With film gaining in popularity again, we thought it was time to ask an expert about how to scan negatives. It seems simple but there a lot of options to consider. So we asked Dan Milnor to help us sort things out. Dan is Blurb’s photographer at large, and a huge proponent of shooting with film. In fact, that’s how he does pretty much all his books at Blurb.
Blurb: What’s the most basic thing to think about?
Dan: My first thought is that I only want to scan a negative one time. If I need an image for my blog, a small print for my journal, and want to use the image in an 11×13-inch coffee table book, I don’t want to have to scan the same negative three times. So, I try to make the best possible, highest quality scan on my first pass. In some ways, I view this initial “master scan” like I view a digital RAW file – it’s untouchable and I always kept in a safe place so that I can return to it.
Blurb: What about the file size and format?
Dan: I prefer to scan in TIFF format at the highest resolution possible, which in my case is 4000 pixels per inch. TIFF is a lossless storage format that uses no compression. Scanner software is incredibly flexible, but I prefer to make minimal adjustments to the image in the scanning software, choosing to do my image adjustments in Photoshop once the scan is complete. And remember, once the master scan is complete it is easy to create versions of the file in any file format I choose.
Blurb: So, what about when it actually comes to making your book?
Dan: When it comes to making my Blurb books, my advice is pretty basic. I save JPG files at 300 DPI, at the size I need for the book, meaning if I do an 8×10 book my images are AT LEAST 8×10 (if you’re doing full bleed, you’ll probably want them a bit bigger than your page size).
Blurb: What about the equipment itself?
Dan: You want to use the best scanner you can get your hands on, whether that means buying your own or sourcing out yourscans to a lab. A few years ago we had a range of great scanners to choose from, including Minolta, Imacon, Nikon, Epson, Canon, etc, but with the popularity of digital cameras and capture, our scanner choices have greatly diminished. In my opinion the best option for buying your own scanner is Imacon but with the best option comes the highest cost. Personally, I use a Nikon 9000, which is no longer sold new but can be found used.
Always start with the cleanest negatives possible. Spotting out dust in Photoshop can be very time consuming, so make sure to keep your negatives in a dust free environment.
Blurb: Or, as you mentioned, you could just source to a lab, right?
Dan: Over the past few years the photography industry has seen a resurgence in the popularity of film, and with this resurgence several specialty photo labs have emerged with a keen interest in high-quality scanning. Richard Photo Lab, based in Los Angeles, is the lab I use for most of my commercial photography assignments. My film is shipped to the lab where they process it, print a contact sheet, and scan every single image at high resolution. Richards offers a variety of scans, in a variety of sizes, and the service works incredibly well. Once the images are scanned they are uploaded and stored online. I can access and download these files from any location. The files arrive in JPG format and range in size from 50 megabytes per file up to about 75 megabytes per file. A large percentage of my Blurb books have been made from these scans as well as many of the prints I sell.