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Scan Once - Purpose Many
Updated 03-05-08

by Rich Seiling

When digital imaging first began, there was a very inefficient workflow for dealing with film originals. Every time a photo was to be reproduced in offset printing, the film was rescanned for that particular project, and the scan was created in such a way that it was useless for future uses. In fact, no one kept their scans. Once a project was complete, the scans were thrown away.

Technology has advanced, and now photographers (not publishers) are in control of their images. To get the most control and benefit from their labor, most photographers use a "scan once, purpose many" workflow.

It works like this:

1. Scan Your Image
First you make a scan of your image large enough for any reasonable future uses. That’s a different size for every photographer, but the most photographers choose to scan 35mm to 200mb 16-bit RGB (100MB 8-bit RGB); and medium and large-format film to 600mb 16-bit RGB (300MB 8-bit RGB).

Since the goal is to scan the original just once, you should make the best scan you can afford. Use the most experienced Scan Master and the best equipment, and scan into a wide gamut workingspace like Ekta Space PS 5, created by Joseph Holmes. AdobeRGB and sRGB are not wide-gamut colorspaces, and you can get more from your film using a larger space. It’s also important to know that all drum scanners are not created equal, but you pay about the same for a scan from an old or cheap drum scanner as you do from the very best.

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2. Interpret the Scan
Now that a great scan is made, the image can be "interpreted" in Photoshop. This is where the expressive adjustments to contrast, density, color, saturation, cropping, etc., are made. Almost every image can be made more powerful by an experienced digital printmaker.

This step also involves proofing. A proof gives you a tangible way to view the image they way it will really look. For the utmost in accuracy, proofing should be done with the exact same materials and methods you plan to use for the final prints. Many times, a proof will give you more ideas on how to improve the image. This is the stage where the most of the work happens. Your demands, and the quality of the image, will decide how much work is necessary.

3. Archive the File
Once you have fully interpreted the image, it's important to archive the file with two or more copies in separate locations for maximum safety. Hard drives crash and can be stolen. If you don’t have a copy of your work in a safe place, with a plan to restore it, you’ll have to redo all your work when the inevitable happens. Remember, it’s not a matter of “If” your hard drive will fail, it’s a matter of “when”...and it never fails at a good time. The moment you decided to be a digital photographer, you also decided to be an IT person, like it or not.

4. Targeting Your File for a Specific Use
Archiving your Master File is not the final step, however, because you probably started the process with an end-need in mind. It's time to target the Master File. A copy of the Master File is opened, then flattened and sized to the necessary resolution for the use. An unsharp mask is added that is specific to the output device and final output size. Then this targeted file, which is still in the wide-gamut color space, is archived for future reuse.

Output devices have unique profiles that are specific to each individual device and media combination. When media is changed or the device ages, new profiles are created. That is why it's important to save a wide-gamut version of the targeted file, as it will need to be retargeted every time the output profile changes.

The file is now ready to be output. Anytime there is a new use for a photo--whether for 8.5 x 11 offset reproduction or 40 x 50 fine art print--you simply return to the Master File that contains all your previous decisions, and create a targeted file for the current use. There is no need to scan again. And that's the whole point.

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