
    April 8, 2019 at 10:44 am

    Hamish,
    Have you ever tried digitizing your negatives with a digital camera & Negative Lab Pro? I’m well aware that you’re Mr. Pixl*Latr, but I meant more in regard to NLP. It seems to be a real game changer. Scanner days seem to be over now (for many anyways). It looks to give a person better images & it speeds up the process by quite a bit over traditional scanners. I know it’s the “in vogue” thing to do right now (due to cool dudes like Matt Day and others), but the results seem to speak for themselves.
    Your thoughts chap?

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 11:43 am

      I’m a big fan of NLP, yes! Nathan is a genius!
      For me though, 35mm is just easier through the Noritsu which does a whole roll in about 10mins. I use pixl-latr for mf and lf, which I shoot less.
      Matt day is on my list to send a pixl-latr too, ASAP

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Ashley Carr
        April 9, 2019 at 9:44 am

        I’ve never really understood the argument for not touching film after it’s developed. I tend to think it comes from people who have zero experience of developing and printing before the advent of digitisation.

        A negative, be it colour or black and white was very very rarely printed ‘straight’. The negative should be seen as a starting point and NOT the end of the process. Much like a RAW file coming out of a digital camera, it needs basic adjustments at the very least. Saying nothing should be done to a negative is akin to saying a raw file should not be worked on…ridiculous.

        One thing I do feel strongly about, and this only applies to black and white film, is that anyone serious about shooting it consistently should really try and start developing their film themselves. The range of possibilities available to those that take on their developing is huge. Different developers, different dilutions and the relationship between how you rate and expose your film really opens up what black and white film is capable of.

        Using a lab for black and white film can be seriously limiting and only scratches the surface of the potential you can achieve with black and white film. With a lab you’re stuck with one developer for every type of film you send them, in AG’s case that developer is Fuji Negastar. It’s ok as developers go but you’ve got to hope it plays well with the film you’re sending them.

        • Avatar
          Reply
          Hamish Gill
          April 19, 2019 at 11:17 am

          I tend to agree, though it doesn’t make me less lazy … 😀

  • Avatar
    Reply
    CW
    April 8, 2019 at 10:45 am

    This is a great article, Hamish, and mirrors my thoughts and experience exactly.

    The point you make about taking photographs for ourselves is the crux of the issue in my opinion. Too many people take photos to impress others, even if they are in denial of that fact. If that is your motive then it’s easy to be swayed by ‘purists’ or anyone else as to how you should do things.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 11:44 am

      Yeah, and by making things more difficult, people seem to think they also make what they do more impressive…

  • Avatar
    Reply
    John Carlson-Zizic
    April 8, 2019 at 11:03 am

    My personal take on shooting film, which varies between 35mm & 120, is that it must provide a sense of purpose in your photography, leave you feeling somehow satisfied. The shooting of film is creating, it is in the action and contemplation of the subject, the thought and the time to really discover what your next photograph will be. It is an escape for me back to the early 1980s and a Canon AE-1 with just one lens, a 50mm prime.
    Sure I love seeing my images returned, I love checking negatives but shooting film is in the approach.
    I believe that within a hybrid workflow you should hold some truth to the film type you are shooting and this returns to the approach, what you were trying to achieve when you thought of that photograph. Writing frame notes are a great way to aid in processing too.
    We need to accept that the greatest photographs were manipulated in the darkroom, either during development or during printing and most likely both, that’s fact.
    I certainly have admiration for those who have learnt these skills, who have setup darkrooms and invested into darkroom equipment however I do not have the room or time at the moment, Adobe is my darkroom and if that’s what it takes to get more people-photographers shooting film then that’s a good thing for all of us.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 11:46 am

      I follow that same ideal too – choose the film that suits the end result you want.
      That said, if someone wants to shoot Agfa vista and convert it to black and white because it’s cheap and they still get results they are happy with, then more power to them I say.
      Otherwise, yeah, 100% agree

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Martin
    April 8, 2019 at 11:21 am

    ll just throw in a few Ansel Adams quotes:
    “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”
    “I am sure the next step will be the electronic image, and I hope I shall live to see it. I trust that the creative eye will continue to function, whatever technological innovations may develop.”
    “No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.”
    “Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.”
    “The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster.”

    Source:
    https://shuttermuse.com/42-inspirational-ansel-adams-quotes-photography/

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 11:46 am

      Yeah, I’ve heard of him, he knew his onions, right 😉 😉

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    Reply
    James
    April 8, 2019 at 11:40 am

    Spot on. Rather than hubris, however, I’d say that those espousing the ‘right’ way to do things are just waving a banner for their own insecurity. Why would you criticise ‘wrong’ methodologies in what is – at any level – a creative field, unless you felt threatened?! Honestly, whether you like to home-roast your own single-farm beans, or tuck into the lowest grade freeze-dried, just enjoy your coffee – and let others enjoy theirs!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 11:47 am

      Yep, you’re probably right!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Martin Smith
    April 8, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    The watch word is ‘convenience’

    I use Gimp, I dodge, I burn and I may touch up spots or hairs. All of which I would have done in the darkroom but nothing else other than for online images I do add a frame and name plus copyright symbol. The same as Steven, I’m impressed by the detail from the scans from my negatives, and find for myself it convenient as setting up a full darkroom at the moment is not a option.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 12:07 pm

      NO! You’re not allowed convenience in analogue photography! Analogue photography is arduous, slow and difficult!
      😉
      (Spot on!)

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Martin
        April 8, 2019 at 1:45 pm

        It all started when you didn’t have to coat your plates yourself!! 😉 (with gelatine cooked from self slaughtered oxes’ bones)

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Neil
    April 8, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    Yep I agree totally. It’s just another example of the self flagellation analogue disciples dish out to themselves on a regular basis. I’ll often convert colour 35mm or 120 scans to black and white too, which I realise is completely unforgivable! Look at this image

    https://www.vivrelaphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/retouche-photo-argentique-1.jpg

    The amount of manipulation here to get the final result is significant, yes it requires a great deal of skill and experience to manipulate a print like this, but you could do the same thing in Lightroom and what would be wrong with that? A hybrid workflow using both analogue and digital elements is a great thing in my opinion.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 10:19 pm

      Yep, exactly!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Rollin Banderob
      April 11, 2019 at 7:50 pm

      It’s the twelve inches behind marking up the print, running the enlarger or the mouse . . . .
      Thanks for sharing that link.

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    Reply
    JamesW
    April 8, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Hmmm….. strokes beard, scratches head, thinks. Starting with the facts. Ready? No-one can get inside your head without your permission. Someone tells you what is right and wrong in your workflow? Only if they can prove it’s better than what you got. Different isn’t of itself better. Better is better. Don’t let any idea into your head without your permission.
    Including this one.
    Thanks for posting, Hamish.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 10:19 pm

      Haha, quite right!! I very much hope people don’t take what I say too seriously!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Jim Grey
    April 8, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    To hell with the haters. You do you. I have my own (sloppy) color-neg workflow. It works for me and if anyone says I’m not doing it right I’m immediately considering them to be a buffoon or a pedant.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 10:17 pm

      Haha! Quite right!

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    Reply
    Rhianne
    April 8, 2019 at 2:43 pm

    Haha, knobby know it all. I enjoyed that. Do any of those people scan their films themselves? Because if I didn’t tweak my scans when scanning I would hate them all – the scanning software makes changes automatically anyway, so theres always going to be some ‘cheating’ if you go by that.

    Honestly though, I don’t read much on forums or about how I ‘should’ do something – I’ve been taking film photos and blogging about them long enough now that I know my own ‘shoulds’ just like you do.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 10:17 pm

      Yeah, I don’t read them much either – I’m just a member of enough facebook groups to see this conversation rearing it’s head very regularly. Quite often writing a post like this, I am just giving myself something to link to so I don’t have to actually get involved in the conversation, but want to put someones mind at rest (or attempt to shut someone down) 🙂

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    Reply
    ºSolinarº
    April 8, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    I’ll have to agree with you and everyone else on here – I think the majority of the backlash is from the •twyter-facebunk-instasham-utub• generation that has never stepped foot into a darkroom or used a film camera before and then suddenly they’re seeing a really nice image on their feed with 3,300 likes from someone with 28k followers…..ugh now I sound like a crusty old bastard right? (:-/)

    Adjusting, manipulating and perfecting what you thought would be a perfect exposure at the time – is all part of the process for me anyway – and I literally dodge-burn-tweak-balance etc. etc. on 99.8% of everything I shoot [film or digital]. This is exactly what used to go on in the darkroom for hours and hours sometimes, but now we can do it so much more precisely and more importantly with much less waste on a computer. I cannot see how that is cheating.

    Sometimes my scanned negatives require very little effort for me in Lr and others I spend loads of time on – even if they’re from the same roll and then they still look like crap!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Tim Gander
    April 8, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    Hi Hamish! Nice read, but thankfully I haven’t come across these ‘purists’ too much, especially given that I’ve been working on a long-term project using exclusively expired film. I mean, where do you start with colour accuracy there?! Half the time, simple exposure accuracy has been a challenge, especially for the film that was almost 30 years old.

    I digitise using a 5D MKIII (I only digitise the negs I know I want, so it’s not such a slow process) and I edit in LR. I’ve sort of standardised my approach to digitising and editing negs, so at least I know what’s gone into the final image, but the fact is that in the days of machine or even hand prints, someone or something was making decisions on colour and contrast. There really is no such thing as ‘pure’ reproduction. And I bet most of these whingers are viewing work and criticising it while looking at it on un-calibrated monitors.

    If your editing was heavy-handed and getting between the viewer and the purpose of the image, that might be a problem, but frankly it’s still up to the photographer what they want to do with their photos.

    Keep up the great work!

    Tim

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 10:10 pm

      “criticising it while looking at it on un-calibrated monitors” haha, yes, I’d never even thought of that!

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Roger Beal
        April 10, 2019 at 12:32 am

        … or on a 2.75″ smart phone screen! Parallels the vinyl record freaks who avidly watch YouTube comparos of moving magnet vs moving coil cartridges, and draw conclusions as to which sounds better based on YouTube’s heavily compressed audio.

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    Reply
    George Appletree
    April 8, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    You don’t need to justify yourself the way you process your photos.
    Everyone find his or her own balance.
    I shoot nearly only b&w film and rather mostly digital color. That makes sense for me.
    I like some Photoshop works although I never use it, and really dislike most psychedelic results (which is a fun sometimes).

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    Reply
    Francesco Melis
    April 8, 2019 at 9:02 pm

    There are millions of reasons to embrace the hybrid process, as many as the people who choose to follow this path: for me it is a way to continue to use the wonderful equipment my dad and my uncle gave me (yes, GAS can be a hereditary disease, sometimes). If I would think of having the corresponding of Leica M3 and Leicaflex in today’s digital world, in order to continuing to use their wonderful lenses, I just couldn’t afford it. After about eight years of experimenting and studying, also passing through the film scanner experience (with mixed feelings), today I’m quite comfortable and happy with digitizing film with a digital camera and a macro lens, with a post-production made with photoshop. I feel I can control every step of the process in the same way as it is done in the darkroom, if I want, or use some typical digital techniques, like the layering or double exposures in architecture photos. I find also that hybrid process has its own peculiarities: I notice that scanned films are less forgiving when you need to open the shadows or recover details in highlights, as you normally do in digital raw process. So, I completely agree with this post and thanks to Hamish for being so informative and inspiring in this matter.

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks Francesco – have you tried this yet: https://www.negativelabpro.com/ – It’s a superb tool for digitising with a digital camera!

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    Reply
    Nigel Haycock
    April 8, 2019 at 9:45 pm

    Well said sir!
    I am pretty sure I’d be accurate if I said that every single well known photograph and almost all published photographs have been manipulated in some way whether it is in a Dark room or in Light room (or some other digital editing application) and seeing as the magazine industry went electronic (or digital) in terms of production/printing some decades ago it seems very likely to me that almost all those images we’ve all enjoyed since the ’70s were manipulated digitally; anyone who harps on about the purity of the analogue process just doesn’t understand it – nobody shoots a picture on film and gets exactly what they saw with their eyes back as a print (as you say there are so many variables) and so we all have to fix something to get the image how we saw it; whether that is some on an enlarger or in software makes little important difference to anyone accept the person doing it – the end result is what matters and as long as you are honest about what was done then all is good.

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      Hamish Gill
      April 8, 2019 at 10:13 pm

      Quite right! Thanks, Nigel!

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    Rogerio Gonçalves
    April 8, 2019 at 10:58 pm

    Images made via digital means are not real photographs, only completely analog images are.
    I guess painters had the same behavior with the first photographers and not classifying photos as art.

    Great article as usual.

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    MMW
    April 8, 2019 at 10:59 pm

    This is brilliant. Great to read all the supportive comments too. “Hair-shirt mentalists” is a new fave. I shoot B&W in both film and digital format but my film/scan/lightroom workflow is by far the most satisfying. The ‘magic’ of film is that it does most of the work for me leaving little to be done in post. The film I choose gives me the tone/grain I want and the rest is all standard darkroom manipulation using modern technology. I recently did a darkroom course with the interest of making chemical prints in the future but also as a way to see how a negative image could be manipulated using traditional equipment and to put my mind at ease over my post-production process. Guess what?! It’s all the same stuff. Dodging and Burning, exposure compensation, pushing contrast, cropping. W.Eugene Smith manipulated the shit out of his pictures using all the gear that was available. Photographers were in awe of his technical ability in the darkroom, he was praised because of it. Don Mcullin? Makes all his prints as dark as possible even if the exposed negative is spot on because that makes him a happy photographer. Robert Frank? Look at the before and after pictures of the girl in the diner…
    Daidō Moriyama? Say no more.

    Oh and as for automation modes..Martin Parr uses Programme mode more than anything else because “that’s what it’s there for.”

    Rant over.
    Thanks again Hamish.

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    Bruno
    April 8, 2019 at 11:41 pm

    First, a tool does cheat… only cheaters do. Whether one is using a film or digital, sending their rolls to a lab or processing them themselves, scanning them.. what is cheating? Any of these practices are open to it.
    Another issue with the term is that its opposite would be “honest”, “real”, “true”… there is nothing of the kind in any film. All of them have their biases green for Fuji, red for Kodachrome, blue for Ektas… etc…
    A third one as mentioned before would mean that once one enters a darkroom there is no cheating involved. Really?!?
    Going back to a previous discussion, what actually matters, unless one is involved in completely documentary or scientific photography (although there are plenty of good counterexamples there too, starting with the National Geographic (the pyramid episode) or Time magazine (OJ Simpson)) is the mastery of one’s tools and the submission of this expertise to one’s vision and purpose. The rest may end up in endless unsolvable bickering about not that much. Let us be clear once for all, what film renders in terms of color is just an approximation of what we actually see. Our eyes/brain and film have never had (so far) the same color “profile”/sensitivity, it is all approximation and every film “cheats”. Starting from there why would just trying to correct there biases either in the darkroom or with some software systematically be “cheating”? It is just another of these false debates leading nowhere interesting.

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    Bruno
    April 8, 2019 at 11:43 pm

    Sorry my first sentence should read “First a tool does NOT cheat….” …. or does it? ;o)

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    Kevin Thomas
    April 9, 2019 at 12:51 am

    When I restarted shooting film about 5 years ago, I didn’t edit the scans – the picture was what it was. Then I read Ansel Adams book The Negative. When he started talking about the things he did in the darkroom to achieve his prints a light went off. I don’t do a lot of editing, but almost every shot gets a tweak.

    I see the whole controversy as similar to what music recording went through back in the 80’s and 90’s. Some staunchly analog, some strictly digital, and quite a few using the best of what each method offers.

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      Hamish Gill
      April 19, 2019 at 11:20 am

      As a recovered audiophile that now relies on MQA via tidal and a turntable for my kicks… yep!

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    D Evan Bedford
    April 9, 2019 at 2:53 am

    Go for it! Personally, I often do HDR on my scans.

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    Adam Bonn
    April 9, 2019 at 9:18 am

    Not an analogue shooter myself (well not since there weren’t any other options) but I really enjoyed this post. Thank you.

    I suspect that the pious attitude film shooters are being exposed too is indicative of all the various internet clique clubs based around camera brand, subject genre and social media pressence.

    Nothing 2D can ever be 100% representative of real life, so we’re all asking the viewer for a willing suspension of disbelief in order for them to appreciate the work.

    There’s no right or wrong road to that destination, all’s fair game (away from photojournalism etc)

    Some good quotes in the comments, here’s another:

    “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

    Quote of the week might very well be

    “I enjoy photography because it makes me sad and I hate the outcome” said no one ever!

    Nice one Hamish.

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      Hamish Gill
      April 19, 2019 at 11:19 am

      Cheers 🙂

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    Bernhard
    April 9, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Thx for sharing your experience. Can learn a lot of it.

    Regards Bernhard

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    Michael Raven
    April 9, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    This was a great read, couldn’t agree more. I’m looking to bring my scanning ‘in-house’ (also leaving the developing to AG Photolab because it’s the messy bit, plus the scanning is the expensive bit!) and he more personally involved with the process I get, the more decisions I’ve realised I have to make – decisions that I was simply outsourcing to a pro lab previously. I’m sometimes prone to this ‘purist’ mentality that makes me question my own processes, but the truth is that if we listen to that voice we’re prisoner to a myth: much of what we do digitally has it’s origin in – or is an analogue of – darkroom processes. Furthermore, photography is inherently about interpretation and there are the layers of interpretation we’re in control of, and those that we’re not (or less so). I loved the comment about calibrating monitors, and if we’re going to worry about the legitimacy of digitised images then we should also question classic darkroom prints from the past in respect to how they relate to the original negatives, but that sounds silly and pedantic doesn’t it.
    It’s 2019 and we can’t let the advantages modernity offers stymie the joy of image making.

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      Hamish Gill
      April 19, 2019 at 11:13 am

      Quite right!

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    Bill
    April 9, 2019 at 5:12 pm

    Hamish, Thanks for putting your thoughts out there for others to read. This subject is something that seems totally blown out of proportion. I have been a photo retoucher for over 40 years. Obviously this pre-dates digital. I have retouched negs(color & black and white), cut rubyliths,cut and spliced negatives then airbrushed the print made from this spliced neg, removed cars from architectural photos(shot on 4×5) hand rendered corporate logos/names onto final photos of high-rise office buildings, put leaves on trees,put in beautiful blue skies(cirrus clouds were my specialty),put fires in fireplaces for a world renowned environmental portrait photographer, dust spotted &retouched 10,000’s of thousands of darkroom prints for photographers,restored old photos which sometimes involved the recreation of missing pieces(carefully matching texture as well as aging appearance). Virtually anything you can think of and even some things that might surprise you if you knew that they had been done.
    As a longtime retoucher, that last phrase is the key “if you knew they had been done”. One test of all great retouching( or digital manipulation) is whether or not you can tell that it was done. In architectural photography verticals are king so I don’t have a problem with software enabled perspective correction to produce a proper architectural look. What’s the difference between adjusting a 4×5 camera or using software perspective correction? I have not only seen behind the curtain, I have been the man behind the curtain. I see lots of bad digital manipulation but I also used to see lots of bad traditional manipulation. The final print is king as far as I’m concerned. How you get there is up to each individual and not everyone can recognize bad work or produce great work. I have made and still make my living producing undetectable print manipulation. Don’t talk about something unless you know what you’re talking about. Thanks again for coming out on this subject. Let the detractors talk it just shows their lack of knowledge on the subject. My rant over.

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      Hamish Gill
      April 19, 2019 at 11:16 am

      “cirrus clouds were my specialty” – I love this! I wouldn’t even know where to start with a computer…

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    jamesgreenoff
    April 9, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    Photography is communicative, if it tells the right story, imbues the right feeling, then it is successful regardless of the modus operandi. I’ve been on the other side of this, desperately wanting an image shot on a 4×5 camera to be better than it is, because it was harder for me to make.
    Of course I rework analog images in Lightroom, I want them to look awesome –

    There comes a time when the picture works or it doesn’t, and that is in the hands or rather the heads of the audience. The proof is in the hard-proof.

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    Charles Morgan
    April 10, 2019 at 11:15 am

    I’m assuming that they have the consistency to use only analog means of transmission. So slide shows to bored friends over a Bols, and family, prints shared in the evening with apple cheeked children in shorts and Fair Isle sweaters, nasty photocopied round robin letters to be sent with the Christmas card and the occasional exhibition if they are top rank? Cos scanning is selling out…

    The only thing that triggers me about some mentalists is the failure to remove dust spots from their negatives as it is “authentically analogue” like the crackles on an LP. No, it’s bad developing and poor negative handling…

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      Hamish Gill
      April 19, 2019 at 11:21 am

      Yep, and poor vinyl care too

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    Stephen
    April 11, 2019 at 3:46 am

    Completely agree with this. Once you’re scanning the negative all sense of any sort of “purity” goes out the window. Might as well have fun with it!
    Purity is overrated anyways :p

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    MJ
    April 11, 2019 at 4:28 pm

    In agreement… I’ve found the notion that shooting negative film requires less editing, compared to digital, is just false. In fact, I know that even some pro labs are using Lightroom to finalize some of the photos I’ve sent in. I’m impressed that some of the labs apparently deliver photos right from the scanner. But regardless, there doesn’t seem to be any truly “correct” look to a final color neg photo, only an interpretation, and so much depends on the scanning and post-processing. But even so, I’ve noticed lots of photographers settling for what I’d consider to be obviously less-than-ideal color, as if it were an unavoidable outcome of shooting film. I don’t think it is. I’m trying to get at close as I can to the best possible color, despite its subjectivity, and using post-processing software is not a problem, in my opinion.

    Color reversal (slide) film, however, does have a true baseline from which to judge the scan. Tweaking my d810 scanner/camera white balance to match the LED light pad, scanning a roll of slide film is super fast & easy with usually no post-processing needed afterwards. The scans end up looking almost exactly like the photos on the roll. A 36-megapixel dslr-scanned color slide photo is quite impressive…. sharp and detailed with sure color while also retaining the specialness of a film photograph. Just sending the slides out and back to be developed, and scanning myself, is also relatively inexpensive at about $15 per roll, including postage.

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    Nigel Middleton
    April 11, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    “I am sometimes accused by my peers of printing my pictures too dark. All I can say is that it goes with the mood of melancholy that is induced by witnessing at close quarters such intractable situations of conflict and joylessness.” – Don McCullin. Now, if he could tweak his film photos to look how he wanted them to then its good enough for me! I don’t have a dark room, enlarger, chemicals, stock of paper and all the other facilities to realise a print of a photograph that means something to me, so like many others I have no choice but to use technology. I think the important thing is for photography to continue providing an outlet for creativity, by whatever means are to hand.

    – Don McCullin, Sleeping With Ghosts : A Life’s Work in Photography by Don McCullin (Photographer), Mark Haworth-Booth (Introduction), Donald McCullin , ISBN: 0893816590 , Page: 104

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    Rollin Banderob
    April 11, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    As someone who did color printing in the darkroom before digital, and then as newspapers transitioned to scanning negs did that work too, I don’t remember feeling like I had that big of a leg up on those who had not wet printed. There were no curve knobs on the enlarger. Maybe a bit ahead in what good color looked like, but that is learned no matter the process. Back then used the number readouts of skin tones and neutrals in the software a lot more than now.

    I did work with some who were amazing color printers, artists in the craft, who seemed to nail the perfect balance that gave the colors depth and fidelity in the print that I never could hit easily, or often not exactly. My dad bought me a film scanner awhile back and I still have not trudged into scanning his color transparencies and my old negs as there I know there will be a learning curve again. There is time put into hard work to truly do well in all areas, so as you said just enjoy the process which fits you best.

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