Scanning and Editing Film Negatives
I’ve spent the last several months trying various methods of scanning and editing film negatives. I tried everything I could find on Google, Reddit, and Youtube and none of the methods really worked well - especially when it came to Portra. This process took a lot of tweaking and borrowing from others, but it’s one I’ve found works really well on a variety of films.
A film scanner - In my case a Plustek 7500i I found used for $50.
VueScan - Can possibly work with Silverfast or Epson Scan too.
Photoshop/Lightroom - Any other photo editing software should do.
1. Getting a RAW scan of your negative
Scan your negatives as a raw file. This can be a Tiff or a DNG. Scan in 48-bit RGB to keep the most data. Just scan the negative as is, nothing applied to it. Here are my settings in VueScan.
2. Importing back into VueScan
I take those negatives back into VueScan and apply the correct film stock color preset into it. This should get the colors mostly right, but we’ll tweak them in a moment. Notice that I set my curves to .999. I found this gives me a great starting point without losing detail. Then I adjust my White Point slider until I get rid of any peaking. Activate Pixel Colors, that will show you any peaking that may be happening in the image. Export as 48-bit Tiff.
3. Correcting Colors in Photoshop
I then open up those Tiffs in Photoshop and add a Curves adjustment. Hold down the Option key while selecting Auto, then click Enhance Per Channel Contrast and Snap Neutral Midtones. Next, adjust the Shadow and Highlight clipping to your desire. The photo should look color corrected at this point. If not, go back and see what can be changed to fix it.
4. Tweaking in Lightroom
After this I import these Tiffs into Lightroom for further tweaking. Here I crop the image, apply an S curve, add a little sharpening, and export as a JPEG.
Organize your film folders by roll. Inside put a folder for your raw scans, your working tiffs, and the final images.
Scanning and keeping the Raw files allows you to go back at anytime and tweak settings. It’s like keeping your Raw files from your camera. Not always necessary but good to have, especially until you get used to the editing process.
Scan part of the leader (or gap between photos), drag the preview box over just the part, preview again, and select Lock Exposure for that roll.
Correct any dust or scratches in Photoshop under the Levels and Curves adjustments. If you ever want to change those adjustments the corrections will change with them.
As a bonus, download my 35mm Lightroom Preset for what I use on almost all my film scans. It adds some sharpening and an S curve to help give the photos a little more life.
And that’s it! It’s not a terribly complicated process, just takes a few times to get the hang of it. Hopefully this helps you guys!