You download your film scans, you start flipping through the image files, and then you spot it—there’s something… weird on your scan. Sound familiar? Every film photographer has witnessed a dreaded film scan anomaly, from strange lines and dots to discolored images to portions of the image being blacked out.
Don’t be left in the dark when it comes to your film! Let Richard break down the causes and solutions of common film & scan issues for you.
THE PROBLEM: Your negative was exposed to light for too short a time to record a well-defined image on the film.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: Your scans will look dark/faded, grainy, and have very low contrast. Your negatives will be very faint/see-through.
HOW TO FIX IT: Get yourself a light meter so you can adjust your camera settings correctly for different lighting scenarios. You might also want to shoot a test roll to get a better handle on exposure in general. If the underexposure is not too intense, you can adjust affected frames in Lightroom/Photoshop to get "passable" images.
THE PROBLEM: Your negative was exposed to light for too long, making your negatives too dense.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: The highlights in your scanned images will be dull and gray—this is because, in an effort to preserve definition throughout the mid-tones, our scanners must reduce the overall lightness of your image. Your negatives will be very high contrast between the darkest dark and the lightest light, but the dark, dense areas dominate throughout.
HOW TO FIX IT: Grab a light meter to properly judge lighting, and consider shooting some test rolls—overexposing color film a couple of stops can actually be a powerful shooting tool, but only if you can understand when and why. If film is not too severely overexposed, some moderate post-production work can be done. It won’t be great, but it will be tolerable.
OBSTRUCTION IN YOUR CAMERA
THE PROBLEM: Something yucky has wormed its way into your camera. Maybe it’s hair, maybe it’s dust, maybe it’s an unidentifiable gunk. It can even be the protective paper backing on your 120 film.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: Obstructions in your camera will appear on your films scans as dark marks, oftentimes appearing on multiple frames in a row.
HOW TO FIX IT: Keep your camera as clean as a whistle with regular maintenance at home—clean your camera back and insert with canned air before every shoot. Reoccurring obstructions can sometimes be a piece of your camera itself, and should be repaired at a camera shop.
OBSTRUCTION IN THE FILM SCANNER
THE PROBLEM: Dust and other small particles are clinging to your film or the scanning bed.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: Obstructions in the scanner will appear on your films scans as tiny white marks or lines.
HOW TO FIX IT: Richard always takes care to prevent this from happening, including brushing & vacuuming your film and digitally removing noticeable dust and scratches (either with a special automated software or manually). If you still see dust on your scans, please get in touch with the Richard crew!
THE PROBLEM: Light is getting into your camera. This is usually due to a faulty back, in which light-tight seals are damaged or worn.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: Light leaks appear as faded or discolored streaks or bursts in a scan—they will extend outside the frame to the rebate edge.
HOW TO FIX IT: Double check that the seals on your camera are light tight by shooting another roll of film. If it comes back clean, then it was probably just a simple user error—if not, take your camera to get checked out by a pro.
THE PROBLEM: Fogging can be caused be a number of things, including heat damage to your film, aging of film, or accidental exposure to light (like opening your camera mid-roll).
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: Fogging is similar to a light leak, causing fading & discoloration. However, it affects the film surface more evenly overall, whereas a light leak typically emanates from a concentrated spot.
HOW TO FIX IT: Eliminate the variables to find the root of the problem. Shoot a test roll with a brand spankin’ new roll of film—if the roll comes back clear, then the issue was caused by your original film. If not, head to a camera repair shop.
THE PROBLEM: Light is refracting and reflecting within your lens. This happens when your subject is backlit and you are pointing your camera directly at the sun.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: Flares appear as bright, low contrast, muddy or discolored patches that oftentimes (but not exclusively) develop in the corners of an image.
HOW TO FIX IT: Always be mindful of your light source to avoid flare, and consider using a lens hood (or your hands!) to block any stray light. Sometimes flares can be dulled in post-production by adjusting the color balance over the flare—though, some artists love the look of flares in their images!
LOOSE FILM ROLL
THE PROBLEM: When shooting 120 or 220 film, your film is not tightly rolled after exposure. This can happen because the film was not secured properly (with tape or film strip adhesive) and it unraveled, or your camera never rolled the film tightly enough to begin with (common in toy cameras).
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: There is a soft red or white line across an entire edge of your scanned frame—also known as “edge fog”.
HOW TO FIX IT: Make sure your film is tightly sealed after removing it from your camera. If you suspect your camera could be at fault, you’ll need to head to a repair shop to confirm that it’s winding film correctly. Because damage from a loose roll typically stays at the edge of a frame, some scans with this issue can be saved by doing a little cropping.
CAMERA OPENED MID FILM ROLL
THE PROBLEM: This one is pretty obvious—your camera opened in the middle of shooting your roll. We’re all human, it happens!
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: Large blocks of your scan are discolored. This can range from an orange-red tint on parts of your image to completely bleaching it out. The damage will cover the frame line and rebate edge, but it’s much larger than a regular ol’ light leak.
HOW TO FIX IT: There’s not a whole lot you can do to save an image when this happens, typically because the damage covers so much of the frame. On the bright side, after seeing the results you’ll be extra careful it doesn’t happen again!
CAMERA ADVANCEMENT MALFUNCTION
THE PROBLEM: Your camera is not moving film through the camera body uniformly (like it should).
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: When you look at your negatives, your frames will either be too far apart (giving you less frames on the roll) or they will overlap (resulting in double exposures over a portion of the scan).
HOW TO FIX IT: Your camera may need a checkup from a pro. However, this issue can also occur if your film is loaded or manually advanced incorrectly.
TWIN CHECK STICKER
THE PROBLEM: Twin check stickers are applied to your film in the dark before it is ever developed in order to help us track it through the lab; ordinarily, there is not an image frame on this portion of the film. If there is, this is another sign that there is a camera advancement malfunction or film-loading error.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: There is a sticker on the last frame of your roll, and a big white rectangle on the corresponding scan.
HOW TO FIX IT: First, double-check that you are loading your film correctly and starting your exposures at the right place on the roll. If you are still seeing issues with advancement, your camera may need a tune up! Some image frames can be saved with a little post-production magic, depending on the image and how far the sticker imposes on the frame.
SHUTTER SYNC MALFUNCTION
THE PROBLEM: When you are using a flash and a camera with a curtain shutter, the "sync speed" is the fastest shutter speed you should use. If you set a faster shutter speed, the shutter starts closing before your flash has gone off, literally blocking a portion of your frame from being exposed.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: There is a thick, black, uniform line on your image that reaches the edge of the frame.
HOW TO FIX IT: Slow down the shutter, speed demon! Be wary of sync speed, because there is no saving these frames once they are exposed.
PRESSURE PLATE SCRATCH
THE PROBLEM: Typically, either dust, dirt, or sand have gotten into the camera insert or camera back, scratching the base side of your film. This can also occur on the emulsion side of your film due to dirt, nicks, or sticky rollers.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: There is very sharp, straight line across your scan—it can be light or dark. These lines sometimes start and stop in sequence with the exposures. Pressure plate scratches are always the same direction across your film frames because of the direction that the film travels through your camera. Sometimes, light scratches will be removed by the automated software Richard uses to remove dust from film scans—in this case, you will only see the scratch on your negatives.
HOW TO FIX IT: It’s time for a DEEEEEEP clean from a professional. The rollers, the insert, everything needs a good scrub-a-dub-dub! And be sure you’re doing basic maintenance on the regular, cleaning your camera with canned air before each shoot. Scratches can often be removed from scans by doing some post-production work in Photoshop.
THE PROBLEM: Your film negative was damaged when someone at the lab was handling your film or your negatives were stored improperly—this scratching or denting can then show up in your scans.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: Light colored lines (scratches) or crescents (dents) appear on your scan. They are not geometric or uniform, and they do not appear the same across multiple frames.
HOW TO FIX IT: At Richard, we take every precaution to prevent damage to your negatives: hiring experienced technicians, using protective gloves and well-maintained equipment, and always sleeving your negatives. When damage does occur, Richard will retouch the damage out of your image files. If you ever see handling scratches and crescents on your scans, please contact the lab!
THE PROBLEM: There is dust or dirt interfering with the film scanning equipment.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: There is a thin, straight line across your scanned image. It can be differentiated from pressure plate scratches by the visible digital noise around the line.
HOW TO FIX IT: At Richard, we routinely clean and recalibrate our equipment to prevent this issue. If you think you see scan lines in your order, please reach out to us immediately!
THE STAIRCASE EFFECT
THE PROBLEM: Honestly, we aren’t exactly sure what causes this issue to occur (though there is speculation that reflections from the film itself during standard operation of the machine could be the culprit). What we DO know for sure is that scans displaying the staircase effect come from very overexposed negatives.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: There are soft, evenly-spaced, dark bands overlaying your image from edge to edge.
HOW TO FIX IT: Make sure you aren’t overexposing your negatives! Use a high-quality light meter every time you shoot. Some images can be altered in post-production to minimize the appearance of banding.
THE PROBLEM: Your film got wet from condensation, a spill in your camera bag, an accidental dip in the pool, etc.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: The results can range—we’ve seen irregular waves through the image, a speckled pattern, large black splotches, and extreme discoloration. But the one thing this type of damage always has is a distinctly “liquid” look.
HOW TO FIX IT: If you know you have gotten your film wet, send it to the lab immediately with a note about the damage. Seal your film in an air-tight bag/container, too, so it does not dry! This can help lessen the damage. Scans showing water damage are typically beyond saving—but who knows, maybe you’ll end up loving the organically abstract effects!
THE PROBLEM: Your film has been exposed to a form of electromagnetic radiation. This usually happens when you travel via plane with your film.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT: There is a large, wavy pattern across your entire roll of negatives.
HOW TO FIX IT: Richard wrote an extensive blog post on x-ray damage a while back, but here’s the short & sweet version—never put film in luggage going under a plane, opt for a hand check of your carry-ons instead of using lead-lined bags, and clearly label packages being shipped internationally.
When Simon and Sophia of Bayly & Moore started shooting together in Auckland, New Zealand back in 2009, they had no idea what lay ahead. Fast forward a few years, and this hybrid photography duo is hellbent on making genuine images and personal connections as they travel the world photographing what they call "the brilliant madness of love". Today in Richard's Photog Spotlight, Si and Soph are chatting about balancing digital and film photography workflows, turning digital files from fiction to fact, and the camera lens that is a "creamy, grainy miracle worker".
Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?
Bayly & Moore: Si was in the music industry for years, touring and making records, digesting all of the travel and incessant waiting around that goes with it. The access he had to interesting stuff combined with traveling and the strong personalities of the music industry quickly had him addicted to documenting everything. Soph studied photography at design school before working as a freelance designer in a couple of ad agencies, and after a while she started shooting more and more for herself just to break that big agency monotony. We met backstage at a musice festival (Soph was photographing a band), and the rest is history.
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?
B&M: Both of us were working in industries that were hugely creative (music and design), but that also required large teams of people to get anything decent done. Suddenly, photography showed up in our lives as a way for us to be able to "make stuff’’ using the skill sets we already had, and we could do it without needing to be part of a huge process. After you’ve been working on major ad agency jobs or a big tour, going out and shooting on your own & creating work is the most amazing feeling! So one day, we just looked at each other and were like, "Let’s just do this and ditch everything else"… and it was on.
R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?
B&M: Loads of artist portraits (and always on film). We have a really strong music scene in New Zealand, and when we were starting out, I’d shoot a lot of album art. I became addicted to shooting strong, interesting people who would push back at you, who weren’t just eye-candy, and who had a host of complexities to try to represent. It’s made me seek out and want to shoot strong artists and make work in collaboration with people who have something to say, rather than just stealing documentary moments and "shooting pretty". We're forever chasing the desire to feel what someone feels rather than just looking at them like they’re an image collected in a catalogue.
R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?
B&M: The grand "art versus commerce" debate is relevant early on, but the one thing we learned quickly is that if you can ignore the noise and find your own distinct voice, then you stand out a mile—the commercial elements of what you do become self-sustaining.
We’re passionate about preaching the "build yourself, not your brand" mantra, and it’s really all about coming to grips with what makes you tick as a person and an artist. That eventually comes out in your work—basically "you are what you eat", and if you want to make better work, then build yourself into the kind of person who makes that work naturally. A fulfilled, well-put-together, process-driven artist makes distinctive work, and if there’s one thing the market likes, it’s distinctive work. You’ll collect genuine fans of what you’re doing along the way.
Wanna make money? Make fans. Wanna make fans? Make work that people can be fans of. And the sort of work that people can be fans of is tremendously fulfilling work to make. End of story.
R: What is your favorite camera and why?
B&M: For digital photography, we shoot on Canon 5d bodies with a bunch of L-series lenses, pretty standard and not really the kind of thing you can call a "favorite". Film-wise, our devoted favorites from the collection of stuff on the shelf would be an old Rolleicord III (for double exposing and creeping the film along, so the separate shutter and film transport mechanisms are like gold), and of course the classic Canon 1v for 35mm stuff.
The 1v lets us really get the most out of some of those Canon lenses. The 50mm 1.2 is really one of the great lenses of history—on Portra 400/800, that thing is a creamy, grainy miracle worker!
R: When and why did you become a hybrid photographer? How do you balance your workflow to incorporate both?
B&M: Basically, we were shooting all of the stuff that was important to us on film because we loved the look, and we loved not having our personal images in the same workflow swamp as all of our wedding stuff. Deliberately separating them was a way for us to feel refreshed from shooting, not exhausted. Then, we wanted all of our wedding work to have the same feeling of joy, so shooting film weddings quickly became a no-brainer. Digital is also massively advantageous when documenting a day that can be a bit of a wild ride, so carefully combining the two is the challenge. We don’t really shout about the film stuff with our clients, as in, “Ooooh, look at us we’re shooting film now, so turn it on!”, it’s more just a zen thing that feels right in the moment. It also gives us a "true north" of a color style to chase.
When it comes to workflow, if you’re shooting in perfect light, both film and digital are always effortless to match (and they look kick ass). But it’s in the problem-solving portions of the day that film really shines—naturally in the highlights, but also generally seeing more like your eye does. To be honest, the more we "hybrid-ize" our workflow, the more we want to only shooting 35mm for entire weddings. It’s just so damn delicious and easy and zen-like.
R: Why is it important to print your work?
B&M: Because files aren’t facts. When you print something, you turn a captured moment into a fact.
We're always telling clients that things on a screen aren’t really alive... they’re in transition, they’re subordinate to key-strokes and mouse movements. But something hanging on your wall is almost an equal to you. You have to approach it and live with it as a powerful fact right there in your life.
R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?
B&M: We travel a lot all over New Zealand and the world, and we always carry coffee-making devices with us. Strange little grinders, weird Japanese kite things, bags of collected beans from strange roasters—really, just every way possible to introduce hot water to a fried coffee bean. It’s the ritual of the early morning coffee in a strange place that makes you feel like you’ve brought a piece of home along with you.
Also, we have some brilliant leather shoulder bags from Saddleback that we use for gear. There’s a certain satisfaction of packing the bag perfectly with bodies and lenses and everything you need in a perfect tetris-like fashion, then swinging it on your shoulder just before you roll out the door.
We also play a lot of The Japanese House when we’re driving to a wedding. On repeat. Loud. So on most shoots, we have that as a soundtrack in our heads all day long…
R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?
R: Chocolate or vanilla?
R: Dogs or cats?
R: Urban or rural?
R: Modern or vintage?
R: Breakfast or Dinner?
R: Warm weather or cold weather?
B&M: Cold weather.
R: Biggie or Tupac?
R: Early bird or night owl?
B&M: Early bird.
R: Crossword or Sudoku?
R: Batman or Superman?
R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?
B&M: Historical Non-fiction.
R: Comedy or Drama?
R: Truth or dare?
R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?
B&M: We also own a furniture rental company with some of our friends, and it’s a total blast working with objects instead of images. It also means we can play 80’s hit really loudly.
R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?
B&M: ALL OF IT. We have a huge vinyl collection that ranges from classic to brand-new obscure (and we do have tendency towards playing Bowie's 7 Inch Singles at half speed—try "Under Pressure" sometime…), but at the moment we’re nailing new records from The Japanese House, The 1975, Alt-J, Beach House, Gang of Youths, The Jezebels, Kevin Morby, Porches, and Soren Juul.
And ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
B&M: Si would have a laser-finger to trim hedges with unnerving accuracy. Soph would have x-ray vision, the kind where you could look into the ocean and just see the fish floating without water. These are essential life skills.
R: What is your favorite word, and why?
B&M: "Brutal", as taught to us by Australian maestro Oli Sansom. It can be used for everything in every situation. Loved that burger you just got? BRUTAL. Just heard about someone having a fender-bender? BRUTAL. Got pulled over by a cop? BRUTAL. Shot in perfect light? BRUTAL. Late for a meeting because of traffic? BRUTAL. Just nailed the perfect scrambled eggs? BRUTAL.