There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Okay, that idiom is a little dark, but the point still stands—there is more than one way to scan film! It’s amazing how much variation you can get from the limited controls of a film scanner, which is why adding your scan preferences to your film order is vital if you need to narrow down the particular “look” of your film images.
There’s more to it than just saying “warmer” or “brighter”, though. We are dealing with subjective terms that mean different things to different people; maybe you think “warmer” means more yellow, but someone else thinks “warmer” means more red. Specificity matters when requesting your preferences!
First, you need to know what parameters of an image you can even request preferences for (because not all characteristics can be controlled well by a scanning machine). The first is density of the overall image, or lightness/darkness. We call it density because it refers to how transparent or opaque the physical negative is (more info here).
Another thing that can be controlled in the scanning process is color balance. But don’t confuse this with controlling specific color channels! Film scanners do not have the same capabilities to adjust images as Lightroom and Photoshop, so the scanning technician is pretty limited in their controls and is governed by “the physics of color”.
What does that mean? When working with RGB colors (as opposed to physical ink, which is the CMYK color space), opposite hues have an interdependent balance. Yellow depends on blue, red depends on cyan, and magenta depends on green—and to decrease the appearance of one color, we must increase the color it is dependent on. There is no masking or selective color in the scanning process, so these changes in color balance occur across the entire image.
A fake tan and a red-faced barfly in one shot? The film scanning technician has to work within the physics of color to get the best results for both skin tones.
What other things do we have very little or just plain poor control over in the scanning process? One is saturation—making colors more intense/vibrant within the film scanner is very tricky. This is mainly because adjusting saturation in the film scanner can make other adjustments, like density and color balance, get really funky. All of a sudden whites look pink or blue, colors get blocky and smooth gradients are lost, etc.
The other is contrast—not to be confused with density (which is the overall lightness or darkness of an image), contrast is the range of difference between lights and darks. Shadows darken at a faster rate than highlights do, and shifting contrast can be unpredictable sometimes. Ultimately, Richard wants you to get the very best version of your image, and trying to adjust saturation and contrast within the scanning process is not the way to do it. Both should be controlled by YOU while you are shooting (more on that here), or refined in post-production.
So, now that you know a bit more about scanner controls, you know that…
When you are considering the look you like, remember to think of how it applies to skin tone. If there is a person in your shot, typically they are the subject of the photo, which is why Richard Photo Lab always prioritizes the appearance of skin tone when scanning film.
Let’s take a look at some real-world examples of how different density requests affect the same image:
Image by Erika Parker
There is a ton of information stored in a properly exposed film negative. The lab can scan to show off more details in the shadowy areas or more detail in the highlight areas. Compare the two images above! Note that the one scanned for shadows holds a lot of detail in the back-lit bride and more contrast in the foreground, while the version scanned for highlights has more textures and patterns shown in the walls and window.
Perceptually, it feels like this is an adjustment in contrast—but that is really an inherited result of the highlights and the shadows shifting at different rates as we adjust the levels of lightness/darkness for highlight details versus shadow details.
Image by Kayla Barker
Try not to get confused by the terms shadow and highlight when thinking of these requests—it's tough because scanning for shadow actually produces a lighter image, and vice versa.
But wait, there’s more! If you want to take this one step further, you can request to use a pre-existing color profile... What is a color profile? It’s a set of visual guidelines and references that we build personally with a photographer, getting into the nitty gritty of their shooting techniques and fine tuning their style of imagery. While “borrowing” a pre-existing profile does not guarantee your images will look exactly the same as that photographer’s work (because, hey, they are working with different film stocks, lighting conditions, camera settings, eyes, and a myriad of other variables than you), these profiles can be more tuned in to the minutia of a “look” than density and color preferences alone.
Here’s an example of an image scanned using the lab’s best judgement and three of our most popular color profile options:
Image by Silver & Sage Studio
Once you've been able to experiment with different scan preferences and pre-existing color profiles to really define the look you love, you should really go through the process of creating your own personal, in-depth color profile as part of our Color PAC service!
How do you indicate your scan preferences on an order? First head to Richard’s Online Film Ordering Site to start your order! Then, in the cart under ORDER OPTIONS, you can write your scan preferences in the SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS section of your order, or you can opt to use a color profile.
How do you make a memory timeless? For film photographer Sawyer Baird, the key to images that endure is combining a fine art approach—orchestrating beauty through creative choices—and a documentary approach—capturing the real-life, relevant moments. Sawyer erupted onto the wedding photography scene at age 19, and success was quick to follow; in a few short years, she has been published in Cottage Hill Magazine, The Knot Georgia, Southern Weddings V9, named one of the best wedding photographers in Georgia by MODwedding, and one of her real-wedding shoots was named "Best of 2016" by Style Me Pretty.
Today in Richard's Photographer Spotlight, Sawyer is sharing how her family ties inspired her love of photography, the moment she first felt like an "artist", and what motivated her to drop out of photo school and never look back!
Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?
Sawyer Baird: My mom always had a camera and made me scrapbooks. I loved going through my grandparents old photographs as a kid (still one of my favorite things to do). I think my heart has always been in a place that loved photography. To be able to relive some of the most amazing memories by a photograph to me is not only the coolest thing but something absolutely beautiful!
As I got older, I started taking pictures of things for myself to look back on. It started slow, but by the time I was a senior in high school, I had taken all my friends' senior photos for fun, worked on the yearbook, graduated with eight art credits, and was applying to art schools across the country. That led me to Savannah College of Art & Design.
R: Making the leap from photography as a personal passion to a paying gig is a big one... how did you decide to pursue it as a career?
SB: During my senior year in high school, I took an internship with a husband & wife photography company based in North Georgia. Kaylan took my senior photos, and I didn’t know much—I just knew I wanted to learn and be more active with my photography. I was photographing weddings with them for a little over a year.
After high school, I moved to Atlanta and attended Savannah College of Art & Design for a year. I knew I wanted to do something with photography (as it was my major). I had an internship doing wedding photography, but still at this point I wasn’t sure what type of photography I really wanted to do. My interest was in fashion, editorial, and product. When I got into my first film photography class (you jump straight into your major at SCAD), things came together for me like a puzzle. I was not only pulled back towards wedding photography with my entire heart, I was pulled towards film photography and all of its amazingness! I became so intentional with my work, I felt like an artist for the first time in my life.
It didn’t take me long to discover the wedding market with film photography after that. I quickly bought Jose Villa’s book, Elizabeth Messina’s book, and Film Is Not Dead. I think I have read them all 100 times, and I learn something every time I read them. They felt like home to me... soon after all this, I decided to take a break from school and attend a film photography workshop in Charleston, called Bliss & Bokeh. Guys, I didn’t even know how to roll 120 film—I had only been shooting 35mm (thanks KT Merry & Chad for this sweet & important knowledge!). So, I bought my Contax 645 and hit the ground running.
It hasn’t been easy, but at the same time, it has been the easiest choice to continue to pursue it as a career. Photography holds my heart, and I love being able to share such an amazing thing with others. Also, I never returned to school… and I have never looked back.
R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?
SB: My cats (Hemmingway & Zara), just kidding… but not really. I love to photograph really anything that allows me to just be creative and test out new things. One of my favorite things to do is put together mood boards, I think I have at least five right now with completely different shoot ideas that I have yet to do. Things from bridal, fashion, interior, product, etc. I love finding new strengths and figuring out what I like!
I also love shooting with no agenda in mind—when I travel, the streets, landscapes, and design of buildings. I am a sucker for good design and historic cities. I could walk the streets with my camera all day… and I do.
R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?
SB: I am extremely lucky that my clients respect me for my creative side. I share all of my work with clients, and I don’t hide anything. I also love to get to know my clients for who they are and show that in my work. If a couple is more delicate, I keep that in mind, if a couple is more of an outgoing duo, I keep that in mind, too. I approach weddings the same, but at the same time I don’t—no wedding, client, or shoot is ever the same! I honestly never get bored. Plus, being able to package up prints and just relive all the happy makes me feel extremely fulfilled.
R: What is your favorite camera and why?
SB: I love my Contax 645, duh. But, I really love a Polaroid camera… I have a wall in my office filled of Photo Booth photos, instant film, and really all the things. Also, a Polaroid is like the best of two words—it is film & instant. Amazing.
R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it as a pro?
SB: I shot film as a kid with my mom (35mm), and we would drop it off at Ekard (yeah—when that was still a thing). I remember being so excited to get the prints back. It was like Christmas getting them back. Those feelings have not changed, except I get my photos in digital and print this time around. But, it is still pretty much Christmas from Richard!
I continue to shoot it as a pro because it makes me feel like an artist. It makes me take my time, it makes me shoot intentionally, and good lord it makes me real happy! It was my missing puzzle piece for the longest time in my work, and I think it would be really silly to take it apart.
R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?
SB: Because I change my mind a lot and they keep me in line… ha. But seriously, sometimes I think I want to try something new and I do—because it’s good for you! But, I always go back to what I really loved in the beginning. Also, having a support system who not only knows you as a person but as an artist and a photographer is amazing. To me, my lab is half of what I do. You need to trust who you work with and know that they not only have their best interest for their business at heart, but that they have your best interest at heart, too.
R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?
SB: Like any normal human, I need coffee… sometimes I dance around in the morning when I get ready with loud music, but I mean, that's just me when I get ready for anything! Puts me in a good mood and sets the tone for the day.
R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?
SB: "Dancing In The Moonlight" by Toploader puts me in the best mood.
R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?
SB: Savory, I have a thing for salsa.
R: Chocolate or vanilla?
SB: Vanilla, but only in my lattes! I like dark chocolate…
R: Dogs or cats?
SB: Cats (my dog thinks he is a cat—so, it’s all good)
R: Modern or vintage?
SB: I love a good mix—old charm with modern details.
R: Breakfast or Dinner?
SB: Breakfast, but in the afternoon.
R: Warm weather or cold weather?
SB: Warm weather, nobody has time for chapped lips. K?
R: Early bird or night owl?
SB: Total night owl.
R: Crossword or Sudoku?
SB: If I had to pick, crossword, but honestly, I think Netflix should be an option here.
R: Batman or Superman?
R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?
SB: I like both… and it depends on what I am in the mood for.
R: Comedy or Drama?
SB: Comedy, duh...
R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?
SB: I’d love to own a design firm and redo/design houses. I think I still want to do this sometime in my life. All in timing.
R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
SB: To help all the people in need with the snap of a finger, boom. If there was way to just love on all the people who need it the most, it would make me so happy. Maybe not a ‘super power’… but to me it is.
R: What is your favorite word, and why?
SB: Right now it is "reason"—to me, everything happens for a reason and with purpose. Nothing is done by mistake—even just the little things on a day-to-day basis that make you happy, or even make you sad or angry. They happen with reason to make you a better person and shape you into who you are. Never doubt life and just embrace the everyday!
A guest blog post by Sara Russell, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Wedding Sparrow.
Recently, Wedding Sparrow has traveled around the world attending workshops, and we hear more and more often how photographers (and other vendors) are booking their clients via social media. And it seems that Instagram is the star of the show when it comes to reaching a fine art niche audience in particular. Is it really a surprise though when our audience is hunting down beautiful fine art imagery?
This is why our Instagram feeds in particular should represent our websites and branding more so than ever before. Our accounts should be seen as mini websites, if you like, especially after I read a report recently that stated over 65% of clients find us through our social channels first, before visiting your website. Our images should be curated enough to tempt that person into following/clicking/wanting more!
Are you posting what you want to shoot? This is another question we ask at workshops. All too often we get asked to review social channels after being told the photographer isn’t booking the type of client they really want. After seeing repeated imagery of cute, downtown engagements when the photographer is looking for ethereal, outdoor, soft weddings, we often ask, when was the last time you 'cleaned house'? You’re only as good as your worst post after all (and don’t be surprised to hear that followers really do scroll a long way down your feed!), so get cleaning and remove all the posts you don’t want to be known for. Worried you won’t be left with any imagery? Therein lies the problem. Get out there and create the imagery you want to attract back!
As brands and small businesses, we also forget to think of our key brand words when we post online. Is what you’re posting in keeping with your brand identity? Think about how confusing it can be to a client to see you post a heavily contrasted VSCO style one minute and then posting a light, grainy 3200 image the next.
Do you know when your clients are online? Having you been using IG analytics since it’s been freely available? Check out who follows you (if it’s fellow industry folk, ignore them!), what time they are online, and what days of the week. Use your time efficiently and pre-plan your posts via an app like Planoly so you can just press ‘post’ when it’s time to go. And don’t worry about posting every day. As long as you are posting regularly, your potential clients can see that you are online and active. And that’s all that matters.
Worried about hashtags? I wrote a little piece about shadowbanning on Instagram on the Wedding Sparrow blog, so if you fancy geeking out over some hashtag talk, you can read the full article here.
If you’d love to chat more about social media and the confusing world it revolves in, feel free to contact Wedding Sparrow any time...
- Sara Russell, Founder & Editor in Chief of Wedding Sparrow