Scanning is only the first step in film digitisation, negatives will have to be converted to positives. There are many software solutions available to do just that, though not all perform equally well. In this article series we will summarise some of the best software workflows. The first conversion software we will explore is the very popular Negative Lab Pro, a Lightroom plug-in developed by Nate Johnson. NLP v2.2 was released in September 2020, but so far users who invested in a license for this plugin have enjoyed free updates containing major improvements, (perhaps this will change in the future). The latest version is v2.4.2 and comes with improved saturation control, faster conversions, border buffer preview, UI improvements, loads of bug fixes and more. You can download a free-trial or purchase a once-off $99 USD license here. This plug-in runs on Lightroom Classic so be sure you are using the right Adobe product, it is not made for Lightroom (the newer mobile, web and desktop cloud-based photo service). Installation is straight forward, and the installation guide can be found on the NLP website.
Our focus will be on converting RAW image files acquired by camera scanning. There are many other types of scans that you can convert with this software, e.g. TIF files, and RAW Vuescan/ Silverfast DNG’s. Each approach has a slightly different protocol. At the point of starting the conversion process, you should have good, properly exposed scans, made with the optimal use of equipment. Check out which gear to use and how to choose the right exposure for background information if you are unsure.
Pre-conversion prep of image files
1. Sample white balance from the film border.
2. Crop the image fully to ensure there are no none-image elements left. You may also make use of the % border buffer in the opening menu of the NLP panel. This will exclude a portion image, making sure no border elements are included in the analysis.
1. Open the NLP panel (this can be done with the shortcut Ctrl + N)
2. Select conversion settings
Set the Source to Digital Camera, this is done in the first panel.
Pre-Satuarion affects the saturation levels in the original file, prior to conversion. It also affects colour separation and hue. Often the Pre-Satuaration can be left at default for the first conversion, over time and experimentation you will see which pre-saturation settings you prefer. You can always un-convert and change the settings to compare results.
Select your Color Model. In short the different colour models emulate various colour profiles associated with commercial lab scanners from the past, some of which are still in use today. The Basic color model provides a neutral interpretation of colours. While the Frontier (based on the Fuji Frontier scanner) offers “teal-blues, golden yellows, and warm tints”, Noritsu (based on the Fuji Noritsu scanner) provides similar but less warm results. B+W is geared at those converting black and white negatives, or in the event that you want to convert colour negatives to black and white positives. You may also select None, if you prefer your own colour calibration settings.
3. Hit “CONVERT NEGATIVE”
The sliders in the NLP panel are designed to help you create the aesthetic you want. This is non-destructive and is always done on the original negative file. This is better because it applies changes to your core file without adding layers and layers of information on top eventually leaving you with a poorer result. Most changes should be made in this step, but if you make a positive copy, you can make your edits in Lightroom Classic as normal because the file would behave like a positive.
Tone Profiles help you achieve the look you are after. Each photographer has a personal preference for the work they are doing and it is worth trying a few to see how close you can get to your ideal colour rendition. Some examples are: Cinematic (log/ rich/ flat), Lab (standard/ soft/ hard/ highlight hard/ highlight soft/ shadow hard/ shadow soft) and Linear (gamma/ deep/ flat).
Fine tuning tones
Fine tune edits can be done with the Exposure, Brightness, Contrasts, Lights, Darks, Whites, Blacks, Lab Glow and Lab Fade sliders.
This is where you interpret the brightest and darkest part of your scan. You have complete control over which light or shadow information to clip or preserve. This is another benefit of shooting RAW as this is also non-destructive
The four main colour settings should be used in conjunction with each other.
1. The Color Tab: This main tab is where you will spend the most of your time colour correcting and it houses the White Balance dropdown selection (where you may choose automatic or specific film stock profiles), the ColorPicker (which allows you to pick a neutral grey area in the scene for white balancing), Temp and Tint sliders as well as the LUT emulations (3D Lookup Tables that enable even more specifically balanced tones and colour). The temperature and tint settings are integrated with the White Balance dropdown selection and the ColorPicker tool meaning that any changes in those will update the temperature and tint settings.
2. Mids: Midtone balance for RGB/CMY
In order to use this tool effectively it is important to understand the relationship between RGB and CMY colours. They are inverses of each other and correction of one entails compensation in the other direction, e.g. a red cast can be mitigated by adding cyan. The same is true for any of the other colour pairs. Experiment until you understand this relationship well.
Pairs of opposite/ inverse colours:
3. Highs: Highlight colour toning with range control
4. Shadows: Shadow colour toning with range control
Get your image to your desired “finished” look in the NLP panel, or as close to it as possible. You can make additional settings with Lightroom’s normal controls if you make a positive copy.
Batch processing is probably one of the greatest features of this software, you can select the WB point once per roll and sync it across shots, the same holds for the crop settings. Select multiple readily prepared images and open NLP to convert the lot. It works in exactly the same way and will analyse each scene and convert it appropriately. You can select up to 100 or more images (it gets slower at this volume and, it performs better when the batch is less than 100).
Conversion in Negative Lab Pro is as easy as that! With practice, your conversions will improve and you will learn to do them faster! It is useful to know the Foundations of Thinking in Colour before you start tackling your conversions. Share your results and process with us by using the tag #scannedwithvaloi on Instagram.