Boston & Maine Railroad in the 1980s; Working with some Underexposed Photos.

In March 1984, I borrowed my father’s Rolleiflex Model T and exposed a roll of 120-size Ektachrome of Boston & Maine freights in the Connecticut River Valley.

The Rollei was an old camera and there was nothing electronic on it. Setting the camera was entirely up to the photographer. I was still in high school and my skills at using a hand-held light meter were less than perfect.

In short, the combined effect of snow on the ground and my lack of experience left me with some seriously underexposed medium format transparencies.

Scanning lightened the photos significantly, yet the results still demonstrate my failure to expose properly. To make for a more pleasing images I needed to adjust exposure and contrast in post processing. However it was important to scan the transparencies in such a way as to capture as much information as possible.

I was disappointed with my results and left the uncut film in the box that it was returned to me from the lab. I left them there for 33 years and only re-discovered them a few weeks ago. (Try that with your digital photos. No actually, don’t try that!).

With the technology now at hand I decided to see what I could do to make these photos presentable despite serious underexposure (suffering from receiving insufficient light).

Working with an Epson V750 flatbed scanner, I scanned the transparencies (positive color film) using VueScan 9×64 (version 9.5.91) software.

Scanning, like photography, is an art and I’ve found to make the most effective scans often requires a bit of knowledge and skill.

I’ve worked with both the Epson and VueScan software, and while both produce excellent results, for this effort I chose VueScan because it allowed me greater control of the scanning process.

To extract more information from these difficult photos, I opted to make multi-pass scans, which do a better job of capturing detail in high-lights and shadows. The software combines the data in the final file.

This is a screen shot of the VueScan work window. Notice the histogram at the left. This shows the distribution of data in the image relative to highlights, middle areas and shadows. The graph thus indicates that too much of the data is toward the shadow end, thus the unfortunate effect of gross underexposure.
This is the input control window. Notice that I’ve selected to make a multiples scan with three samples. This gathers greater amounts of information from the image than a single pass scan. While not necessarily immediately evident to the naked eye, this provides a base with which to adjust the photograph in post processing. In other words I’ll lighten the image after scanning, but want to retain as much detail as possible.

Once scanned, I then imported the Tif files into Lightroom for post processing adjustments. The photos presented here are scaled from the original tif files (which are far too large for internet presentation).

Here’s the lightened scan after scaling for internet presentation. Keep in mind that original transparencies are nearly opaque.

The results are not perfect, but vastly superior to the muddy, dense original chromes.

To allow you to better understand how I’ve set up the scanner with the VueScan software, I’ve included screen shots (above) of the various sub-menus which show the various options and parameters I used.

There is more than one way to make a scan, and I’m sure if I continue to play with these chromes I may get an even better result. However, I have thousands of photographs that need scanning, and I’m limited to 24 hours a day.

For more on VueScan see: www.hamrick.com

Tracking the Light posts daily!

4 thoughts on “Boston & Maine Railroad in the 1980s; Working with some Underexposed Photos.”

  1. I have scads of dark slides and underexposed negatives, and as hard as I try, at some point, I come up with red or green pixels. You can’t do but SO much, unfortunately.

  2. Very much worth all the effort, Brian. You have lovely framing skills.

    You definitely have the “eye.”

    Robert

  3. was that the south side of Deerfield Yard with the coal hopper as the first car? just wondering if it was the coal train heading south or north back to Deerfield… ?

    1. The photo was exposed at South Deerfield on the Connecticut River Line. The hopper was likely from the Mt Tom generating station on its way north. This northward train was meeting the southward EDSP (or CPSP) that can be seen in the distance. I don’t have my notes from the day in front of me, so I’m guesssing on the train symbols.

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