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A while ago I had the chance to try out analog photography. Due to unknown reasons in development (likely a problem with one of the liquids) the resulting film negatives are very dark. That is, if I put my phone's flashlight at full intensity immediately behind it, the illuminated spot is just about at the right brightness (when viewed in a room at daylight).

I'd love to digitize that film using my DSLR with extension tubes. I had initially planned to use a phone or laptop screen as light box, then take a picture of the photo and invert it in Photoshop. In addition, a "flat field" sort of image could be made to correct for uneven illumination. However, neither turned out to be bright enough. I haven't yet tried what would happen if I simply exposed longer as another problem is the individual colors of each pixel on the screen become visible at the needed magnification. Thus, I don't have any light source available that is both bright enough and evenly illuminates the film.

I only have two rolls of 24 images each so I'd be fine with some method that is a little more complicated. Additionally, the images don't care huge sentimental value so the end quality needs not be perfect.

TL;DR: I want to digitize very underexposed film with my DSLR and don't have a bright enough even light source. What are some workarounds that I can use to make it work?

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Well, you have at your disposal the brightest light source. The Sun.

Put a white sheet of paper on top of a cardboard at 45° concerning the sun's position. Voila, a flat bright light source.

You can use an A4 or Letter paper at a close distance or a bigger foamboard at more distance.

You can build a shield of black cardboard to prevent sunlight from hitting the front of the negative.

A bigger foamboard could even be put outside a window in your garden and your camera at the interior.


You can play with the exposure time on your camera and make a "Strip test" or a series of photos, doubling the time.

1s? 2s? 3s?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I honestly feel a bit dumb not having thought of that. Thanks! The sun has already set where I live but I'll try that tomorrow! \$\endgroup\$
    – jng224
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 15:58
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Where are you located? Contact a lab and see if they'll scan the film for you. You might be able to "increase exposure" and correct colours in Photoshop after the fact. For example, in the UK, The Darkroom offer this service:
https://www.the-darkroom.co.uk/category/56-film-scans

Personally, I feel that at-home scanning is only really for people who are going to be doing lots of this and want control over the process. If you are doing it a lot, you can get a proper setup for it, and economies of scale make it more affordable. If we're talking about just playing around with 2 rolls of film, I'd just pay someone else to handle the scanning.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ He commented he wanted to do it with his extension tubes. So that is an interesting project. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 20:50

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