Guide

Negative Lab Pro is a full-featured and powerful tool for editing your color and b+w negative scans directly in Lightroom. These guides will help make sure you get the most out it, and are able to dial-in the tones and colors you are looking for.

You will find that most negatives will require some adjustment after conversion. This is normal. If you follow the steps in this guide carefully, you should find that your negative is 90% of the way there after the initial conversion, and should just require a few tweaks and adjustments to bring out the tones and color you want.

Video Guide

The In-Depth Video Guide to Using Negative Lab Pro:

 


Text Guides

Video not your thing? No worries, here’s a text breakdown of how to use Negative Lab Pro.

Table of Contents


Installing Negative Lab Pro


Mac Installation

 

On Mac, the installation should be very easy by using the included installer.

  1. Unzip your download
  2. Right-click on the installer file NegativeLabPro-OSX.app, and select OPEN
  3. If prompted with a warning, select Open Anyway
  4. The installer will then automatically do three things: 1) Add the Negative Lab plugin to a folder, 2) Add the Negative Lab RAW camera profiles to Lightroom, and 3) Setup the Negative Lab shortcut key for you CTRL + N
    (If something goes wrong during the installation, copy the output text and email to me at nate@natephotographic.com )
  5. CLOSE Lightroom (if it is open) and then RESTART Lightroom
  6. After restarting Lightroom, Go to File -> Plug-in Manager
  7. In the Plugin-manager, select “add”, then select the NegativeLabPro.lrplugin file, and click Add Plug-in
  8. If you’ve purchased a license, you can add it now in the Plug-in Manager. Otherwise, you can continue to use your 12 free trial shots.
  9. Make sure to TURN OFF the “Use Graphics Processor” option in Lightroom if it is enabled. To do this, go to “Preferences > Performance” and un-check the “Use Graphics Processor” option.

Windows Installation

 

On windows, there is not an automatic installer, but it is pretty easy to install manually.

  1. Unzip your download
  2. Open Lightroom (if it is not open)
  3. In Lightroom, got to “Edit -> Preferences” and select the “Preset” tab
  4. Click “Show Lightroom Presets Folder”
  5. In the explorer window that opens, navigate to the “CameraRaw “ and then the “CameraProfiles” folder.
  6. Copy the entire folder “NegativeLab Camera Profiles” (from your unzipped download) into this CameraProfiles folder.
  7. Next, copy the “NegativeLabPro.lrplugin” folder into a folder that is easy to navigate to and you won’t accidentally delete later
  8. Back in Lightroom, go to “file -> Plug-in Manager”
  9. In the Plug-in Manager, select “Add” then navigate to the folder were you copied your NegativeLabPro.lrplugin
  10. Single-click the “NegativeLabPro.lrplugin” folder, and click “Select Folder” (be sure to select the whole folder, and not a file within it).
  11. If you’ve purchased a license, you can add it now in the Plug-in Manager. Otherwise, you can continue to use your 12 free trial shots.
  12. RESTART LIGHTROOM - you must restart Lightroom after this (otherwise, the camera profiles will not load properly).
  13. Make sure to TURN OFF the “Use Graphics Processor” option in Lightroom if it is enabled. To do this, go to “Preferences > Performance” and un-check the “Use Graphics Processor” option.

Windows HOTKEY Installation

 

  1. Inside the unzipped download, navigate to the Hotkey folder
  2. Double-click “NegativeLabHotkey.exe”
  3. If you get a message that “Windows Protected Your PC,” click “More Info” and then click “Run Anyway”. If you have other anti-virus software running that prevents it from working, you may need to add the hotkey program to your anti-virus software “whitelist” - how you do this will depend on the anti-virus software you run.
  4. The Hotkey will now be running the background. To see where it is running, go to the “show hidden icons” container in the bottom right hand corner of Windows.
  5. In Lightroom, you can now use the Hotkey to bring up Negative Lab Pro. The hotkey for you will depend on the language you have set Lightroom to in your preferences.

WINDOWS HOTKEYS BY LANGUAGE:

English: Ctrl - Alt - N
German: Ctrl - Alt - N
Swedish - Ctrl - Alt - N
Netherlands: Alt + N
French: Ctrl + Alt + X
Italian: Alt + Shift + X
Portugese - Alt + X
Spanish - Alt + X

GETTING THE WINDOWS HOTKEY TO LAUNCH ON STARTUP

Since the hotkey is a program, by default, it will stop whenever you restart your computer. If you want it to automatically run without having to relaunch after each startup, here is what to do:

  1. Hit Windows key + R to bring up the “run” dialog
  2. Type “shell:startup” and hit enter
  3. Copy the “NegativeLabHotkey.exe” file into this folder.

CUSTOMIZING THE WINDOWS HOTKEY

If you’d like to change the hotkey (or add to an existing AutoHotKey setup), I’ve included the script for you. Even if you are new to AutoHotKey, it is possible to customize the script to meet your needs.

  1. Download and install AutoHotKey free from https://www.autohotkey.com/
  2. Right-click on the “NegativeLabHotkey.ahk” file, and choose to open with NotePad
  3. Inside the ahk file are further instructions for how to edit to meet your needs

Updating from a Previous Version

  1. Exit Lightroom (it hangs on to the old plugin if it’s still running).
  2. Download and unzip the latest package
  3. On Mac, just run the installer (or overwrite the old plugin with the new one).
  4. On Windows, move the new plugin into the same directory as the old version (overwriting the old version). If the update includes Camera Profiles that you need, follow the installation instructions to add these camera profiles into the right directory.
  5. Restart Lightroom

Tips for Better Negative Scans

For Negative Lab Pro to work properly, it’s important that you have good, evenly-lit, properly-exposed scans of your negative film. The recommended method is DSLR scanning, since this gives us true RAW to play with, but you can also get great results with traditional flat bed scanners if you follow these tips

Need RAW dslr-scans to play around with? You can download my DSLR scans here.


You will get the best results with DSLR scanning. If you haven’t already, you can see a full breakdown of the method and the equipment that I use by watching this video. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure your illumination source is providing even light – The biggest issue I see with DSLR scans is they are not getting evenly lit. Not only will this makes some areas of your scan appear brighter (or darker) than they should, but will also lead to awful looking orange color distortions (because of the non-linear effect of the orange mask). So if you see that parts of your images appear to be “damaged” in a way that you do not see on the film itself, you need to check your lighting source and film masks to ensure more even light, and shoot again.
  • Shoot Manual and Expose as HIGH as you can without clipping the film - The way that digital camera sensors work is non-linear. They store considerably more levels of information in the “bright” areas than they do in the dark areas. This is very important for two practical reasons: 1) We will be dramatically expanding the tones in the image, so we need all the levels we can get to avoid posterization, and 2) the orange masks makes the blue channel darker (which will contain the yellow information in our final image). So this channel in particular is prone to posterization.
  • Shoot RAW (obviously) and manually set white-balance to around 2500k. While the white-balance can be adjusted later in post, having it closer to the final setting while you shoot should give you a truer reading on exposure.

Flatbed Scanner Tips

While DSLR scanning is preferred, it is still possible to get great negative-to-positive conversions using Negative Lab Pro with a flatbed-scanned negative.While the exact instructions will vary based on the scanning model and software used, here are few tips to keep in mind:

  • Scan in Positive mode with maximum bit depth - for obvious reason.
  • Turn off all adjustments except for one: use the white-balance picker to sample the film mask - if your scanning software allows you to set a neutral grey point, do it now by sampling the film mask before your scan. In my testing, this resulted in much truer colors than trying to sample the non-RAW file later in Lightroom. The exception to this is those using VueScan software and saving to RAW DNG file. While this is not actually saving a true raw file, it did allow for truer white-balancing in Lightroom.

Converting Negatives

The basic process is as follows:

  • Image prep (sampling film mask, and cropping)
  • Pre-processor options (Color Model and Pre-Saturation)
  • Conversion!

Let’s walk through each of these.


Preparing Your Image for Conversion

Once your negative scans are inside Lightroom, there are a few simple steps we need to do to prepare them for conversion with Negative Lab Pro.

Step 1: Use the white-balance selector to sample the orange film mask border

While this won’t fully “color-correct” your negative, it does go a long way to removing the effect of the orange mask, and giving us the color separation we need during conversion.

Step 2: Crop your image

Negative Lab Pro will evaluate whatever is in the cropped area of your photo to make it’s conversion calculations. So always crop your negatives before using Negative Lab Pro.

You will want to crop so that only your exposed image is showing (i.e. you don’t want any of your film mask border showing). This will generally produce the best tones and colors in your initial conversion.

Even a very small area of the film border can significantly change the tones and colors in your image during conversion. This is especially true of photos in which you have intentionally over-exposed the image, since there will be a large gap in density between the exposed area of the film and the unexposed film border. So do look very closely to ensure you have cropped out ALL of the film border prior to using Negative Lab.

In a few circumstances, you may get slightly more accurate results by including the film border. If your shot was taken at box speed in daylight, and the scene does not have anything in it that is true black, you will get more accurate colors in your shadows by including a small amount of the film border during conversion.

If you want to have the film border showing in your final image, you can also re-crop AFTER you’ve applied the conversion.

TIP: You can speed this up a bit by using Lightroom’s internal “sync” feature to sync the white-balance and crop settings across the negatives, assuming that they are the same film stock. If you have scanned multiple films stocks, be sure to sample the film mask borders separately for each film stock.


Negative Lab Pro Conversion Settings

Once your negatives are prepared, above select the negative you want to convert, and open Negative Lab Pro.


Opening Negative Lab Pro

On mac, you can open Negative Lab Pro by hitting the CTRL + N shortcut key. Or by going to File -> Plug-in Extras -> Negative Lab Pro

On windows, go to File -> Plug-in Extras -> Negative Lab Pro to open. Or if you have the Windows Hotkey running (new in v1.2), use the hotkey combo for the nationality you have selected in your Lightroom language preferences:

English: Ctrl - Alt - N
German: Ctrl - Alt - N
Swedish - Ctrl - Alt - N
Netherlands: Alt + N
French: Ctrl + Alt + X
Italian: Alt + Shift + X
Portugese - Alt + X
Spanish - Alt + X


Conversion Settings

Before you begin the conversion process, you have a few options. that can help shape your final conversion. This happen BEFORE the conversion process, because Negative Lab Pro needs the data as an input for calculating the conversion itself.

TIP: Don’t worry too much about getting it right the first time. You can always experiment later. Just un-convert your negative, try different settings, and re-convert. And since this is all non-destructive, you can also make virtual copies in Lightroom if you want to compare!


COLOR MODELS

On RAW files, you can select different color emulation modes. This is one of the biggest, game changing features of Negative Lab Pro. It uses a combination of Custom RAW Camera Profiles and a finely-tuned Color Matrix to bring your DSLR scans closer to the classic colors that were previously only attainable through pro lab scanners.

NOTE: Currently, these options will not be selectable on Non-RAW files.

Frontier
This is the default color model, based on Fuji Frontier scanner. This model produces beautiful the teal-blues, golden yellows, and warm tints which are widely associated with film.

Noritsu
This color model is based on the Fuji Noritsu scanner. While it shares many of the qualities of the frontier scanner, it is generally not as warm, with rosier skin tones, and fresh greens.

Basic - new in V1.2
This color model offers a more neutral rendition of colors (for those who do not want to emulate lab scanners and are more interested in accuracy).

B+W
Whenever you’re working on black and white scan (or you just want to convert a color negative to black and white), you should use this mode.

None
As the name implies, this uses Lightroom’s default camera calibration and color model. For RAW dslr scans, this setting is useful as a baseline (to see what difference the Negative Lab profiles are having). And If you are using a non-RAW scan (like one from a flatbed scanner), it will be fixed to this setting.


PRE-SATURATION

A common side effect of the orange mask is uneven color after the conversion (because each channel curve has to be adjusted in a difference space). By fine-tuning individual color levels before the conversion process, we're able to get balanced color results that are closer to pro lab scanners.

There are two reasons we need to make some saturation adjustments before conversion: 1) During conversion, we’ll be adding pretty steep curves, which effectively add saturation. If we don’t remove some saturation first, our image will often end up oversaturated, 2) Trying to change overall saturation AFTER conversion will alter the color balance of the image, because each color channel is on a different plane.

Lower settings not only remove some saturation from the final image, they also reduce “color separation” – which can often have the pleasing effect of making the colors in your image appear

The amount of pre-saturation adjustments needed will vary depending upon your negatives themselves, and on how much contrast you add in future steps.

It is a good idea to start at the default setting (3), and after all your other adjustments, if you find that your image is a bit over- or under-saturated, then un-convert, change your setting, and re-convert.

Converting Your Negative

Once you’re ready, just hit the big “CONVERT NEGATIVE” button to initiate the conversion.

Behind the scenes, Negative Lab Pro is going over every pixel in your image, separating your image into color channels, calculating color corrections and and building the perfect tone curve for your image. It’s also saving the information it analyzes to the metadata of that image, so that Negative Lab Pro can recognize it and make adjustments in the future.

Batch Mode

It’s also possible to use Negative Lab Pro to convert and edit multiple negatives at once. To open Negative Lab Pro in batch mode:

  • You MUST be in the Library module (by design, it will not work in the Develop module)
  • Select all the negatives you would like to convert or adjust
  • Open up Negative Lab Pro

Batch Conversions

In batch mode, you can make multiple conversions at once. Just follow the steps above to enter batch mode, and you should see the “Convert Negatives” button reflect the number of Negatives you have selected to convert (e.g. “Convert 10 Negatives”).

When you do Batch Conversions, just note that Negative Lab Pro is analyzing and evaluating each negative independently. In general, this is what you want, as differences in exposure and lighting between scenes can vary quite significantly. However, you may see some small differences in images from the same scene.

If you want to have the exact same interpretation across multiple negatives, you can use “Sync Scene” to force Negative Lab Pro to copy the settings and evaluation of one negative across other negatives.

Sync Scene

New in V1.2
Sync Scene is similar to using Lightroom’s own Sync Settings tool in that it will take the Lightroom settings from one negative and apply it to the other selected Negatives. The advantage of using Sync Scene is that it also copies the metadata and initial image analysis to the other negatives, allowing you to continue editing the negative using Negative Lab Pro’s controls.

When using Sync Scene, only the master Negative needs to be prepped and converted (since the other selected Negatives will be given the same metadata and internal image analysis results as the master negative)

Sync Settings

Sync Settings copies the Negative Lab Pro Control Panel Settings across negatives. So for instance, if you prefer to use the “linear + gamma” tone profile as a starting point for editing, you can set that in your main negative, then copy it over to all the other selected negatives. Each Negative will still retain their own, unique image analysis.

In batch conversion mode, note that any further adjustments you make in Negative Lab Pro’s control panel will only be applied to the main image you have selected. If you would like to carry those settings across all the scans you have selected, you can hit the “Sync Settings” link at the bottom left of the Negative Lab Pro’s control panel.

Un-converting and Re-converting

As mentioned earlier, you may find that it is useful sometimes to un-convert your images back into a negative (either to make adjustments, or try out different settings). You will need to do this un-conversion inside of Negative Lab Pro (hitting the “unconvert” link just below the “Convert” button.

Just as you can batch convert negatives, you can also batch un-convert them, which is also useful in some situations.


Editing Controls inside Negative Lab Pro

The editing controls inside of Negative Lab Pro were designed to help you bring out the aesthetic you want from your film in a way that isn’t possible inside of Lightroom’s main controls.

Generally, you will get the best results by getting your negative as close as you can while inside Negative Lab Pro, before trying to any adjustments using Lightroom’s controls. (Also, as we’ll discuss later) you will generally want to use the “Make Tiff Copy” feature before using Lightroom’s controls, otherwise, everything is kind of wacky. 95% of the time, though, I make all my adjustments just inside Negative Lab Pro).


Auto-Color

When Negative Lab Pro analyzes your negative, it is also checking the updated image for color balance between the red, blue and green color channels.

When Auto-Color is turned on, it will enable these corrections, and attempt to balance your three color channels automatically (if you’ve ever used “snap neutrals to midtones” in Photoshop, it works similarly).

The major difference here is that you can fine-tune the strength of the color correction (from -500% -to 500%). This is useful, because you will find that oftentimes, the Auto-Color is in the right direction but is either too strong or too weak.

It’s also important to understand that auto-color is NOT content aware. So, for instance, if you take a picture of just a blue sky (and nothing else), the auto-color will see that and try to balance it out (but adding yellow). Still, in many “average” scenarios, it works like magic.

Auto-Color is NOT selected by default. This is intentional. It’s important for you to SEE what is changing when you select it, and make the judgement of whether it improves or hurts your image (or if you need more or less of it).

When the strength percentage box is selected, use the UP and DOWN arrow keys to change the strength in 10% increments. You can also use the shift + up and shift + down combinations to move in 50% increments, and the tab key to go to the next control.


Auto-Density

Auto Density works similarly to auto-levels in photoshop. It tries to average out the tones in the scene to bring brightness to an average level.

Just like Auto-Color, this works really great for “average” scenes, but it can be fooled by others. It’s usefully to try this both on and off to see if it helps or hurts the kind of look you are trying to make.

And also just like Auto-Color, you can control the amount of effect applied, either by entering a new amount, or using the “up” and “down” arrow keys to increment it.


Tone Profiles

One of the biggest flaws with traditional negative conversion techniques is that the output is always flat and linear. This is a massive difference from the tone profiles of lab scanners like Fuji Frontier and Fuji Noritsu.

To get the best possible negative conversions, you want the conversion itself to happen in a linear space, but the output from that conversion should not remain linear. That’s why Negative Lab Pro uses linear RAW Camera Calibration, but also includes post-conversion Tone Profile settings, so you can choose how the tones from your scene are treated.

Standard
This is the default tone profile, with balanced contrast, and beautiful, round peaks at both sides of the histogram.

Linear
This is a completely linear interpretation of the tone curve (minus any adjustments made by auto-density and auto-color). If you want a “bright and airy” look, this is a good starting point.

Linear + Gamma - new in V1.2
A linear profile with Gamma correction applied. This is a “truer to life” starting place than linear.

All Hard
This is a HIGH contrast look, but with plenty of space for the blacks and whites to breath at each end of the histogram.

All Soft
A low-contrast look, similar to linear, but with softened blacks and whites.

Highlight Hard
Standard overall contrast, but with pushed highlights.

Highlight Soft
Standard overall contrast, but with softened highlights

Shadow Hard
Standard overall contrast, but with deepened shadows.

Shadow Soft
Standard overall contrast, but with softened shadows


Sharpening Schemes

Negative Lab Pro includes sharpening profiles based on popular sharpening / noise-reduction schemes.

Lab Sharpening This produces beautiful, soft sharpening that is brilliant for skin tones and gives subjects an almost 3D appearance, while minimizing noise and grain. Great for portraits, or fine-grain films, like Portra. It is based on the default output of Fuji Frontier lab scanners. The sharpening scheme focuses on edges, with a mask to prevent sharpening unwanted grain or noise.

Scanner Sharpening This produces gritty, textured sharpening, that accentuates grain and noise, and is popular in lomographic photography circles. Great for street photography, black and white, or anything were you want a gritty vibe.

NOTE: Both of these sharpening schemes are based on RAW dslr scans, and the effect may vary if using a non-RAW or flat-bed scanned negative.


Tonal Adjustments

It’s possible to finely control the tonality of your negative in a way that reacts similar to classic lab scanners, all from within Negative Lab Pro.

This is great because at this point, the controls in Lightroom are still inverted, and we want to get our tones just right while we’re still editing the RAW image data.

Brightness - prior to v1.2, this was labeled as “midtones”
This controls the appearance of the overall brightness of your negative (kind of like exposure, but without effecting the white point or black point of the image)

Lights
This adjusts the brightness of the lighter tonal areas. Increasing the number (or moving the slider to the right) will increase the brightness of the light tones in the image.

Darks
This adjusts the brightness of the darker tonal areas. Decreasing the number (or moving the slider to the left) will decrease the brightness of the dark tones in the image.

White
This controls the whitest point in the image, shifting the entire histogram from this point. Increasing this will make the white point brighter (and possibly clip), while decreasing will make the highs feel softer.

Black
This controls the blackest point of the image, shifting the entire histogram from this point. Increasing this will create a “soft, faded” look, while decreasing will make the image darker and possibly clip.

TIPS: To increase contrast, just push up on the lights, and pull down on the darks. To get the “high contrast, yet soft” look, increase the lights while decreasing the white point, and decrease the shadows while increasing the black point. To help make sure you don’t clip highlights or shadows, hit the J shortcut key in Lightroom (before you bring up Negative Lab Pro) to toggle clipping alerts. Then, pull up Negative Lab Pro, and you’ll be able to see if you are clipping anything as you make your adjustments.

Color Balancing

Negative Lab Pro lets you color balance your image in CMY color, similar to how you would on a lab film scanner. You can even fine-tune the color balances in the shadows and highlights to either make corrections or replicate scanner effects.

Using the tool is pretty self explanatory, but it helps to understand the relationship between RGB color and CMY color. In short, the are the inverse of each other.

Red/Cyan - Red is the opposite of Cyan.
Green/Magenta - Green is the opposite of Magenta
Blue/Yellow - Blue is the opposite of Yellow

So, for example, if your image has a Red tint, you can fix that by adding Cyan (because they are complimentary colors, opposite each other on the color wheel.) The same goes with the other color combos. A little experimenting should make these relationships clear.

MidTones
Adjustments made here impact the color balance of the entire image (without effecting the white point or black points of the image). This should be the start point for your corrections, and in many cases, you should not need to make adjustments to the shadow or highlight color balances.

Highlight and Shadow Color Balancing
You may find that the shadows or highlights are not color balanced quite right. This can happen when the darkest or brights points of your image are not neutral.

For instance, if you take a picture of a dark green forest, you may find that the darkest point is rendered as black instead of dark green. Or you may find that the brightest parts of a golden sunset are rendered as bright grey instead of bright yellow. Adjusting the highlight or shadow color balance is basically just reseting the color of the brightest and darkest points in your rendered image.

You may also want to adjust the highlights and shadow color balancing for purely creative effects, for instance:

  • Adding a bit of yellow to the highlights and blue or green to the shadows creates a beautiful split tone effect.
  • Adding magenta or green to the shadows can make a film feel more “aged”
  • Adding a bit of yellow and/or red to shadows can add subtle warmth that feels more unobtrusive than it would it in the midtones.

The color balance section is generally more sensitive than the tonal section. In many cases an adjustment of just 1 or 2 will be perfect, so it is highly recommend to select the amount and use your keyboards UP and DOWN arrow keys to increment. You can go to the next adjustment by hitting TAB or go to the previous adjustment by hitting SHIFT + TAB. Also note that the Highlight and Shadow color balancing will always make the shadows and highlights SOFTER. This is to protect from clipping during adjustments. If this softens the image too much, you can go back and edit the tonal adjustments.


Further Editing in Lightroom

After your done making adjustments with Negative Lab Pro’s controls, you may wish to make additional adjustments using Lightroom’s internal controls.

You will find these controls are screwy when dealing with the negative itself (because they are working off the original, inverted data). But fortunately there is an easy solution…

Negative Lab Pro makes it easy create a positive version of your negative (for making Lightroom adjustments). Just use the “TIF Copy” option!


Making a “Positive” Copy

Here’s what to do:

  1. Reopen Negative Lab Pro on your image (if you’ve closed it)
  2. Check the box near “TIF Copy” option (near the bottom left)
  3. You can select “TIF Copy” or “JPG copy” (new in v1.2)
  4. Hit Apply
  5. In Lightroom, navigate to the very next image (it should be the TIF copy we just created).

You can now edit this positive copy using all of Lightroom’s normal controls! This is especially useful for getting access to the HSL panel and fine-tuning your color adjustments.

Generally, you will want to try to get as close as possible to your final image using Negative Lab Pro and the original RAW data, since this has the most leeway for adjustments and change (and it behaves more similarly to the results you would expect from pro lab scanner). To see just the TIF copies in your library, use the Library Text Filter (press the \ key to toggle it in the Library module), and search for any field that contains the text “positive”. To work on just the original files, search for “doesn’t contain” on the text “positive”


Troubleshooting

This section is still under construction. Run into an issue or have a question? Ask me at nate@natephotographic.com


When I enter my license key, it says “no internet connection”, but I am connected to the internet
Make sure that you aren’t running any software that could be blocking your outgoing traffic.

“The image isn’t updating when I change some settings (like the tone profile). But then it updates when I start adjusting a slider”
This is a known issue with some versions of Lightroom. To fix this problem, go to “Preferences -> Performance” and de-select “Use Graphics Processor”