Converting negatives to positives in just a few mouse clicks

We all know that film has beautiful colors that cannot be easily replicated with digital cameras. Unfortunately, when I shot my first film roll and got the scans from the lab the results were just awful. So I decided that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself. Here is the setup I bought: Nikon ES2 film holder, and Nikkor 58mm macro lens. 

Digital film scanners have built in profiles that give accurate colors during negative conversion as long as you tell the scanner which film you are using. But I have no such profile.  I needed a procedure that is easily replicated and can be automated using a preset. That is, I needed something that would allow me to invert a whole roll in just a few clicks. After hours of fiddling around here is the procedure I now use.

Below is a negative shot on Kodak Potra 400 shown in Capture One:

The first step is to set shadow and highlight levels in the Capture One levels tool. Set shadow level to 255 and highlight point to 0 for now. An often recommended approach is to set the shadow level by clicking on the orange edge of the negative where the negative was unexposed. The unexposed area is truly black even though it looks orange. This is often referred to as the orange mask of the negative. Even though the black point could be tuned to the unexposed area, I prefer to set black and white points later to achieve the look I want. Here is how an inverted negative looks:

The next step is to set the white point. The color card we are looking at has a white square on it. Incidentally, the two sliders on the white balance tool are the blue-orange balance called temperature, and the cyan-magenta slider called tint. It is the blue-orange slide that will allow us to get rid of the orange mask. This mask makes our positive look blue. Having picked the white square as our white point we get an image that looks too warm. However, the tint is set correctly.

Now adjust the temperature slider, without changing tint, to get rid of the warm look. I find that setting temperature between 1250 and 1400 works well for this film. Tint may need to be adjusted too to somewhere between -15 and -20. It really depends on the color of the light, how the negative was exposed, and the look you are going for.

As the temperature and tint are about the same for all images on the roll, it is possible to convert the whole roll in just a few mouse clicks. It is also true that temperature and tint are reasonably close from roll to roll of the same type of film.

Lets apply our preset to an digitized image and compare to the scan from our local lab. Here is the image from the local lab:

I think that the colors from the lab are fine but there is a distinct lack of dynamic range. The image just has this very harsh look. 

Lets take the same image and apply our Capture one white balance preset. I also adjust the white and black points in the levels tool to achieve the desired amount of contrast and shadow detail. 

I think this result is respectable and certainly better than the local lab. This image has a lot more saturation and dynamic range. I can easily replicate the lab result by turning down the saturation and changing levels to remove dynamic range. In any case, this method is superior to the local lab result. Another advantage of the method is that it is very quick and can be applied to a large number of negatives all at once.

It is important to note that this method does not remove the orange mask properly. The orange mask is more orange in the shadows and less orange in the highlights. Therefore, when you look at our resulting slide you will see that the shadows are a bit orange and highlights are a bit blue. I will describe another method to deal with this issue in another post.