A few years ago, my grandmother approached my father with a project. She wanted to make a slideshow for an upcoming family reunion. My father gladly accepted and told her to bring the pictures over so they could begin the editing process. Their idea was to scan the pictures and make a slideshow complete with music and titles, which everyone could watch at the reunion.
Initially, my father loaned my grandmother a loupe and she sorted through the slides in her apartment but that process took too long, so she moved into my parents' place for a week and my Mother and Father both joined in.
The three of them spent the better part of the week sorting through the pile. I recall a number of visits to my parents' house where I would find my grandmother hunched over a large light table, sorting slides as if she were preparing the next cover story for Vanity Fair. Needless to say, the production of a retrospective slideshow for our upcoming family reunion had become a monumental task.
Eventually, the "editorial team" managed to boil things down to about 80 selects and my father was given the task of scanning the film and cleaning up the images in Adobe Photoshop CS2.
My father, who is also a photographer, scanned the film on a Nikon LS-4000 film scanner, using Nikon Scan software.
Once the arduous process of scanning the film, correcting the color and removing the dust and scratches was complete, my father put together what ended up being a really successful slideshow. Although I was in only one picture out of about fifty, it was still very well received.
But it got me thinking. The whole process of digitizing a film archive seems pretty daunting. Before I ever shot a professional assignment, I actually did shoot some film. When I was a kid, I used to shoot film for my high school newspaper, and throughout college I worked with film, spending countless hours in the darkroom swimming in chemicals. Somewhere, stored in boxes of my own, I too have a pile of slides, and negatives.
I thought some more about this, and began to wonder how I could digitize my film archive, and more importantly, how could I do this with Aperture?!
The first big step in tackling any project is to figure out its magnitude. You have to open up the closets, pull out the boxes and begin to take notes. Next, you should find out what type of materials you have. Do you have 35mm negatives? Are they cut into strips of four frames or less? Do you have color slides? Prints? How many (approximately) of each?
Answers to these questions will help you choose the right equipment, and give you an idea of how long the project will take. Another key component is the current state of organization.
If you're like me, there's little information available. When I shot film, I would usually put the negatives in sheets, with a date and description on the top—usually. Many times, I'd just dump them into a binder and call it a day.
As for slides, I'd be lucky if I labeled them at all. Normally, I would just pull out the best shots and leave the out-takes in the box they came in. The boxes would get piled up in a cardboard box somewhere in my closet.
As you go through your collection, take as many notes as you can. Try and jot down where the images live in your house. If you have boxes of film stored in the attic, make a note of it. If the pictures from your last family vacation are stored in a photo album in the living room, write that down. This information will become valuable later. Trust me on this. It's really important to write down as much information as you can.
One of your first questions will be, "How much of this stuff should I actually scan?" The question of whether or not to edit your stockpile before scanning is a tough one to answer. It's akin to trying to decide if you should delete your rejects or not when shooting digitally.
Obviously, if you decide to scan everything at full resolution for archival purposes, you're in for a lengthy ordeal. On the other hand, if you go the route of scanning only your very best images, you lose the handiness of a digital archive. You'll no longer be able to browse your work in the order it evolved and see how you learned from your mistakes. And you'll squander the benefits of being able to edit on your computer rather than a light-table.
I decided I'd try to find a happy medium. I was concerned with preserving my film images in a digital format, but I didn't want to end up stuck behind the scanner for months on end in a seemingly endless endeavor.
So, I chose to make low-resolution scans of everything. The low-res scans take less time and provide a pretty nice preview image to use as a reference in my library. I can use these low-res images to sort, edit and organize my library. Once I've edited a set of images, I can pull the originals and make full-resolution scans.