Hamrick Software’s VueScan is perhaps the most flexible and powerful piece of scanning software available to photographers today. Many people fall foul of its myriad features and options – it can be quite daunting when you first start the software and begin to explore the different option pages. I’m going to explain how to get the best out of VueScan with the minimum of fuss, the least fiddling, and the least deviation from the software’s default options.
If you’ve already got the software installed (at the time of writing the latest version is 8.4.70), then now is perhaps a good time to reset the options to default, you can do this from within the file menu “File->Default Options”
The first thing I turn off in viewscan is the automatic saving of scans – you’re probably going to want to do things like adjust white balance, white point, and blackpoint before committing your scan to disk, so there’s just no need to have this option enabled.
You’ll also want to turn on VueScan’s histogram Graph, you can do this from the Image menu “Image -> graph b/w”, or by hitting ctrl-2. You want the b/w graph because this allows you to adjust white and black point using 2 graphical sliders (explained later in the article).
VueScan comes with some pre-configured film profiles, you may think that these are just great, but in reality they aren’t – they just take control away from you, and will more than likely deliver a scan that just does not come up to scratch. Why? Because each and every roll of negative film you shoot has it’s very own slight variations in both manufacturing tolerance, exposure, film fogging (heaven forbid), and most importantly development. All of these combine to change the film’s base colour density – so by choosing a preset you are using a ‘best guess’.
The good news is that there is absolutely no reason to settle for a best guess, and this is because VueScan will allow you to sample the base colour of your film directly. These tips are available on the VueScan homepage, but I’ve combined them with some screenshots to make it even more clear. So without further ado, here’s how it’s done…
Firstly you need to preview your film. Click the Preview button! When the preview finishes you should select an area of clear film between frames (or in the film leader). If the ‘Lock Exposure tickbox is ticked, untick it (see the picture below this one)
Hit the preview button again, when the preview finishes tick the “Lock exposure” tickbox.
Hit the preview button once more, when the preview finishes tick the “Lock film base colour” tickbox.
With these simple steps you have calibrated your roll of film. You only need to do this once per roll, it can be a pain, but it will save you major headaches in post processing.
Now that you’ve optimised VueScan for your current roll of film, you’ll want to go ahead and scan some photos. A lot of people like to keep the film borders and frame numbers in their scans, I think this is a complete waste of time – it will also give you more hard work setting levels in post processing because your beautifully crafted photo will be competing with the levels of the border & bright yellow frame numbers. The answer is simple: use the frame crop box to highlight a scanning target just within the borders of each frame.
When you’re happy that you’ve got the frame correctly selected hit the Scan button.
Now that your scan is in memory you can do some adjustments, there are 2 main ones you’ll probably want to do, the first of which is using the histogram to produce a nice flat image which can easily be adjusted in PhotoShop. Drag the sliding pointers to left and right so that all elements of the graph are between them – if you want to clip some areas then adjust accordingly.
The final adjustment you may want to make is the white balance – find an area in the scan which is neutral and right click on it (hold down control on mac). VueScan will automatically adjust white balance, if you picked the wrong area just try again until you get something that looks correct — You’ll probably only want to do this once per roll (or once for each set of photos with the same lighting conditions) to ensure your scans are colour matched. Double right clicking resets the auto white balance.
So now it’s time to save your frame, click on the disk icon or use the save image option in the file menu.
Hopefully you should now be able to successfully scan colour negative film and be sure that you’ll get consistent results. You’ll need to use Curves and Levels in PhotoShop to get the best out of your scans. Good Luck!