Scanning Your Old Negatives

© Keith Collman

I’m far from an expert on Photography. I hate reading manuals in detail and in depth photographic analysis on equipment or boring comparisons of techniques! I find the best way to learn to ask others, or search for answers with Google. It’s so much easier now to progress one's skills, allowing more time for taking photographs. The best way to gain experience and expertise is to experiment and be intuitive.

Most of the photographs on this website are from negative film, amassed over a number of years. I wanted to create digital contact sheets as a way of searching the archive to create the portfolios. Sadly I do not have the space for a darkroom. Years ago I used my mums spare bedroom but when she moved into a flat my traditional printing came to a halt!

I first purchased an A4 Epson V750 Pro flat bed scanner, which can scan both reflective and negative material. It comes with various film holders but I’ve only used the 35mm. I used the Epson to batch scan the negs, using the Epson software which I found to be very good. I found it tended to trim off some of frame (should read the manual!) but for reference it’s good enough. Even individual scans are very good and I did a comparison of some of my traditional prints to prints produced from scans via the Epson. To the naked eye there wasn’t much in it, of course traditional prints feel better, but 'it’s the image stupid' as someone once said!

I was then recommended, by a friend, to try dedicated 35mm scanner, the highly regarded Minolta Dimage Elite 5400. This is now out of production so can only be purchased secondhand, I got mine on Ebay. This scanner gives greater control over the negative and produces excellent results. I only use the Minolta for a final scan as I don't want to wear it out. For post scan production software I use Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

This is the sequence I adopted to produce the final digital images as seen on this website:

  1. Batch scan a film using the Epson scanner, approx 4mb size file per frame
  2. Import the scans into Lightroom, add keywords for search purposes
  3. Select the best individual frame
  4. Scan that frame with the Minolta Dimage scanner
  5. Open the scan in Photoshop, touch-up any blemishes
  6. Save and import into Lightroom, make any adjustments required ie exposure/contrast/sharpness etc.
  7. Export image from Lightroom as a final digital image

I know I've not given any technical details or how to reference and store your digital files, that's something you can develop yourself - this is purely a guide in the process I used for scanning for this website and for my book Great War Portraits. Results certainly improve with experimentation and practice. Over time you will become an expert in scanning and using Photoshop, Lightroom and digital printing, if you get stuck you can always Google the answer or ask a friend.


My book, Great War Portraits, is available to buy now

“I am hugely impressed. It’s a brilliant book, quite unlike anything else I have seen.”
Dr. Richard S Grayson