Several people asked me to demonstrate the way I copied and prepared pictures for Pictures from the Deep Archive. At first I scanned selected negatives with a film scanner, but due to the large number of pictures (thousands), and the slow pace of high resolution scanning, I realized that my interest in this project would fade long before I finished scanning. I saw on the internet that some people were simply copying film with a slide copier, but I originally rejected this approach because I though the quality would be poor. I decided, however, that the quality of the copies might be good enough for picture evaluation, and gave it a try. I didn't have a slide copier so I simply put the film on a light table, set my camera up on a tripod and shot away with my macro lens, holding the film flat with my fingers. To my amazement the resulting pictures looked good. Not as good as a perfect scan from a film scanner, but quite good. Instead of minutes to scan a strip, it only took seconds and I realized that I could copy all of the negatives instead of a few selected ones and view all of them in detail on my monitor. After a few days of working out the details, this is the method I came up with. This only works on black and white film due to the nature of color film and the color nature of the light source.
The negative is photographed in RAW and made into a 16bit TIFF or PSD lossless file. (Not JPEG.) Set the ISO to the lowest possible. Use aperture priority mode and set the f stop somewhere near the middle of the range which is where the lens is sharpest. I use f 5.6 or f 8. Let the camera set the shutter speed automatically. By using auto exposure (the "A" mode,) the camera will miraculously adjust for under and over exposed negatives. You can save pictures that you had given up on, especially over exposed ones. It's important to use an area of the light table that has even illumination. The area may look even to your eye, but you will notice unevenness in the final picture. Do some tests and avoid the edges of the light table. If you frame the picture to include the clear film area around the negative you can put one of those cool black borders around the pictures that were so popular with the kids in the 70s. Use a remote release if you can to avoid vibrating the camera. This will also keep your arm from getting tired.
Bring the picture into Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture. Invert it and desaturate it. I personally keep it in 16 bit RGB mode, buy you can convert it to 16 bit grayscale if you like. I recorded an action in Photoshop so I can batch process many pictures at a time. This is a good opportunity to crop the picture as you like.
After the file is inverted and desaturated it should be low in contrast and have a histogram that doesn't touch the edges (nothing completely black or white). This way we know that we have captured all the tonality that was on the film.
Correct the contrast, etc. of the picture using levels and curves and apply your masterful technique as desired.
Clean up the dust and scratches. I find the context aware Spot Healing Tool fantastic. Pictures that could never could been saved with conventional spotting can be perfect.
That's it. Quick, but I won't say dirty.