Scanning colour negatives is without a doubt the most irritating part of my workflow.
Since I started to shoot with film, it has been the source of great frustration, especially in terms of colour rendition. Each colour negative that I scan shows a dreadful blue or green cast and it’s a pain to get rid of in Lightroom.
The struggle was real…until today!
I’ll use the example of Kodak Portra because that’s the one that consistently caused me the most trouble. When you look online at images shot with this film type, most of them look amazing and display beautiful colours. However, whenever I scan a negative of Portra, it lends a pallid and nauseous look to my poor model.
I can guarantee that she looked much healthier when I shot this picture!
This poor colour rendition got me frustrated. I even started to shoot more in black and white because I couldn’t stand to make my models looks like this any longer.
Yet later I thought, “Okay, there must be an easy fix to get those colours to actually look good.” I began tweaking and playing with all sorts of settings in my scanner’s software package but was still getting no closer to what I wanted. On top of that, those programs are not exactly shining beacons of simplicity.
My next resort was to adjust the files in Lightroom. I was getting acceptable results but it was a lot of trial and error until I was getting the right colour and temperature balance. This would take up a lot of time and I didn’t choose to work in film photography to spend 15 minutes at a time editing each picture in post production. I simply had to find out what was responsible for this outrage!
It didn’t take long before my suspicions leant towards my Epson V550 flatbed scanner but I couldn’t believe it. This poor fella has been recommended by many photographers and has an honourable 4 star rating on Amazon, on top of some very enthusiastic comments from its users.
There had to be a way to get my images looking good without resorting to spending piles of money on scans by a pro lab. After reading several articles and many videos, I stumbled across one that caught my attention. It explained how to easily adjust the colour balance of any images in less than 5 minutes!
I tried it myself on a few photos and could finally see what it means to shoot with Portra film. You’re probably eager to try this on your own images; so enough talking, let’s jump into it!
Step 1: Open your image in Photoshop
Import your image directly into Photoshop. If it is already present in your Lightroom library, simply use the shortcut Cmd + E from a Mac or Ctrl + E from a PC, to open it directly in Photoshop.
Once the image is open, your screen should look like this:
Step 2: Create a Level Adjustment Layer
Now we’ll add the Level Adjustment Layer that will save our picture.
As is often in Photoshop, there are various different ways to do the same thing. You can see below the way I find easiest to create this layer. Alternatively, you can also click on the menu Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels but the result will be identical.
Step 3: Adjust each colour’s level
This is where the fun begins!
Now that you have created the Level adjustment, you should see this window pop up. In case the window doesn’t appear (of if you close it by accident) you can always reopen it by clicking on the little icon marked in red below.
From this window, you will choose the Red channel first by clicking on the drop-down menu where it says RGB. This is very important as you don’t want to work on the global RGB channel, instead, you want to adjust each colour individually.
We are going to use this to remove any unnecessary colours from the shadows and highlights.
To do it, you have to hold the Alt key on your keyboard and click on the left cursor to work on the shadows. You will see a red screen entitled ‘clipping mask’. By moving the cursor to the right, while holding the Alt key, you will notice some black shapes appearing. These are the darkest points of your image, so you’ll have to move the cursor until it affects only these darkest areas. If you move it too far away, you are going to remove colour where it supposed to be; so be gentle with this little guy.
Now that we’re done with the shadows, let’s take care of the highlights. This time grab the right cursor white holding the Alt key and bring it towards the left. Rather than red, the clipping mask is now black and displays clipped highlights in a mix of red, white, and blue.
I know what you’re thinking: your image looks even worse than when we started. That’s because we’re not done yet! Our next step is to repeat the exact same action on the green and blue channels. Just click back on the drop down menu where it currently says red, and select the next channel.
Once you are done working with these three channels, all the unnecessary colour cast added by the scanner should be gone. Your model may even look like a normal human being!
Step 4: Slightly increase the exposure (optional but recommended)
This whole process darkened the image slightly, so to correct it we are going to add a brightness/contrast adjustment layer and increase the brightness a little bit.
And voilà! You are now able to very easily and efficiently deal with the poor job done by your scanner. I’ll let you decide which side is the before shot and which one is the after!
Special thanks to Paul Frederiksen for sharing this great tutorial. You can watch the original video here:
Vincent Moschetti worked exclusively with digital equipment until he had a revelation and discovered the beauty of shooting with film cameras.If you would like to learn more about his work, you can visit his website, Facebook, and Instagram pages. This article was originally published here.