Most of what I photograph and print nowadays is digital. I have so many silver negatives that I like to slowly go through my archives and scan negatives that I want to print digitally. At first, I had a lot of trouble scanning anything. I persisted and seem to have found a good technique for black and white and color negatives. It’s a work in progress as I haven’t been able to get good results from 35mm color slides, even Kodachrome 25 positives.
The black and white negatives have resulted in more successes. The image below is a good example. I photographed Joe while I was working as a teaching assistant at the Maine Photographic Workshops in 1985. Can you guess what his profession was? The photograph was made with a 4×5 Graflex camera and a 150mm Rodenstock lens using Tri-X sheet film. It’s a good negative, maybe a little flat but easily printed.
I have always been pleased with the original print that I had made in the late 1980’s. I no longer have a wet darkroom and so I scanned the negative. The scan, and the resulting print surprised me. While I still like the original, the scan produced a file that has more options, or potential. The tonal relationships in the image are more subtle and the scan really brought out some highlight and shadow detail that I was overlooking. Some of what is going on here is going back after many years and re-printing a negative, however, the scan is giving me a better base to work with, more than 20 years after the photograph was made.
I learned the hard way that it’s important not to over-scan negatives. My Epson R2400 printer has an optimum print resolution of 240 to 360 dpi. Anything above or below that and the quality won’t be there or you’re wasting space. I had been trying to scan negatives at 2400 or 4800 dpi and obtained lousy results thinking that the more dpi I had in the scan, the better the print. The opposite is true. The pixel count has to be there, but printer dpi is different.
The information is obviously there on the original negative but the Epson 4990 scan has a soft quality to it that gives me a broader range of possibilities. I edited the image in Paintshop Pro and did very little. I used the channel mixer to convert the image to grayscale and then used curves to play with the contrast some. I printed the image on Velvet Fine Art paper using the Advanced Black and White settings in my printer driver. The final print reproduces the soft quality of the open light under the porch and resembles watercolor paper in its appearance and weight. It has a little texture and doesn’t have the hard gloss of a gelatin silver print.
There’s a lot of discussion about the death of photography and images that are radically altered or manufactured entirely in Photoshop. I don’t have a problem with that as it’s just a way of creating images. What I am enjoying is taking a traditional photographic image and reproducing it with digital technology. I think the problem is digital imaging is hitting its stride and we don’t know what to do with it yet. I’m just happy that I can still print old negatives, even some that I couldn’t using traditional methods.
As always, it’s the photographer using the tools at her disposal. The most important tool is the eye.
Check out my website: