Should You Edit Your Film Scans?

The questions of “how do you edit?” or “how are you grading?” or much worse: “what preset do you use?” seem to plague digital shooters on all forms of social media. But, for film shooters there’s an understanding that most of us are doing so to avoid the emulate-your-preset-at-all-costs crowd and would rather get their preferred look from the real thing.

Film shooters seem to feel comfortable sharing pushing, pulling, development and printing technical details without issue. We seems to share our film preferences to anyone that will listen and compare stocks to each other all the time to understand tonality or even colour preferences.

But, when it comes to creating digital files and then actually editing them for the final result film shooters seem to less comfortable sharing their thoughts and process. I’ve always wondered why? They’re so community driven, thoughtful and have a wealth of knowledge – it seems weird to me that the digital file is the dirty secret in the process.

Should you edit your film scans?

Yes, of course you should! I have personally edited almost every single scan I receive from the lab or have scanned myself. The final product that lands here on the website on Instagram or in a YouTube video is modified slightly to get to the look that I want. Most of the time it’s just cropping and occasional colour corrections, nothing too drastic. But sometimes its to correct a mistake in exposure or metering, still quite basic but nothing I would consider out of the ordinary.

I’ve setup presets in Lightroom for each film stock I shoot, I mass apply once I have my files saved locally and then alter for taste. For the most part though, I’ve setup a handy preset that I can apply to a whole roll or many rolls of the same film stock to reduce processing time. I then weed out the mistakes, focus or exposure and export to Dropbox for posting or previewing. Simple!

It’s not easy shooting film in the modern era. There’s so much time and effort that goes into the whole end-to-end process. I struggle to understand why anyone wouldn’t want to get the last 1% right when they’ve spent the last 99% struggling to produce a product. I use the word struggle in contrast to our wholly digital friends. Digital shooters can snap out several hundred or thousand shots without thinking to find a keeper without a second thought of the process (I find myself doing this on occasion when shooting digitial because I know the SD card will almost never get full).

Every film shooter is very aware of the process of shooting, developing, processing and posting their work – it’s called a process for a reason

I treat my scans as the RAW file from the camera and from there generally only minor tweaks are made like dropping blacks, increasing highlights or making some very minor colour corrections if I missed the exposure. Here’s the thing: the #nofilter hashtag is there for purists and show-offs. Edit your scans, you’ve got them on your computer, make the tweaks to perfect the shot!

Once the scans are digital they’re going to be consumed by viewers on their screens anyways. Refusing to edit them is a choice that some photographers make, probably thinking that the look of film is enough and the rest is flawless OR they want the flaws to remain to give it that OG look. Not for me. I’d rather make some tweaks to my files to give them the look I want and am happy with than leaving them for some BS philosophical reason.

But it’s not in the spirit of film!

I don’t care. You’ve got them, give them a quick edit.

Why bother shooting film in the first place?

There are three major contributing factors as to why I moved to shooting (mostly) film

  1. The colour palette and look I want first time, every time
  2. Drastically reduced editing time because of the above
  3. The whole process and ordeal of shooting film is just plain fun

I’m now spending significantly less time editing sat at my computer and more time not worrying about not having enough time to edit. My pre-film editing workflow would take me hours to edit down my files and apply a preset, mess with white balance and make endless curve tweaks. While I still do a lot of that with my scans, I don’t need to worry too much about the look or colour palette of my files because the film stock I choose to shoot largely takes care of that for me.

While it’s probably the long way around, there are certain advantages of waiting for a lab to send you the files or bulk scanning your own rolls.

Firstly, I often forget what I shot when I’m dropping off rolls so it’s amazing to discover the work that I receive and relive in the Dropbox scans my lab provide. Secondly, the wait time can be magic in the sense that a break between shooting and working on the results means that you revisit the work with relatively fresh eyes. And lastly, the childlike Christmas Day-esk excitement of the scans coming to life on your screen with the amazement of “I shot that” is a feeling that few can measure.

Film is fun, man

My final note to anyone into photography is to try film, even if it’s just once. The trial, the error, the agonising blank rolls or frames, the smell, the cost, burning through rolls when you’re in the zone – it’s a whole process. But, it’s got a certain look and a feel, some say it’s more legitimate other think it’s just cooler. It’s all just part of the trial to make an image on film and it’s super fun.

For me, I always spent time in my computer trying to make my files look like film so I cut out the middle man. Now I spend even less time editing as I’m not trying to replicate a particular film look because I have it straight out of the gate. Shooting film allows me to pick the tone of my photos trough choosing the stock I want, even make mistakes but still have some post-leeway to get the results I’m happy with.

Edit your scans people, you’ll be glad you did.

1 thought on “Should You Edit Your Film Scans?”

  1. This is so true and never thought of it like this. I shoot digital, and not that I ever get asked how I edit, I’m not sure I’d even say. But for anyone that’s wondering, it’s my own blend. Perhaps the digital feels like a recipe that’s personal to you? A baker might share the type of sugar, but never how much.

    Liked by 1 person

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