Digital Color...and scanning Film

by Michael Clark

In my most recent Newsletter - sent out just a couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about digital and color. Mostly the article spoke about how my sense of color has changed in the last few years, since I started shooting with a digital camera. My sense of color a few years ago had been anchored in film - I saw colors as my film saw them and I felt comfortable with that color palette. I shot a lot of Fuji Velvia, which was a supersaturated and very contrasty film. Hence, when digital started to gain a foothold, and with a different color palette, I think there was a strange discomfort with the images.

Now after two years of seeing so many of my own and many other photographers digital images printed in magazines and having worked up an enormous number of my own digital images I have become more comfortable with the digital color palette than with the old film palette. I find myself trying to make my film scans look digital. The deep indigo blue color that Velvia rendered for high altitude skies was the first hint that I preferred a digital color palette. I found myself tweaking the hue, saturation and luminance of the skies in all of my film scans because they looked too dark, too saturated and not "real". On the other hand, it is only recently that I have really felt I can get colors that are "Velvia-like" from my digital camera, albeit, with a much wider exposure latitude and not so blocked up in the shadows. And I think my comfort with Lightroom and all of the new controls have been a big part of that.

This brings up a side note here - I have found Lightroom to be a perfect tool for working up film scans! Because it can handle a Tiff or Jpeg file just as it does a RAW file, Lightroom gives me amazing freedom when adjusting 14-bit film scans. Especially with negative films which don't seem to scan so well and often have strange color casts to them. Having the ability to adjust the white balance and hue, saturation and Luminance saves me a lot of time from doing complex adjustments in Photoshop. I remember telling Lightroom evangelist George Jardine about how I had been working up my film scans in Lightroom and he was surprised. I suppose the engineers never thought of it being used for that purpose but it works all the same.

I do still shoot some film with my Hasselblad and I love that camera. Medium Format has a completely different feel than 35mm, plus the viewfinder is so huge it feels like I am inside the camera almost. The Hassey is also a much slower camera, hence it doesn't get pulled out too often for the action stuff, rather it is reserved for the landscape, lifestyle and portrait images. I still prefer shooting medium format film for landscape photography because I can much more easily get the colors I want with film (for landscape photography I still prefer the rich exaggerated color palette of film somehow) and the medium format slows me down and makes me concentrate more on composition.

But back to the point, a few years ago I worked on my digital images and tried to make them look like the images I shot on Velvia. Now, two years later, I am doing just the opposite, taking my film, shot on Fuji Velvia or Provia 100F, scanning it and tweaking the colors so that they have a more "digital" color palette. I would have never thought I would be doing that. And the revelation that I have accepted and even prefer the color palette of digital for a lot of my work was very interesting.

So, what is the point of all this? Going forward, it has become clear to me that we have so many new and old tools to do our job with and I should always evaluate which tool best fits the job. I can still use film and get a certain look or I can shoot digital and get a different look - or I can shoot with both. Or I can shoot film; scan it and using Lightroom take the film scan far beyond where it started out. Photography has never been more exciting that it is now - for everyone.

I realize I have been rambling to some degree here but I hope that you have garnered a little insight in spite of my rambling. This is the beauty of the blog. Ramble on I say! That's it for this week. If you'd like to download the issue of the newsletter referenced in this post you can do so at:

http://www.michaelclarkphoto.com/spring_2007.pdf

If you'd like to sign up to receive the Newsletter just drop me an email at mjcphoto@comcast.net.

Adios, Michael Clark