Old Camera

Scanning Film Images For Microstock

Why on earth in this digital age would we want to discuss scanning film for microstock photography? Well, for anyone born before the year 2000, film is still a photography term that retains a lot of nostalgia. You may fondly recall days spent in the dark room, mixing chemicals with one hand while eating lunch with the other (not recommended by the way!) After processing your film and cutting it up, you now had the joy of hand printing each individual negative (or slide if you were extra clever) and watching the latent image appear before your eyes in a bath of developing solution. Ah the good old days.

But in terms of stock, those days weren’t so good in some ways. The stock agencies were extremely hard to access for both buyer and seller. As a photographer you had to ship off your precious slides or negative film for the agency to either hold or scan for themselves. And that was after laboriously writing out by hand descriptions and locations for each image. Certainly, there have been quite a few advantages of the digital age for the stock photographer.

But often the question gets asked, can you scan older film images and submit them as microstock? If so, what is the best way to approach digitising film images?

Scanning Film Images For Microstock – Avoid The Pitfalls

The short answer to the first question is yes, in general you can scan film images and submit them as microstock.

But it may not be as simple as it seems. Below is a list of the top things to be aware of when considering scanning film images for microstock.

  • Noise / Grain

    Microstock agencies are now used to dealing with digital images, which of course contain far less noise than traditional film images (in most cases, especially high ISO). So the first obstacle to scanning your images will be to remove as much noise as possible while still retaining fine detail.

  • Dust & Scratches

    Only when you start scanning your old negatives or slides will you fully realise how many little imperfections are sitting on the images. Dust, dirt, hairs and even scratches to the negative itself all need to be carefully removed after scanning. Of course, cleaning the film with compressed air prior to scanning will help a lot.

  • Resolution

    Most agencies are looking for images above 6 megapixels (Shutterstock still accepts 4MP, but I would expect that to change in the future). So be sure when you are scanning to do so at a high enough resolution that you can still submit after cropping or downsizing to minimise visible grain.

  • Colour Cast

    Depending on the age of your film and how it was stored, colour negatives and slides could begin to exhibit colour casts. Even poor processing at the time the film was first processed could have caused it. Be sure to remove unwanted casts as this will get the images rejected.

Scanning Film Images For Microstock – The Best Methods

There are basically 4 options worth mentioning when it comes to scanning film images for microstock. They are outlined below, with my favourite method recommended as well.

1. Pay someone else to do it

Yep, its an option and one worth considering depending on your time and finances. A quick Google comes up with a number of places that will do it for you. If you are in Australia, one lab I have used in the past with excellent results is Image Science Scanning, but of course there are many others around the world. Prices vary, usually based on the quality of the scan and the amount of scans required. If you have enough images to scan at once, you may be able to get your slides or negatives scanned for as little as $3 per scan. Of course, be sure they are using a quality scanner and scanning at high enough resolutions for use in stock.

2. Dedicated film scanner

Purchasing your own dedicated film scanner is another option worth considering. These provide the best quality scans of your film. However, they are getting increasingly hard to come by, as the demand for them has dropped considerably. The ones you are most likely to find still floating around on sites like eBay are the Nikon Coolscan series of film scanners. Depending on the model and the condition of it you will be looking at around $200 – $1,000 for most of them, with some even up to $2,000. The trick will be selling it again after you are finished with it.

…if you have some very unique, high quality photos on film that are rare or hard to reproduce, then scanning film for microstock might well be worth it…

One of the other benefits of a dedicated film scanner is that you can do whole rolls of film at once with some of them. Plus most also come with some sort of DigitalICE type software to remove dust and scratches automatically. Its quite likely that if you go with option 1 (paying someone to do it) they will be using one of these Nikon Coolscan’s themselves for bulk scanning.

3. Flatbed scanner with film attachment

This is probably the cheapest option for most people. Many of the Epson Perfection range of flatbed scanners (from the V300 model and above) have earned a good reputation for scanning slides and negatives as well. Some may require purchasing additional attachments to hold the film. The higher the model, the better the result of course. The top end model will set you back about $900, but something in the V600 range may be sufficient, at around $300.

An additional benefit of a good flatbed scanner is that you can also scan your old prints. In some cases this may be far easier and produce better results than scanning your old film.

4. Use your full frame DSLR to photograph your slides & negatives

Last, but certainly not least, is the option to use what you probably already have in your kit bag – your nice new DSLR! This is my favourite method, as it costs nothing and the results can be just as good. If you already have something like a Nikon D800 and a good macro/micro lens then you are ready to go. A Nikon D800 for instance will provide you with a 36 megapixel file that you can then downsize to remove visible noise from the film itself. You will still be left with a very usable 6-12mp file to submit to the stock agencies.

This is the approach I personally took with some of my old slides. You will need an even light source (such as studio lights) and a method to hold your slides vertical and square to camera. I just made up a simple holder out of some stiff cardboard, which did the job well.

Many of the images I digitised this way have been accepted to stock agencies and are selling (e.g.: this image of mountains in the Himalaya).

Scanning Film For Microstock – The Final Word

Whichever method you choose from those listed above, be assured there will be both a lot of time and some level of frustration involved with scanning film for microstock. The question that only you can answer is, Is it worth it for me and for these particular images?

And that last point is worth considering. If you have simply generic images on film that are available in the millions on the stock agencies already, then you may as well move on and start shooting new digital images for stock. But if you have some very unique, high quality photos on film that are rare or hard to reproduce, then scanning film for microstock might well be worth it.

If you have any experience with scanning film and submitting images to stock, please let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear how you did it and if the results were worth it for you.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply