Scanning negatives

A design school in New Zealand recently asked me for reproduction rights to use this image as a backdrop to some kind of 3D animation thing. I agreed, and quoted them a reasonable price, which they agreed to.

Unfortunately, there is only one existing print of that image, and it is small (printed on 8×10 paper with one-inch borders). Worse still, I could not find that print, and my only scans of it are very small and of low resolution. They needed something of medium- to high-resolution — and they needed it in New Zealand within a few days.

I’ve never scanned negatives before, but that was the obvious thing to do. Fortunately, I located the negative right away (even though I haven’t seen it in about 12 years). While I was at it, I picked out a few other negatives to get scanned, as a bit of a test to see if that is a viable way to breathe some new life into my old black & white photographs.

I’m pleased to report that it works very well. I deliberately chose a few difficult negatives — ones that were underexposed or underdeveloped — as well as some that I simply wanted to work on without having to deal with chemistry (it’s been 10 years since I’ve worked in a darkroom).

The scans I got back were generally low in contrast, but that’s just fine because it means all the information was there. They require a bit of work in Paintshop Pro (which I prefer over Photoshop). I had to remove some dust spots (clone tool), mess with the histogram tool to add contrast, and also use the Shadow/Midtone/Highlight tool to crank the contrast a bit more.

The results were outstanding. For example, below is a photo I took in 1991, when I had three cats. I made one print from this back in the day, but the negative is so underexposed that it was almost impossible to get anything useful from it. In the one work print I still have, you can barely see the three cats — everything is just black. With an hour or so of experimenting and about $10 worth of photo paper I probably could have gotten something close to acceptable.

But with the negative scan, I just spun a few dials and boom, a pretty good result, as you can see. I don’t even consider this to be “finished,” it’s just a three minute test to see what I could get.


From left to right (interior) a very young and very skinny Spiff (1991-2005), a not-yet-fat Larry (1987-2001), and the usually shy Oreo (1989-2001). I don’t know who the cat in the window is, but it’s probably the same as this one, as that photo was taken at about the same time.

I’m pretty impressed with the negative scanning. Watch for some resurrections on the Monday Morning Photo Blog.

Technical Note: Keep in mind that different monitors will show different results as
they are not all calibrated the same way. For example, you should be
able to see a bit of space between Spiff’s right side and Larry’s left
side. It shows how skinny Spiff was.

You can use the image below (from as a test to see if your monitor is calibrated correctly.

Here’s how DP Review puts it: “DPReview calibrate their monitors using Color Vision OptiCal at the (fairly well accepted) PC normal gamma 2.2, this means that on our monitors we can make out the difference between all of the (computer generated) grayscale blocks (above). We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X,Y and Z and ideally A,B and C.”