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I have a question concerning the exposure settings when scanning negatives: Imagine I take a picture of mostly fog. Without manual correction, the camera would place the fog in zone V (middle grey) and to avoid this, the image is typically overexposed to some degree. I had this situation few weeks ago on a frosty and foggy day and to compensate for the „brightness“ of the fog I metered for the ground (tilting the camera down), placing it in zone V.

Now the images I got back from the lab are much darker than I wanted them to turn out and I would like to find out what went wrong. My main question is: does the scanner place the whole picture in zone V again, like the meter of the camera would do it? So no matter how much I overexpose, the picture is always placed in middle grey. Or are negatives typically scanned with one setting for a certain type of film to make sure bright images are bright and dark images are dark? (Or did I really underexpose this picture?)

I asked the lab and I got the answer that a human judges the brightness of each picture individually while scanning. But that would mean to get the look I want, the person judging the brightness needs to know how I intended the picture to look like. I was going for a bright and airy look.

Here is one example picture (taken with Canon AE-1 on Portra 400): (Taken with Canon AE-1 on Portra 400)

Which looks muddy to me. Does anyone know how I could fix this picture? And in what zone would you place the fog?

I am thankful for any help!

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3 Answers 3

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Does anyone know how I could fix this picture?

  1. Increase gamma/exposure by a half stop (or however much you like).

  2. Auto levels on a separate layer with color blending to correct the color cast. Some programs use temperature and tint to adjust white balance.

  3. Any other levels/curves adjustments to taste. Some programs have shadows, midtones, highlights adjustments, which are just another way to work with curves.

adjusted

... a human judges the brightness of each picture individually while scanning.

That's doubtful. More likely, a computer auto adjusts the images. Then a human quickly checks thumbnails for obvious errors. The image you have would be left alone because it looks like what it is, a foggy day.

To minimize operator effort, each image is probably auto adjusted independently of others. The same setting for an entire roll wouldn't work well because people don't expose every frame perfectly. You can ask the lab if they're willing to show you their scanning process. (I didn't pay close enough attention to this detail when my local lab showed me their process.)

Now the images I got back from the lab are much darker than I wanted them...

It's darker because the computer/operator can't read your mind. If you have special instructions for the lab, you need to provide them ahead of time. You might also need to pay for editing services.

The basic scans that labs provide are just a starting point for you to do your own editing. You can screen the lab scans for images to digitize and process yourself. If you have a reasonably good digital camera, you can use a slide copier.

See Using a 35mm Slide Copier with a Crop Sensor.

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  • I am referring to the images (have edited it in the question). If a computer auto adjusts the image after the scan I may ask if that can be turned off for the next scans, since I would like to be in control of that (except for inverting the picture and removing the color cast from the mask). I would still like to know if the scanner determines exposures while scanning for each frame individually (like a camera does for every picture taken). Or if all frames are scanned using the same exposure settings and only adjusted after scanning... (I hope you understand what I mean)
    – x3b7z99
    Jan 19 at 13:08
  • To minimize operator effort, each image is probably auto adjusted independently of others. The same setting for an entire roll wouldn't work well because people don't expose every frame perfectly. You can ask the lab if they're willing to show you their scanning process.
    – xiota
    Jan 19 at 13:26
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Without really knowing what you want out of the photo, opening it in Photoshop's Camera Raw & Hitting the Auto button will perk it up quite a bit. I've then pushed a little Vibrance, sharpened it slightly & used noise reduction to kill the worst of the noise [there's still a fair bit of 'jpeginess' in it, but I'm assuming that's not in your original.

enter image description here

After comments, white balanced using the paint colour on the building…

enter image description here

tbh, if I were to push the sky that far into the 'pinks', I'd be tempted to push the greens more, separately, & pull the reds a bit…

enter image description here

… but we're now well beyond the realms of 'quick fix' you could apply to multiple shots.

& just for fun - a "foggier" version ;)
Simply done by pushing Texture, Clarity, & Dehaze to the left, with a slight rebalance on the exposure curve.

enter image description here

Closeup of the 'jpeginess'

enter image description here

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    jpeginess needs to be added to the dictionaries (added to mine anyway) :)
    – xenoid
    Jan 19 at 12:16
  • Well the noise visible is probably the film grain... this was also visible in the tiff files I got from the lab (I had the negatives scanned at 2000x3000 pixels), I didnt sharpen it much because I felt that makes it worse. Your edit goes into the right direction, but I feel you somehow added a greenish cast to it (vsisble on the white areas of the house)...
    – x3b7z99
    Jan 19 at 13:10
  • Actually, I didn't touch the white balance at all, that's the same as the original. I've added a white-balance corrected version based on the paint colour, also a version further corrected by eye, & a zoom of the jpeg noise - that's not film grain, jpg noise has a very distinct pattern.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 19 at 14:17
  • I see now, thanks!
    – x3b7z99
    Jan 20 at 8:37
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To render a specific artistic intent, there are three practical methods: scan yourself, pay someone enough to perform to your satisfaction, or get lucky.

The issue seems to be one of expectations. To me the scan looks technically correct and the image looks like what I imagine the scene to have been like.

Ordinarily, a scan is thought of as an intermediary image — more like a negative than a print. The ordinary purpose of a scan is capturing information. Ordinarily the scan is not a direct expression of artistic intent…often the work is less than half done when the scan is made. Because the scan is rarely good enough.

To put it another way, the way to get what we want as photographers is almost always more work and/or money. If we don’t like a particular result, it is our own fault.

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  • I guess you are right. Thought the external scanning process was easier to integrate into my workflow.
    – x3b7z99
    Jan 20 at 8:39
  • @x3b7z99 If you are willing to pay an outside vendor enough to care…enough for a long term business relationship…then it can work. Jan 20 at 19:05

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