Preparing your Negatives for Conversion
Opening Negative Lab Pro
Editing in Negative Lab Pro
Saving Your Default Settings
Workflow Tips and Tricks
Once your negative scans are inside Lightroom, there are a few simple steps we need to do to prepare them for conversion before we open Negative Lab Pro. The exact steps will be a bit different depending on the type of scan you have.
Be sure to follow the steps for your scanning method.
DIGITAL CAMERA SCANS
Before converting, use the white balance selector in LR to sample off the film border (you can do this once per roll and sync across photos). If no film border is available, or if Lightroom says that it is too bright, use ‘Auto WB’ setting in Lightroom.
If necessary, crop your negative to exclude any non-film elements (you can re-crop after conversion, or in most cases, you can just use “border buffer”).
VUESCAN/SILVERFAST RAW DNGs
Before converting, ensure that the ‘Negative Lab v2.1’ raw profile is available. If you don’t see it available, you’ll need to run ‘File > Plugin-Extras > Update Vuescan/Silverfast DNGs.’ (You can run this on multiple DNGs files at once.) Afterwards, the profile should show “Negative Lab v2.1”. If you get an error, make sure all the profiles are installed from the installation, restart Lightroom, and try again.
Use the white balance selector in LR to sample the film border (or ‘Auto WB’ if no film border visible or LR won’t allow you to sample the border).
If necessary, crop your negative to exclude any non-film elements (you can re-crop after conversion, or in most cases, you can just use “border buffer”).
If your scan is at gamma 1.8 or gamma 2.2 (recommended), skip to step 2. If your scan is gamma 1.0, first run the TIF SCAN PREP utility (File > Plugin-Extras > TIF Scan Prep). Then continue with the new TIF it creates.
Do NOT white balance in LR. This will create color casts on TIFs.
If necessary, adjust your crop or border buffer so any non-film elements are excluded from the analysis.
In a few circumstances, you may get more accurate results by including some film border. If your shot was taken at box speed, or if 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 your conversion looks significantly off, it's easy to try it another way (since everything here is non-destructive). Just "unconvert" and hit "apply". Then change your crop to inlude a small amount amount of border. Reopen Negative Lab Pro, set "border buffer" to 0, and retry the conversion.
You can speed up the pre-conversion process 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.
Once your negatives are prepared, select the negative (or group of negative) you want to convert, and open 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 - P
Swedish - Ctrl - Alt - N
Netherlands: Alt + N
French: Ctrl + Alt + X
Italian: Alt + Shift + X
Portugese - Alt + X
Spanish - Alt + X
Before you begin the conversion process, you have a few options that can help shape your final conversion. This happens BEFORE the conversion process, because Negative Lab Pro needs the data as an input for calculating the conversion itself.
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 help get your scans closer to the classic colors that were previously only attainable through pro lab scanners.
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 color accuracy).
Based on Fuji Frontier scanner. This model produces beautiful the teal-blues, golden yellows, and warm tints which are widely associated with film.
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.
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.
This turns off all the settings effected by the color model section, and defaults back to whatever your profile was before opening Negative Lab Pro. This is useful if you want to use your own profile / calibration / color settings, as this will make sure that NLP doesn’t override those existing settings when you open it.
Pre-saturation is changing the saturation level on the original negative prior to conversion. While this does affect the saturation level of the conversion, it also affects the color separation and hue of those colors.
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.
Lower presaturation values will have following effects:
Higher presaturation values will have the following effects:
"Border Buffer" lets you skip the whole cropping step during prep. You just specify how much of the edges to ignore during conversion
As mentioned earlier, Negative Lab Pro works by running an analysis on your image. What it includes (and excludes) from the analysis can have a dramatic impact on that analysis.
“Border Buffer” lets you specify the percentage of space around your film you want to exclude from the conversion analysis. It prevents the need in previous versions of Negative Lab Pro to always full crop your image prior to conversion (and then un-crop afterwards if you wanted to show your borders).
So, for instance, if you crop your film so that the film border takes up roughly 5% of the width and height of your cropped area, you could set a “border buffer” larger than 5% to exclude that area from analysis.
Some elements (like film holders, or un-masked direct light from your light source) should always be excluded from the analysis.
The border of your film (i.e. the unexposed area of emulsion surrounding the film negative itself), may help or hurt your conversion, just depending on the circumstances and your desired outcome. Generally you will want to exclude the film border from the analysis, but in low contrast scenes or scenes without a true black point, it can be helpful to include for reference.
Since this is non-destructive, it’s easy to make a virtual copy in Lightroom and experiment both ways to find what works best for a given shot.
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 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.
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 in Lightroom's main controls.
And because Negative Lab Pro is non-destructive, you are always working against the original negative.
This not only gives you an incredible amount of editing latitude, but it also helps you achieve more natural results, because all of your changes are happening at the very foundation (instead of as new layers on top of a bad foundation).
So generally, you will get the best results by doing all your editing inside Negative Lab Pro, but we will also look look at how to make edits using Lightroom’s controls if you’d like, using something called “positive copies.”
Every photographer approaches film with a different desired look in mind. Tone Profiles help you start a little close to what YOU want.
To some, film photography is represented by the bold “pop” of classic lab scanners. For others, it’s the refined softness of carefully processed Cine film. And for others, still, it’s the flat, “under-processed” look of historic scanning software.
Selecting a tone profile is generally the first step after conversion – it’s the starting point of further tonal edits.
As of NLP v2.2, there are three main “families” of tone profiles, with a few variations within each.
log // rich // flat
The new Cinematic tone profiles provide great tonal separation in the highlights, and smooth, low-contrast mid-tones and shadows.
Vision3 500T (85B Filter) // Tone Profile: Cinematic Flat // Copyright @a.jamesvisuals_
What it’s doing: These profiles use a logarithmic curve, with the steepest portion of the curve in the highlights, and then it levels out to create that low-contrast look through the rest of the image.
Pairs Great With: Any “Cine film” (like Cinestill, Kodak Vision3, Fuji Eterna). It’s also a great starting point if you like a softer, moodier style.
standard // soft // hard // highlight hard // highlight soft // shadow hard // shadow soft
This is the original series of tone profiles available in Negative Lab Pro. The “LAB-Standard” was modeled after the punchier, higher contrast look of lab scanners
What it’s doing: Similar to a lab scanner, it’s adding auto-toning based on a scene analysis, then mid-tone contrast. It’s also raising blacks and lowering whites just a tad to create some breathing room on each end.
Pairs Great With: I find this works really well with Kodak Portra or Fuji 400H. I just love the added contrast – it gives it that “pop” that you’d expect from a lab scan.
gamma // deep // flat
A flat, neutral starting point. Good for editing from “scratch” or replicating the low-contrast default look of home scanning software (EpsonScan, Silverfast, etc).
What it’s doing: At its core, the “linear” profile is just a flat, linear curve between the white point and black point.
Pairs Great With: The “Linear + Gamma” is my go to for all B+W film processing (the gamma is set to mimic traditional black and white photo paper). The “Linear + Deep” is great starting point for working with consumer-grade film that already has higher contrast (like Kodak ColorPlus, Kodak Ektar, Fujicolor, etc). Or, if you want to handle all the tonal adjustments from scratch, this is the place to begin!
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.
Exposure (new in v2.3) This adjusts the exposure similarly to how the exposure adjustment works in Lightroom. You will notice the biggest change in the brightest portions of the image first.
This adjusts the midtone brightness (or gamma) of the image. The optimal brightness setting can vary greatly based on how the negative was made and digitized, as well as your personal preferences. To add “richness” to your conversion, lower the brightness. To make your conversion feel more “airy”, you might need to add brightness.
This is another crucial adjustment. Increasing the contrast will add mid-tone contrast, making the image feel more “punchy” and saturated.
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. Lowering will remove the brightness of the lighter tones.
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, and vice-versa.
Increasing this will make the white point brighter (with clipping protection, but you still may see some clipping), while decreasing will make the highs feel softer. It’s important to note that lowering the whites will not recover detail (even though you may see the alert go away). To truly recover clipped data, you need to use the “WhiteClip” setting
This controls the blackest point of the image, shifting the entire histogram from this point (with clipping protection, but you still may see some clipping). Pushing up on this will create a “soft, faded” look, while decreasing will deepen the image. It’s important to note that increasing blacks will not recover detail (even though you may see the clipping alert go away). To truly recover clipped data, you need to use the “BlackClip” setting
Lab Glow (new in v2.3)
Lab Glow is compressing tonality in the highlights (or if you use a negative value, it is expanding tonality in the highlights). Increasing Lab Glow will the appearance of smoother highlights with less visible detail.
Lab Fade (new in v2.3) Lab Fade is compressing the tonality of the shadows - so you will see smoother shadows with less visible detail and no pure black. And again, using a negative value for Lab Fade will do the opposite - expanding the tonality in the shadows.
Negative Lab Pro gives you full control over how to interpret the very brightest and darkest parts of your scan, all non-destructively
This is another advantage of a fully-raw, non-destructive process. While the default is set to push the black point and white point to just before clipping, you have full, non-destructive control over this.
WhiteClip, BlackClip This allows you to define precisely how much to clip (or preserve) the pure white and pure black details. By default, Negative Lab Pro (and most lab scanners for that matter) will attempt to get close to clipping without actually clipping (or only clipping a small percentage of pixels). But of course, since this is all processed non-destructively, no details are ever actually lost - they are still there in the negative. For instance, if you find there is white clipping initially after conversion, select the text box and use the down arrow to recover it (or enter a negative number).
Soft Highs, Soft Lows This applies a small amount of “tonal rolloff” to the brightest and darkest tones, which can make them appear softer and more natural. The tradeoff is that you may lose some contrast in the highlights and shadows.
One of the biggest advantages of Negative Lab Pro is how easy it is to get perfect colors out of your film negatives. Negative Lab Pro brings simple, yet powerful tools to your color workflow.
There are 4 main sections for editing color. They allows you to make nuanced color balance updates to specific tonal regions in your conversion, which is useful when trying to correct color negatives, or trying to match the distinct look of historic lab scanners.
The Main Color Tab – This is the main tab and includes the WB dropdown, the ColorPicker, the Temp/Tint Slider, and the LUT emulations.
Mids – Midtone balance for RGB/CMY
Highs – Highlight Color Toning with Range control
Shadows – Shadow Color Toning with Range control
The 4 panels all work together to get you control over the color balance of your film.
This is where you will probably spend the majority of your time working on color. This panel centers around the integrated Temp/Tint controls.
The centerpiece of color balancing in NLP is the new integrated Temp / Tint sliders. Not only is this an easier, more familiar way to deal with color balance, but now with the new tone engine, it just works beautifully with any tonal adjustments you make.
The sliders here will act similarly to what you’re used to, but with the following advantages:
Technical Note: While the Temp/Tint sliders will work similarly to how you’re already used to, they are conceptually different in the context of film, and understanding this difference will help you use them better. With typical digital white balancing, you are compensating for the temperature of the light source (for instance, if you are shooting a portrait in overcast light, you may want to warm up the scene to compensate for the cooler light). In the context of film, though, this white balance tool is correcting for 1) the blue color cast caused by the inverted orange mask of film and 2) the assumption of scene neutrality during conversion (i.e. that the brightest part of the scene is white and the darkest part is black). This is why 95% of the time, some level of warmth is needed to be added to film conversions — in other words, having temp and tint set to zero will almost never appear balanced (in fact, if you've used a photoshop plugin previously, that plugin is adding a destructive autocolor layer somewhere during processing, so you really won't even be able to see a "zeroed" temp/tint setting, and future changes you make to the color will be happening on top of this previous, destructive layer, rather than happening foundational to the negative). This also means that with film, counter-intuitively, the warmer the light is in real life when you took the picture, the MORE warmth you will need to add back in (to compensate for the assumption of scene neutrality during conversion). If you have "AutoWarm" or "AutoNeutral" set as your default, a lot of this will happen for you automatically, and you can then adjust to taste.
WHITE BALANCE DROPDOWN
The WB dropdown has a number of automatic and static options for balancing color.
The “auto” options (auto-neutral, auto-warm, auto-cool, auto-avg) are uniquely generated for each negative, based on a multi-layered scene analysis, and is like a more powerful version of Photoshop’s autocolor control.
The “film” options (Standard, Kodak, Fuji, Cine-T, Cine-D) are fixed settings (not scene dependent) based on both film tech sheets and personal experimentation.
As of version 2.2, all of these options are connected to the new “Temp/Tint” sliders. So you can use any of above options as a starting point, and then further fine tune.
New in v2.2, you can now use a “color picker” to select a neutral grey area of your scene and have the scene white-balanced to that area.
This can be very useful in some situations, especially if you have a good neutral reference point (like a grey card) in the scene that you can use.
Using the Color Picker is different for Mac vs Windows:
For Mac Users:
For Windows Users
The output from the color picker will show up in the temp/tint slider itself.
As long as you are in the right ballpark, it is usually easier to fine-tune your temp and tint settings using the slider (or the up and down arrow keys while the edit box is selected) than using the color picker again.
One of the keys to being able to replicate the effects of lab scanners (or other darkroom processes) is being able to independently control the color balances in different tonal regions.
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.
Adjustments made here impact the color balance of the entire image (without affecting the white point or black points of the image).
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:
Using Highlight toning to adjust skin tones without effecting the shadow tones.
Using Highlight toning to bring back the natural, bright warmth of sunsets or other warmly lit scenes.
Using Shadow toning to replicate the “beautiful mistakes” of classic lab scanners
3D Lookup Tables (LUTs) enable even more nuanced tones, colors and emulations.
Negative Lab Pro v2.2 introduces 4 new LUTs which are integrated directly into the tool for Lightroom Classic users (sorry, but Lightroom 6 doesn’t have a way to do this)
NOTE: The LUTS will only be visible if you are using Lightroom Classic 8.0 or later AND you have the enhanced profiles installed properly. They should install automatically as a part of the Mac installer package, but follow the instructions in the Windows readme file to add the enhanced profiles required for the LUTs to work.
Negative Lab Pro includes sharpening profiles based on popular sharpening / noise-reduction schemes.
Sharpen: Leave as Set (new in v2.1) This will leave sharpening at whatever the user or Lightroom has set sharpening at. Essentially, NLP just lets you manage it. This is the new default sharpening.
Sharpen: off All sharpness settings are zeroed out. This is useful sometimes if you are working with scans that had sharpening already applied in their original software.
Sharpen: Lab 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.
Sharpen: Scanner 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.
When you first use Negative Lab Pro, there are already a couple of defaults set up. For instance, the Tone Profile is defaulted to “Lab - Standard”, the WB is set to “AutoNeutral” and everything else is zeroed out.
BUT you can make the defaults whatever you’d like! For instance, if you want a warmer, more cinematic look with lots of richness, you can set the tone profile to “Cinematic - Rich” and set the WB to AutoWarm. It’s entirely up to you.
If you want to make additional adjustments using Lightroom’s regular controls, you'll want to make a "positive copy".
While there are many features in Lightroom that will still work great with your RAW negative, if you want to use Lightroom’s main tonal and color balancing tools, you’ll probably want to make a positive copy. That’s because those main tools will not work as you’d expect in the context of a RAW negative.
Then, on the positive copy, all of Lightroom’s controls will work as you’d expect.
If you can, though, I recommend trying to get as close to your “finished” look using the controls in Negative Lab Pro, rather than always making a positive copy. The reason for this is that the controls in Negative Lab Pro were specifically designed for working with film, and they allow you to work non-destructively on the the original RAW image.
But if you do decide to edit as a positive copy in Lightroom, there are two ways you can make one.
With this second option, there are lots of ways you can customize it. You can access all the assumptions inside Lightroom’s main export window. Just go to “File > Export” and then on the left-side, select “NLP - Positive Copy - TIFF”. From there, you can change any aspect you’d like (the file name, the sub-folder name, etc) and then save it as a new export preset. From there, you can access it contextually anytime by right-clicking on your image or group of images!
If you have trouble finding your positive copy…
The new Advanced Options give you even more control over how your images are processed.
The new “Advanced Engine Settings” allows you to fine-tune the way the internal engine is working. This makes it easier to match previous versions of Negative Lab Pro, or find the engine settings that work best for your particular needs. Think of it like “Process Versions” in Lightroom, but with the ability to fine-tune each of the components that go into making a process version.
ENGINE VERSION DROPDOWN
Select from predefined engine configurations. The default is currently v2.3, but you can also access the engines from v2.2 and v2.1 and earlier.
Most of the adjustments in Negative Lab Pro are happening by making specific adjustments to Lightroom’s R/G/B tone curves. The “curve points” option controls the number of points Negative Lab Pro is using when making these adjustments. While a higher number of points can make adjustments more precise, it can impact the smoothness of those adjustments.
Sets the order of the engine rendering pipeline.
This controls the impact of White Balance adjustments on the tonality of your image. (You may not notice any difference here if you do not have a high color balance correction.)
This sets the algorithm used for how the white balance control is actually working on the tone curve. You may find that some methodologies work better on certain types of films or for certain scenes. (You may not notice any difference here if you do not have a high color balance correction.)
There are a couple of little “hidden” features of Negative Lab Pro that can speed up your workflow and help in a pinch: