Even though I think social networking is mainly a lot of hype, snake oil, and the dumbing down of the narcissistic masses even further, I’ll gladly admit my addiction to Instagram. At least to do something meaningful with it, you have to overcome the limitations of your iPhone camera, and go for what’s there. It’s part of the challenge, to me. Plus, I like the UI and the way it sends your photo while you think of some pithy caption, so it almost appears to upload at warp speed.
There’s a trend on Instagram, called “Throwback Thursday”. Well, it’s Thursday right now. So I like to do throwbacks when I can.
I first saw this when I jumped on Instagram a few months ago. People would post photos from their past, and call them “throwbacks”. Now, of course, the limit of the throwback is tied to the age of the image that is being posted. And, most images being posted are straight from a digital source. And unless you were in the photo biz, you had no easy way to digitize your old film shots.
When I shot film, I had a film scanner. Not a flatbed to scan prints, which was essentially making second-generation copies, but a full-on “digital enlarger”, which actually had 1/3 the resolution of my current digital SLR, oddly enough. It was a Minolta unit, which actually was old when I bought it, and required me to get an equally-old SCSI (remember SCSI?) adapter card for my homebuilt PC to make it work. It was painfully slow. An average photo session from a club took about 3 hours to scan in if I wanted the proper results.
As time went on, I obviously upgraded to digital (in mid-2003 no less!) with a Canon 10D DSLR. I stowed my Minolta scanner, and actually never touched it again. By the time it occurred to me that maybe I’d want a film scanner to bring back some of those old archived images, it was well past the time when I even had a desktop PC with which it could be used. I had migrated to Apple, and obviously my Macbook had only USB and Firewire ports. Yes, I know Nikon, Imacon, and others make USB and Firewire film scanners, but, economies of scale did not touch them, and they were still as expensive and as rare as the days they were a common item in professional photo labs around the world. There were some cheap brand-X scanners on eBay, but the results were disappointing. And I wasn’t about to ship my negatives and chromes to New York, just to have them scanned in. No one is asking for the old stuff for any commercial reasons, anyways, i.e. I couldn’t warrant a film scanner purchase just for social media use.
Now, I know what is being asked, “Hey, Pod, didn’t you save the files you made from the scans?”
Well, actually I only saved the final JPEG files, which in those days I only saved them at 320 px across in the long dimension to fit the specs for CJ. It wasn’t worth saving the TIFF files since if I was printing, I would just do it at the pro lab I worked at at the time on their Frontier system or traditional darkroom. And the only reason to go to TIFF was for archival reasons, and if you had the negs and chromes (which I do), you already had an archive. However, that archive might as well be on the moon as far as quickly accessing it is concerned.
That being said, I did a fun trick for the Tiësto image at the start of this article. That one is from 2002. Nick sent me out to this Nettwerk America record label event at the Aqua Hotel on Collins Avenue, to take photos of “this Tiësto guy”, while a writer he drafted interviewed him. Hah, the days of real interviews.
Anyways…what I did to get this “digital” was that I made a pure white block on my Macbook Air’s monitor, and laid the chrome of Tijs over it. The white light shines through the chrome, making it visible. Then I used my iPhone camera to take a photo of the chrome laid over the white block. Insta-lightbox-low-res-social-media-scanner. And if you want to do a “scan” of a negative, you just do the same thing, export to Photoshop, invert the colors, do some balancing, and you’ve got yourself a quick and dirty capture of an old analog image. It’s not Imacon quality (but then again, what else is?), but to impress all your friends and mindless followers on Instagram, it’s definitely sufficient. A step up would be to rig up your DSLR and do it at a higher resolution. However, then you are picking up the individual elements of the screen unless you have a Retina display. At that point you should probably just secure a lightbox from eBay. Hmm, wait…
Since this blog is partially educational, I’m putting this idea out to the community free of charge. All I ask is if you use this technique, just tag your Instagrams with #podscan and @pod_gram. Attribution is always welcome, and it’s what people used to do. Your image and caption can be a throwback!
Happy Throwback Thursday.