Use HDR Processing to Salvage Kodachrome Slides and Bring Them Back to Life

It was not that long ago when the only way to shoot a photograph was on film. Those of us who remember those ancient times probably have many boxes of slides, negatives and prints gathering dust on some forgotten shelf. Among those thousands of images there are no doubt some that would be worth bringing back to life, if only the modern wonders of digital processing can be applied. Well it can. All it takes is a scanner and some processing software.

An earlier blog talked about correcting uneven exposure in color negative scans. Photoshop can compensate for most exposure discrepancy in a negative or slide scan as long as there is sufficient detail and no areas are completely black or blown out white. But what if you have a slide with high dynamic range issues that could use HDR processing software?

Correct Old Slide Film with HDR Processing

That is how I wanted to deal with an old slide of Sainte Chapelle in Paris. This magnificent 13th century gothic masterpiece is famous for its incredible stained glass. But the bright light through the glass and the dark church interior were too much for the Kodachrome film of the time. The spectacular scene as rendered on my pitiful color slide was a bitter disappointment. No exposure could properly render the stained glass and church interior in one image. It was a situation that screamed high dynamic range.

Sainte Chapelle

Normal, under and over exposed scans of a Kodachrome slide lack detail in light and dark areas.

I only had one slide of the main part of the church so I decided to scan it at three different exposures using an Epson V600 scanner. This is easy to do by adjusting the histogram for each scan. As you can see in the illustration above, the normal, under and over exposures do not retain sufficient detail in the light and dark areas. But this is nearly as useful for HDR as three bracketed exposures taken in camera. It gives the software more to work with.

The next step is to take the three exposures into an HDR processor such as Photomatix. This provides a number of options and photo manipulations to achieve a wide range of results. Here is the final image I came up with after processing in Photomatix. It also required some Photoshop tweeking to straighten the horizon. But the result is infinitely better than anything I could have achieved on Kodachrome film at the time.

Sainte Chapelle, three exposure scans tonemapped in Photomatix.

So you see that salvaging film photographs from the old days is a simple matter of scanning and processing in HDR or other software. Similar results could also be achieved in Photoshop, Lightroom or whatever your preference is. But if you have a few film photos with real potential, consider scanning and processing to bring them back to life in the digital world.

 

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