I'll be writing this in installments over the course of the next few days. I'm about to go back to university, so once I'm there I will be able to take some silly little pictures of how best to mount negatives into a negative holder and stuff like that.
I know there are other photographers on this board that, like me, still shoot film, and due to a recent request by NikoDoby, I offered to write a (hopefully) easy to understand and straightforward guide on how to get your film or prints onto your computer so you can share them more easily. This will primarily focus on scanning black and white silver negatives, since they comprise the massive bulk of my work, but I will include a short section on correcting color negs at some point in the future
I use the following setup for most of my work:
Computer: MacBook Pro 15" vintage 2007, OSX 10.6
Software: Silverfast AI 6.something, or Epson Scan, I have also used VueScan, but I find that it didn't give me any real advantage over Epson Scan, and Silverfast is certainly better than both.
Adobe Photoshop (I use CS4, but any version since at least 7 will work)
I don't use Lightroom for my scanned images, just digital ones.
Scanners: Epson V700 or an Epson 10000XL with transparency head. I have used a Minolta Scan Dual Elite II as well, but any film scanner will work in pretty much the same way, provided you are using Silverfast.
Part 1: Preliminary Things
So you're ready to scan film, you've got your negatives, and a clean scanner surface, and you're practically salivating at the thought of loading those film holders up? Great! here's a few things I can recommend having on hand before you do any of this:
a) Film Cleaner and Q-Tips - I have a bottle of the original Kodak stuff from decades ago, but you can buy Edwal anti-stat film cleaning solvent from Adorama for about 10 dollars, it should last for a long, long time. These are LIFESAVERS, just take a swab, dip it in the film cleaner, and gently clean the frame of film you are about to scan, the stuff dries within about 10 seconds, so don't worry about leaving yourself with a wet negative. Don't press too hard, lest you scratch the negative. Be -extra- careful with films from Efke and Adox, they are classically formulated emulsions, and have soft bases with no hardening incorporated, and as such they scratch extremely easily. Use a hardening fixer if possible when you are developing your film. Any stains or dried particulate on your film will usually wipe right off. Make sure you cap the bottle as soon as you are done though, this stuff evaporates really, really fast, and doesn't smell great either.
b) Canned air - Another absolutely essential item, this will turn your dust retouching job from a nightmare that eats up hours to a mild annoyance that takes maybe 2, 5, or 10 minutes at the very most, provided you don't have a damaged negative. Make sure to point the nozzle up, so you don't have particulate matter being sprayed onto your film. Sometimes my canned air "coughs" and spits some gunk on my film even when I am pointing the nozzle up; this is why you need the film cleaner mentioned above. Use this on your film holders every now and then to get all that excess dust off of them.
c) Light table, you probably already have one of these if you're scanning your own black and white negatives, but you can never be sure. If you don't have one, ebay one for like 10 dollars or use a desk lamp.
d) Antistatic cloth - you probably have one of these for cleaning your computer screen, use it to clean your scanner glass.
e) Speakers, you're going to want to jam out while you're scanning, it's boring as hell.
f) A good organisation system, don't just throw your scans in a derelict file in your "my pictures" folder like I do half the time. Make a folder called "Film Scans", one inside that with whatever year your film is from, one inside that with the month, and then inside that another one for each day you have negatives from. Inside each day, I like to have one more folder for each roll of film I shot that day with the date in shorthand and film type as the title. An example file structure would go like this: My Photos/Film Scans/2010/January 2010/January 8/20100108_TX400EI1600.
The final title tells me that I shot Tri-X 400 at ASA 1600 on the eighth of January in 2010. This way, I can search for just "20100108" and get every roll of film I shot that day, or just "TX400EI1600" and get every roll of Tri-X I've shot at 1600, regardless of the day. Don't over organize though, for info such as camera type, chemistry used, and location, keep it on your proof sheet or contact sheet and add it in metadata later on. You can easily do this via Reveal, FilmTagger, or Lightroom.
Part 2 - "Should I scan a print or a negative"
I like scanning prints, as they are finished products and I have to do only a minimum of editing on them before they are web-ready. Most of the time it's just a quick once over on any stray dust, a minor boost in contrast if necessary, and the removal of the paper boarder and addition of a uniform one in photoshop (document size, check relative, 15 or 20 in both boxes for a normal file. Of course this method is best if you're a good chemical printer. If you are more of a photoshop wizard than a darkroom alchemist, you might try negative scanning first, or improving your darkroom technique.
Scanning a negative is better if you want to do more manipulation to your image, you can perform more drastic corrections in regards to contrast and exposure. Unfortunately dust if more of an issue on negatives since there are two exposed surfaces to be scanned, and plastic has a nasty habit of building up static electricty, attracting particles. Scanning negatives also usually takes longer since you need to scan at a much higher DPI rate, something like 1600 or 2400 at the least, for a good, editable scan. I usually scan at double DPI, such as 3200 or 4800, and downsize 50% as soon as I get into photoshop, this results in smoother tones and better rendition, most of the time.
Part 3 - The Spot Healing Brush Tool
If you are lucky enough to have a version of Photoshop (I believe from CS2 and up) with the Spot Healing Brush tool, it will soon become your absolute best friend on the planet. That's all.
Part 1 - Print Scanning
I'm going to cover print scanning first since you don't really need any special hardware for your scanner, nor a particularly out of the ordinary scanner to do it well. I'm going to use Epson Scan as the software for this because chances are, if you're using Silverfast, you know what you're doing for the most part in terms of your scanning. Anyway, lets open Epson Scan and see what we've got.