[Update: It seems like I missed an important step in creating the ICC profile. I forgot to reference the IT8 data file while creating the scanner profile. Thanks Christian for the heads up. More in step 1]
[Update 2: After a lot of discussion in the comments lately, I’ve learnt that most of this post is actually fairly useless in creating a proper ICC profile. On the plus side, thanks to Martin, I now know how to properly create an ICC profile for film and will be writing a follow up post about it.]
[Update 3: I have finally finished the new post on how to properly profile and scan in Vuescan. Forget about reading the rest of this post, jump over here to get the goods: How to get the best scans from Vuescan (profiling and scanning)]
ok, this is a super techie post. one that probably only a very specific handful of people may glance at and a even smaller amount will actually read. but, it has taken me a long time to work this out and i figure there has to be at least one other person out there banging their head against the wall trying to figure this out. so if you don’t shoot film or don’t scan your own negatives or don’t use Vuescan, now is a pretty good time to stop reading before i bore you.
when i started my Love Your Face project i deliberately wanted to shoot it on film. the depth-of-field control on medium format is much greater than on 35mm. plus the i love the images coming off of my Mamiya RZ67. over the last 6 months i’ve scanned hundreds of frames on a Nikon LS-8000 scanner. though because Nikon’s scanning software is outdated (and not very good to begin with), i use a program called Vuescan. Vuescan has become one of two very popular third-party programs amongst photographers still shooting film, the other being Silver Fast. i’ve used Vuescan for years but only ever for small things or travel pictures. i learnt very quickly that the color of my scans were very inconsistent, and my search to find a way to profile my scanner began.
Vuescan’s user guide isn’t the best, more of a walk through the program than how to actually use the program. the first thing i want to clarify is the difference between Scanner Profile and Film Profile in Vuescan. this confused me for the longest time. Scanner Profile is the calibration of color specific to a film or film type that is being scanned. Film Profile is the calibration of color specific to a frame on roll a of film that was photographed with a film target used to reference the color in a specific shoot or location or lighting situation. to profile your scanner for a specific type of film you will only need to worry about Scanner Profile. if you’ve gone the extra distance and shot a film target reference board during your shoot to gain a precise color reference then you’d also use Film Profile.
before you can start profiling your scanner you’ll need IT8 film targets. i bought mine from Wolf Faust at coloraid.de. you can buy specific film targets or a bundle that provides you with basically everything you’ll need. i bought the bundle. Wolf packages everything quite nicely, even providing a humidity indicator to make sure the film targets stay dry and accurate. shipping to Canada took about 2 weeks, if you’re in Europe it’ll be much faster as he’s based in Germany.
step 1: creating a scanner ICC profile
profiling your scanner with a film target is pretty basic in Vuescan.
– under the Input tab change the Task to Profile Scanner.
– under the Input tab change the Media to Slide Film.
– [updated step] under the Color tab change Scanner IT8 data to reference the IT8 file that came with your film target. this will tell Vuescan how to read each color in the target.
– make sure that you’re film target is straight and press Preview.
– your selection box will look like an IT8 film target, match your selection box as close as you can to the film target.
– under the Profile menu select Profile Scanner.
– an ICC profile will be saved in the default location of Vuescan’s preferences. (for Macs: user/library/preferences/Vuescan. i am unsure about PCs as i don’t have one to test it on.)
step 2: referencing your ICC & IT8 files
Vuescan needs to know what colors to reference and how to reference them while scanning. this is accomplished by pointing Vuescan at the ICC profile you created and the IT8 reference file that accompanied the film targets. make sure to save the matching IT8 reference file to a folder you remember, preferably in the same folder as your ICC profile.
– under the Color tab change the Scanner Color Space to ICC Profile.
– for Scanner ICC profile, browse and select the scanner ICC profile you created.
– for Scanner ICC description, name the profile specific to it’s traits (i just used the film type)
– for Scanner IT8 data, browse and select the IT8 reference file that you saved.
step 3: white balance
this was the step that took the longest to discover, and probably the most crucial. once you’ve profiled your scanner and referenced the files, you’ll still need to manually white balance your IT8 film target.
– under the Input tab change the Task to Scan to File
– under the Input tab change the Scan Resolution to someone manageable, something around the 1000 dpi mark. (you don’t need a 4000 dpi file for this)
– press Preview.
– make a selection within the grey of the film target.
– under the Input tab select Lock Exposure.
– under the Color tab changed Color Balance to Manual.
– take note of the Neutral Red, Green and Blue.
– press Scan.
– open the scanned file in Photoshop and hover over Grey Scale box 0 and Grey Scale box 12, take note of their RGB values. all of the values should be within a few points of each other. one thing to make sure is that box 0 doesn’t peak, 255/255/255. if so, bring down the RGB Exposure under the Input tab.
– if the values of the Grey Scale boxes are off, go back into Vuescan and adjust Neutral Red, Green and Blue accordingly. it’s really a guessing game on how much to adjust.
– repeat the steps above until the values of Box 0 and Box 12 are within a few points of each other. (the profile in the images took 5 scans to white balance)
step 4: save your changes
the last step is to save all of these adjustments so that you don’t have to do it again.
– under the File menu select Save Options.
– title your preference something descriptive and press save. the default location of the preference file is in Vuescan’s preference folder (as stated above).
DONE! you’ve now successfully profiled your scanner for a specific film type.
a few other notes:
– i’ve read that Vuescan’s ICC profile creation isn’t the most sophisticated and using several open-source code programs do a better job. while creating a more precise ICC profile is appealing, compiling open-source code and creating a software shell to house it in is definitely not appealing. maybe when i find some free time that i’m not doing many other things i enjoy i’ll tackle that.
– i set my Black Point and White Point to 0 (under the Color tab). this makes for a very neutral scan. all of my initial files, film or digital, are purposely kept neutral to give me the most amount of room to process. this will affect your white balance a little bit.
getting a properly profiled base scan is very important, so i hope this helped a few people. good luck!