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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The End Of Film Capture, The Future Of Film Archives

Frans Lanting had a large archive of film images when he made the transition to digital capture. The National Geographic photographer describes how he made that transition and how his film images continue to play a major role in his studio.


This Article Features Photo Zoom


With a plan in place for digitizing their archives, photographers can begin scanning originals and seamlessly integrate them into their digital workflow. For Lanting, this process is multistaged because he scans different transparencies on different machines for different purposes.

“Rule number one,” he says, “is to scan your images at the highest quality you can afford, but I would complement that by suggesting you scan at the lowest level you can get away with. You don’t want to put all of your precious eggs in one scanning basket before you get a handle on the process. Most of all, you need to be clear about what you want to achieve and how many images you’re talking about and how you can start grading them according to something that makes it an achievable process.”

Lanting’s studio creates film scans at three primary levels. In-house scans with a Nikon Coolscan are ideal for all web uses and many other immediate purposes. For higher-quality needs, he creates image files from an Imacon FlexTight 949, which he thinks of as a pseudo-drum scanner—providing high-quality files acceptable for practically all publishing applications.

“We apply different solutions, depending on the value of the images,” says Lanting, “and also how quickly we need the images to be distributed. Everything depends ultimately on what your goals are, how many images you have to work through and what your budget is. Coolscans are a great solution if you’re looking at doing thousands of scans on a budget—and even more so if you have to do it yourself because this is a machine that’s easy to use. There are bulk loaders and other batch-processing capabilities that allow you to turn over a lot of images in a short amount of time.”


Lanting outsources the highest-quality scans. These drum scans are made for every image intended for book publication or exhibition prints, working with trusted vendors and paying $40 to $50 per scan. International discount operations have sprung up to offer photographers the opportunity to make inexpensive high-res drum scans, but Lanting is wary of shipping large batches of original film overseas.

“The price drops dramatically,” he says, “but communication becomes an issue, and there’s a risk factor involved, as well. My recommendation to other photographers would be that if you’re preparing for a book publication or fine prints, it’s worth it to have the images drum-scanned. But it’s a risky thing if you house a couple hundred images with which you plan a book, to send those all out overseas simultaneously. The choices that we look at all have to do with being able to do things either totally under our control or to work with services that we can have a direct and interactive relationship with.”

However he scans an image, Lanting is then faced with a raw file that’s no more ready for publication than a RAW digital capture. Optimization must occur before reproductions can be made.


“We once looked at film as being an objective reflection of reality,” Lanting says. “Consider Kodachrome. It was looked at as being the gold standard, and unless you produced images on Kodachrome, you couldn’t get them published. Editors wanted nothing less. We now know that Kodachrome was a flawed emulsion, with a lot of color shifts that were a function of how far a particular roll of film was in its aging process. It usually started off too cyan and ended up too magenta. So in the scanning and priming process, we have the opportunity to correct for this and make up for flaws in photographs that were once accepted as they were.

“Over the years, I’ve used quite a few different emulsions,” he adds, “ranging from different Kodachromes and Ektachromes to Fujichromes to some more exotic emulsions. None of them are a perfect representation of what you see. They all have a bias. Some of them are too contrasty, others too flat. That requires adjustments in Photoshop to bring the images up to a more contemporary standard. Often, the transparencies that have been used most frequently require other adjustments because they’re scratched, dirty.”

 

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