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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


From the original scan, no matter whether it’s a $40 drum scan or a quick in-house scan, Lanting’s team adds crucial metadata—what was once known simply as captions and now takes the form of searchable keywords—to create a master file. This is a file that he personally approves in the same way a traditional black-and-white photographer approves a master print from which all derivative works are created. In Lanting’s case, those derivative files may have different resolutions and sharpness profiles for different publishing applications.

This is the stage at which Lanting’s initial decision of what and how to scan proves either wise or costly. Were he to use an image that was scanned on the Imacon and that now requires a drum scan for a book, he’d be forced to redo work—eating up both time and money. Were he to scan everything as drum scans, he’d be paying a tenfold premium for images that may rarely be published beyond the small-magazine size. The problem compounds with the inclusion of all the keywording and editing required to take scans from raw files to publishable images. Those first-tier decisions are the cornerstone to the entire process.

“It’s not just redoing a scan,” Lanting says. “All the adjustments have to be applied again, the images need to get reabsorbed into our database, and everything needs to be consistent with the previous renditions to the extent that it can be. And making decisions about what to scan and at what level needs to be looked at within the larger context of all the other requirements—image adjustments and attaching enough information to the digitized version of the photograph to make it a unit that can function in a digital context. That requires captioning and keywording and database solutions that you need to figure out before you start the scanning pipeline. The answers to those solutions are going to be governed as well by the system you’ve embraced for your digital image workflow.”

While so many photographers have said goodbye to film, Lanting has been saying hello again. The translation process that enables film-based imagery to function in a digital context has little to do with nostalgia and everything to do with maintaining film as an active part of the photographic record. This archive—whether it’s used for personal reference or professional development—applies to every photographer who’s ever worked with film. Film’s legacy is important to the broader context of the medium, as well.

“If you care about your own history as a photographer,” Lanting says, “or if you care about the history of photography in general, this is a really important interface—how you structure the translation of film-based imagery to digital imagery. It’s like doing a translation between different languages. And just as translation involves an interpretation—the words don’t always match—in the same way the translation from analog to digital is also an interpretation, and as such, film will remain an active part of the language that photographers have spoken for many decades.”

Frans Lanting’s Film-To-Digital Workflow
Bringing Frans Lanting’s massive film library up to digital standards is a never-ending job. Here’s how it’s done.

1 Organization. Maintaining a well-organized archival film-storage system is crucial in order to efficiently find images as they’re needed by clients and publications.

2 Editing and prioritizing. “Editing is editing” as far as Lanting is concerned, no matter what the medium. The important part is to determine the necessary images, then determine the type of use—which dictates the type of scan to be made.

3 Scanning. The scanning method is determined by the usage requirements, but this requires a balancing act, as Lanting wants to waste neither money nor time.
Higher-quality scans are more expensive, but redoing work (including scanning, retouching and keywording) at a later date is equally undesirable.

4 Priming. Raw scans are no more publishable than RAW digital captures. Repairing color casts and film scratches and optimizing the files for reproduction are the first steps, followed by keywording and captioning so that these master files can be seamlessly integrated into the established digital workflow.

Scanning Options
Basic: Coolscan. Using a Nikon Coolscan scanner, Lanting’s team makes in-house scans for all web uses and for many small printing purposes.
Advanced: Imacon. For higher-quality printing and stock-distribution purposes, the team relies on an Imacon FlexTight 949 for “pseudo-drum-scan quality.”
Premium: Drum. For the utmost in file size and printing quality, Lanting outsources drum scans for every image destined for books or exhibitions.

Frans Lanting is a world-renowned photographer whose influential work appears in books, magazines and exhibits around the globe. You can see more of his work at www.franslanting.com.

 

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