Galway Porter

There’s a stretch in the nights and the day’s work is done. With his back to the evening fire it’s time to sit down with the paper and sup a glass of porter.


I shared this unexceptional image on a couple of photography forums. Someone advised me to desaturate colour casts, bring back the window exposure, open up shadows at the bottom of the frame and to consider using bounced flash – and, indirectly, to use the proper tools for the job (not slide film). Foregoing punctuation another member concluded that “highlights are blown and no detail in the shadows could be improved with a wee bit effort”.

After almost two decades of dabbling I’ve never been too sure about the value and overall significance of photography forums. Now and then it put the time, but I’ve finally given up on them all. There are indeed some nice experienced people online who can be helpful. None of us is perfect but a forum is also the ideal place to subject an audience to opinionated views, sometimes offered too quickly and perhaps a tad smugly. That’s a pity because photography and image-processing are so subjective.

Anyway, and more importantly, moving on to my subject here. I’d rather scan 35mm colour negative film than slide film, or even black and white film, because it offers a wide range of tones to work with creatively in software. On the day I took this shot, about 20 years ago, I had nothing to hand but slide film. You’ll agree that it makes sense to have a go at using what you have rather than pass up a potentially pleasing shot.

For this shot colour negative film would have enriched the tonal range between the highlights in and around the window and the deep shadows in the lower third of the frame. Typically slide film needs to be exposed with the significant highlights in mind. This can result in very dense shadows, a basic characteristic of slide film. So getting a decent exposure here in a single shot was tricky. I can’t think of any way that filters would have helped me.

If you’re interested in post-processing (see images below), after posting on the forum I re-edited this shot primarily to enhance the visual quality of the brighter tones. I pulled back much of the blue cast caused by daylight, and also made the darker tones in the shadow areas less rosy and more neutral. But the natural warm cast elsewhere was exactly what I intended. (Bounced flash would have ruined it.) It’s what a careful photographer shooting daylight film would expect with a glowing fire and at least one reading lamp illuminating walls, furniture and curtains. It’s meant to look cosy.

With a bit of thought I eventually got what I wanted, thanks to a basic 35mm scanner and very flexible software tools. That’s all that matters, even when the image isn’t a prize-winner. And as someone with a bit of sense wrote on one of those forums: “There’s more than one way to take and process photos and it would be boring if we all did it the same way.”

Enjoy what you do.

Histograms of the raw scanned image (left) and the final processed version. Sometimes the look we have in mind may result in a clipped histogram. But it’s typically best to avoid clipping significant highlights.
Using ON1 effects on this image while working in layers. With the window’s much brighter tones in mind, the slide was scanned twice Note: the ON1 editing window will never look exactly like this.

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