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If you scan film negatives or Polaroids at home, you may have come across some weird, wavy patterns in your scans. Small spots or splotches that look a lot like gasoline in a puddle.
What are these things??? Is it something on your negative or a fingerprint? An error with your scanner? What are they and how do you fix them?
These artifacts are called Newton’s rings, and they can be pretty frustrating to deal with when you’re scanning. So let’s look at exactly what they are and how you can keep them from showing up in your scans.
What Are Newton’s Rings?
Newton’s rings are an optical interference caused when light passes through two shiny surfaces that are touching each other when at least one of those surfaces is curved.
In film photography terms, when light passes through the scanner glass and the negative, a distortion can occur, and these distortions are Newton’s rings.
Since the film negative or the Polaroid you’re scanning is not perfectly flat, when that curvature touches the glass surface of your scanner and light passes through it, it can cause these funky, little splotches on your scans.
What Do Newton’s Rings Look Like?
So, what do they look like? Newton’s rings look like wavy lines or circles.
If you are scanning with color settings, they will be multicolored, but if you’re scanning with black and white settings, they’ll be black and white. They look very similar to the wavy color pattern of gasoline in a rain puddle.
They are not very large, usually only showing up in a small area of your image, and while they can happen anywhere in your frame, they are most noticeable in an area with a solid color or tone, like a clear, blue sky.
Newton’s rings happen because the scanner glass and the film negative are touching. So the first option to reduce these distortions is to keep the negative from touching the scanner glass by using a film holder.
A film holder will lift the negative up from the scanner glass, and it will also help keep the negative flatter, reducing some of that curvature.
If you already use a film holder and are still seeing a lot of Newton’s rings, a higher quality holder may help. A better film holder will hold your film more securely and keep it flatter, helping it not touch the glass. The DigitaLIZA from Lomography is a great one to try.
You can also get film holders for Polaroids. I see the most Newton’s rings when I scan Polaroids, and using a holder can really help reduce these.
2. Use Anti-Newton’s Ring Glass
Anti-newton’s ring glass is another great way to combat some of those distortions. ANR glass is textured on one side, and since Newton’s rings are caused when a shiny surface meets a shiny surface, adding that texture to the glass can really help.
When you’re using ANR glass, only one side of the glass is textured. This textured side is the side that should be touching the shiny side (non-emulsion side) of your film negative.
We are trying to limit any two shiny sides touching each other, so the dull side of your film will be facing your scanner glass (which is shiny), and the shiny side of your film will face the textured side of the ANR glass.
The flatter your negatives, the less you’ll have to deal with Newton’s rings.
You can stack your sleeved negatives under heavy books to flatten them out a bit. If you haven’t cut the negatives yet, you can also try rolling it back on the reel backwards (with the emulsion side out) and letting it sit for a few days.
A really secure film holder can also keep your negatives flatter.
I like to scan my negatives directly on the glass without using a film holder, and I’ve found that using a sheet of glass on top of the negative, even non-ANR glass, to keep the negative flat has worked well to limit the number of Newton’s rings.
4. Place Your Negatives Emulsion Side Down
Epson recommends scanning your negatives with the emulsion side facing up. The emulsion side is the dull side of the film.
But for Newton’s rings, it can be helpful to scan with the emulsion side down. This will keep the shiny side of the film from touching the scanner glass, reducing distortions.
If you scan with the emulsion side down, your image will be reversed. So you’ll want to be sure to flip it in your scanning software or Photoshop.
Depending on the number of Newton’s rings, it can add a lot of editing to your scanning process, but if there is just the occasional Newton’s ring, I go straight to Photoshop.
My preferred way to edit them out is first with the Healing Brush in Camera Raw, and if needed, the Patch or Clone tool in Photoshop. All of these tools work essentially the same way to select and replace the distortion with another portion of your image.
The nice thing about these tips is that they can be stacked. You can use several of these methods together to give yourself a really good scanning setup with minimal Newton’s rings.
Get a good film holder with some ANR glass, flatten your negative as much as possible, and make sure that no two shiny surfaces are facing each other. Then, edit out anything that’s left. You are good to go!
If you have any questions about Newton’s rings or have other methods for getting rid of them, let us know below in the comments!