First and foremost, I would like to say that I love my V600 scanner. I couldn’t imagine not having it. It’s difficult to imagine the true potential of your photographs until you have total control over how it’s digitized. Sure – there are more sophisticated scanners out there but this scanner does an excellent job for the money. At less than $200, it’s difficult not to get your moneys worth.
As a disclaimer, this article is not intended to be any more than a guide for other getting started in scanning at home or looking from someone else’s perspective. I’m not saying it’s the best but it works well for me.
I took this photograph on an early morning hike in Hocking Hills, Ohio nearby where I live. I didn’t have my tripod that day but I had Portra 400 loaded in my Mamiya 645 Pro TL (the reviews for each are linked) and had the morning ahead of me.
Step 1 – Scanning using Epson Scan software
To start, I prefer to turn off the ‘Unsharp Mask’ that is on by default in my program. This setting does bump up the sharpness and it does a decent job so if you don’t see yourself wanting to go through all of the steps in editing and you think the scan software renders the colors well, perhaps then you may leave it on.
To follow, I select the histogram tab and make adjustments to the settings of how the software interprets my photo. Particularly on dark(er) photos such as this one, I find it best to lower the bar for what is interpreted as the bottom of the histogram. That is, drag the bottom slider down to just below the histogram. This softens the blacks but maintains the shadows compared with their settings which lose most of my shadows.
I don’t usually mess with the slider affecting the highlights as raising it darkens the photo and lowering it brightens the photo but blows out the highlights too early. That said, in this photo I thought it was worth the cost to brighten up a bit so I made a small adjustment.
Step 2 – White Balancing
Prior to starting the remainder of the steps, it’s important to clean off the image using the clone stamp. I’ve spent enough time doing this that I am now much more careful about blowing off/brushing the negative prior to scanning as it pays off.
I’m going to spend minimal time describing this process as I have already demonstrated my process along with 2 easier/faster alternatives in this article.
In short, using Method 3 in the aforementioned article, create a luminosity mask and set it as the layer mask of a curves layer. Duplicate this layer and invert the mask of the duplicate. This process, in effect, allows you to make adjustments to the darks and lights independently. Using the Red, Green, and Blue channels in the curves adjustment, edit until the white balance is satisfactory.
Step 3 – Curves Layer
Following the same steps to set the white balance, create two new curves adjustment layers with inverse layer masks.
Making edits to each layer separately, I tend to go just past exactly where I like it in the edits. While I am a believer that less is more when editing, I think it’s good to go a little on the extreme side on this step so that I can use the opacity adjustment to get the perfect blend between the edits.
Following this step, I dial back the edits using the opacity adjustment for each of the layers and then together as a group. While this may seem counter productive, I find it easier and faster to dial in.
Step 4 – Sharpen
There are a lot of techniques to do this step but I prefer to use a High Pass filter. I feel like it does a better job than the scanner software and better than other methods I’ve tried without taking any more time.
To start, merge all of your layers by selecting them all and pressing Command + Alt/Option + Shift + E. This creates a new layer that combines the effects of all those below it. From here, add a High Pass filter.
The image will turn an ugly grey color showing you only the texture of the image. I suggest selecting a highly textured part of the image and adjusting the radius of the filter until everything starts to stand out well. If you go too far with this, you will find the image turns really grainy.
Once you believe you’ve found just the right amount of sharpening, you need set the layer to Linear Light. This will turn the image back away from the ugly grey color.
Below is an example of what this does to the image. It may not seem like much but if you intend to ever print your work, it makes a pretty big difference.
There you have it… A primer to the way that I edit my negatives. I hope you found it helpful and if you have any questions, please feel free to leave them below.