A BACKDOOR ADVANTAGE FOR FILM SCANNERS
However, one of the videos on www.tv.adobe.com by Russell Brown about using Camera Raw to do retouching set me off into an exploration and discovery I am thankful for. I usually don’t write about what others publish, but in this Russell Brown piece he acknowledged “stealing” the idea from a couple of colleagues, so I don’t mind admitting he opened a door for me I will relate here. However my interest was not retouching photographs as Brown’s video details. But for anyone scanning photographs on film, especially some old or less popular and often faster films that are not current E6 or C-41 process emulsions, all too often you can get graininess, emulsion defect artifacts and skewed local color that is difficult to edit with any standard photo application to get the usual, smooth, sharp and balanced color most contemporary popular films will reproduce in a scan.
So, if you have some finished scan files you would like to improve by adjusting to reduce graininess, noise and local color that is shifted or skewed, open the files in Adobe Bridge. Then any file you would like to make better with editing adjustments, click on it o its marked and if on a Mac type in Command then R, ( Control key and the letter R key on Windows) and that file will be opened if it is a JPG, or even a large TIF file, by Camera Raw. On the right side of the Camera Raw screen where your image has been opened, there is a tall window with eight different icon buttons at the top. Camera Raw usually opens to a general adjustment set of sliders in three sections: at the top are Temperature and Tint. The center group of sliders includes, Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Blacks, Brightness and Contrast. The bottom block contains three slider adjustments for Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation.
Obviously the Camera Raw image adjustments are designed for digital camera produced images, not images scanned from film, so all of the adjustment sliders don’t really apply to any advantage. But if an opened image is too warm or cool that can be neutralized with the Temperature adjustment. Or if the Red/Green hue balance is off, like the reds are too strong and the green of foliage too weak, a little shift of the slider may help. Some of the slider adjustments in the middle section I found the most useful. For instance in some film scans getting a neutral black is difficult with standard editing tools without affecting the color balance of the lighter tones in the image, and I found the Camera Raw black can be increased and the black is shifted to a neutral tone without affecting the balance of the lighter colors. This may make the image shadows too dark, so the Fill Light can be adjusted to open them back up to see more detail. The most valuable adjustment is in the bottom section and it is called Clarify. If your image is too grainy and noisy, move the Clarity slider to the left. If you need a lot of Clarity adjustment to clean up the image texture and smooth the tone, it may cause the image to loose contrast and look lighter. Then the Brightness and Contrast adjustments above can restore those values. And if the result of these adjustments makes the color weak, you can add both Vibrance and Saturation or just one or the other as your image appearance demands.
If your scanned image is too light or dark in some segments of the image tone range, then click on the second icon at the top from the left that will open a Tone Curve dialogue. If you are not used to adjusting curves, use the Parametric option and then use the sliders below for Highlights, Lights, Darks and Shadows to lighten or darken those segments of the image range. In addition you can modify the segmentation of the tone curve range by moving the segment tabs at the bottom of the graph.
An interesting and advantageous set of adjustment tools is opened by the third icon at the top that sets up the Detail window that has two sets of sliders. If you have some distorted color noise in your scan file, which is a frequent artifact from scans of older and odd kinds of both slide and negative films, the Color Noise Reduction may lessen this odd color in your image. And, if the Clarity slider adjustment did not reduce the surface texture noise in your image enough, try the Luminance Noise Reduction. I found this very helpful with film images that record noisiness in very light tones adjacent to specular light sources in a picture, like a sunset shot. The top Sharpening section is basically conventional with sliders to input the Amount of sharpening, and Radius to select how many pixels in the original the sharpening is to include. The Detail slider seems to be like the control in scan software that limits the range of tones the sharpening is applied to. But I found that at the end of my Camera Raw image tweaking adjustments, I could simply add sharpening if needed, but without adding noise artifacts next to sharpened objects in the image, which is often a limit in applying an Unsharp Mask enhancement in scan software.
So far I have adjusted about 15 scanned image files I found from recent scans were still lacking ideal qualities even after tweaking them in Photoshop. Most were improved noticeably using Camera Raw in one or more dimensions of quality making them better images that are as good as the scans I obtain from newer E-6 and C-41 process films. From this little experiment with Camera Raw applied to scanned photographs, you can be sure I will be using it more for what I would call image tweaking, in the future. And, I am sure I will learn even more capabilities as more experience is gained. So, if you have not tried this, do some experimenting, the Camera Raw adjustment tools solve problems standard photo editing tools can’t cope with easily or effectively.
If you do try this, let me know, my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. And for your information, the only compensation I obtain from writing this blog is from sales of my Digital Darkroom Resources CD. I get a free ad in Shutterbug for doing the blog, but apparently no one sees it, so if your interested and don’t know about my book on a CD go to my website at: https://sites.google.com/site/davidbrooksfotografx/, and you will find a full description of the content and how to make a purchase.