Improve your old prints - Scan those old negatives

For those wondering if its worthwhile scanning your old colour negatives, think no more, do it! If you had your film commercially printed you are likely to be shocked and very pleased by the results.......

For the past 2 years I've been working on a project to digitise all of my family photographs. Up until now this involved scanning all of my Fathers old 620 B&W negatives - and I've been very surprised by just how much I've been able to improve the quality by following a simple photoshop workflow (which I'll detail later). However this week I started scanning my own 35mm colour negatives, and I've been shocked and angry with the results.....

I still have the old commercially processed prints and based on those I've always had a pretty low opinion of my technical ability with a camera. Over 90% of my prints appear to be grossly under or over exposed, or with a strong colour caste.

Here are some examples. Study and compare the scanned prints against the scanned negatives and you'll see why I was both pleasantly surprised and angry.

The original photograph (Ayesgarth Falls in the Yorkshire Dales)

Compare with the scanned negative

Here again we have another example: this time an apparently underexposed photograph taken in natural light (without flash). But again take a look at the negative - not too bad at all.

Note: all I've done with both these negatives is use the noise filter and tweak the shadow/highlights/midtones.

The cheap commercial processors have clearly misrepresented the image on the negative. Obviously, had I paid a bit more I could have got much better results. But like millions of others I overestimated the technology used and blamed myself when the prints didn't quite turn out as hoped.

Thanks to those poor quality prints I virtually abandoned colour film for slides and B&W. The latter I used to process myself. (After dabbling with colour printing I concluded that it was too hit and miss, and hence too expensive to pursue). Finally when the children had grown up I virtually gave up on photography until the first digital cameras came along, and finally I started to get better results - consistently.

So if you want to relive some memories and spice up your albums, dust off your old negatives and start scanning them into photoshop. I can almost guarantee that when you print the files, you'll get better results than those old commercially printed films.

The Workflow

I use an Epson Perfection V700 Photo Scanner and the included Epson Scan software to scan the negatives. See an excellent review at

I've found it unnecessary to use any of the 'advanced' features of the scanning software, i.e. I used the Home Mode Colour Negative setup, with resolution set to 300dpi and paper size A3 (so I can subsequently use my Epson Stylus Photo R1800 Printer to print the files at any size up to A3). The files were saved in TIF format ready for adjustment/fine tuning in Photoshop.

All adjustment including noise/scratch/dust removal was done in Photoshop using the 'reduce noise' filter. I could have used the scanners Digital ICE software but found the result to be unpredictable and time consuming - far better to do it in Photoshop.

Apart from applying a noise filter the only other adjustment I've found necessary is Image>Adjustments>Shadow/Highlight where I have fine tuned the shadow/highlight detail or adjusted the mid tones.

That's all folks.

P.S. when I showed the results to my wife, Barbara, she explained that she once had a summer job in a print shop where as a 'skilled' operative she made subjective adjustments as she saw fit with little or no help from the technology - just as I had to do when I dabbled in colour processing. Very hit and miss. Arghhhhh!!!!

Foxley Woods Bluebell Trail

Location: The Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Foxley Wood is Norfolk’s largest and oldest remaining ancient woodland. Its wide rides, originally created to allow the movement of felled timber, make wonderful paths far into the wood.

At this time of the year the peace can be broken by the hordes of bluebell watchers - can't complain as I am one of them. But for the rest of the year this is a wonderfully peaceful place where you can easily get lost in your own thoughts - a pity though as there's a massive variety of wild flowers (dog’s mercury, early purple orchid, herb Paris, lily of the valley, meadowsweet, water avens, fleabane, etc.), butterflies and birds.

The Trail can be inspected and downloaded to GPS from alternatively go to the EveryTrail site at the bottom of this post.

Technique: Because woodlands are packed with trees, it's often a struggle to find a strong composition. However by looking for subjects that naturally lead the eye into the scene, e.g. fallen tree, path, etc., I think I found suitable resting points for the viewers eye to settle on.

Here the tree trunk takes the eyes away from the busy background, into the thick floor of bluebells.

The line of fallen silver birch and the right hand clump of trees act as a barrier forcing the eyes to travel up the centre to the blue horizon.

Here the rotten branch takes the eye to the pool of bluebells framed by the triangle of branches and fallen log.

Camera Work: Nikon D80, Raw(12 bit), ISO 400, Exposure: 1/15sec. at F8 with -0.7ev compensation, Focal Length 32mm

Post Capture: in Nikon Capture NX2. set Sharpening and Contrast to High in Picture Control. Color Noise reduction: Intensity set to 10% and Sharpness to 5.

Inspiration: After watching "The Mission" on DVD the previous night and listening to that haunting music by Ennio Morricone (esp. Gabriel's Oboe - ) I wanted to capture that smell of the Jungle - the rotting wood of fallen trees and the scent of exotic flowers. The nearest I could get was Foxley wood and as luck would have it the bluebells were out - and the wood was filled with their unmistakable heavy scent.

Style: Organised Landscape

Foxley Woods at EveryTrail

Map created by EveryTrail:GPS Geotagging


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