Nowadays, there are hardly any photographers who actually use darkroom or printing for scanning film negatives. Using top quality Photo scanners might be the best way to scan negatives since it offers more convenience. Anyone can turn negatives into a digitized photo by using a scanner with a little guidance. In this article, I’m going to describe how to scan film negatives using a normal flatbed scanner.

Scanning Film Negatives | Step-by-step

If you’re wondering how to scan negatives at home, follow these simple steps to scan old negatives to digital.

1. Prepare the Negative

After you’ve completely developed and dried the rolls, flatten the negatives. Make sure the film doesn’t curl when you remove the film clips. Cut the negatives according to the size of the film holder on the scanner. If you’re planning to scan negatives with a regular scanner, you’ll need to cut 6 frame strips while scanning a 35mm film. You can simply insert the negative files inside a storage sheet and put the sheet under heavy weight to straighten the films.

Although flattening the film isn’t absolutely essential, you can manipulate a flattened film more easily and the image will retain its sharpness. Make sure the film is straight in its width or the image would get out of focus and halos will appear on the image.

2. Mount the Negative

If you’re really thinking about how to print photos from negatives at home, you’ll need to know how to mount the negative on a film holder. Insert the negative strip inside a strip holder. The images need to be well-aligned on the edges, so no images get cropped during scanning.

After putting the film inside a holder, clear out the dust and debris off the negative and the glass using an air spray. While using a compressed air spray, don’t shake the spray can or you’d end up pouring liquid on the film. You can also use a microfiber tissue on the negative to gently clear off the debris.

3. Scan Color/ B&W

All the scanner that can scan negatives come with highly customizable software for PC. If you open the scanner app on your PC, it will be on auto mode and you need to switch it to professional mode so you can access the advanced scanning options. You’re going to see a couple of options. Choose these options for scanning a color photo:

  • Type of Document: Film
  • Type of Film: Color Negative (for single negative)/ Positive Film (for slide film)
  • Type of Image: Color 48-bit
  • Resolution: 3200 dpi

Tick on the Dust Removal and Unsharp Mask options. After you’ve set all the settings, hit the preview button to take a look at what the scanned copy will look like. You can manually adjust the image orientation if necessary and then finally click on “Scan”. For cropping it to your liking, use the selection tool. After the images are done scanning, they will automatically get saved on the Pictures folder.

For scanning black and white film negatives, follow the same route but make a change on these options:

  • Type of Film: B&W Negative Film
  • Type of Image: Grayscale 16-bits

4. Import the Photos to Lightroom

Scanning negatives with a scanner have never been easier. And now, it’s time to import the photos to Lightroom after they’re saved on your computer. You have to be on the Develop module. On the left bar, click the “+” under the “Folder” section and select “Add folder”. Search for the folder you’ve just created and click “choose” to open the images. Finally, click “import” and you’ll find the image in your Lightroom library.

5. Develop

At this point of converting old photo negatives to digital, you need to add a personal touch to your photos. Developing or retouching a photo is totally up to personal preference and taste, so there’s not much to say here. But it’s a fact that scanned photos generally look flat and lack in color. This varies depending on the type of film roll used for the negatives. Using a scanner is the best way to digitize photos since you can perform edits according to your preference.

a. Color Correction

After you’ve used the best way to convert photos to digital, you need to understand that no such thing as “correct color” exists when we’re turning a color photo out of a negative. Open the TIF file using Photoshop and make a layer of curves. To correct the tone of the photo, you may add contrast and change the curves to increase the highlight and decrease the shadows. Set the RGB’s channel’s white point and then you can work on individual channels.

On some scanners, you might get a warm tone on the image’s atmosphere. In this case, raise the blue highlight on the photo. The curve adjustment is very easy once you get the hang of it and it will bring out a massive difference in the image quality. After you’ve set the proper curve on the photo, look for dust in the image. Use the healing brush to clean up the dust. If you’re removing dust using photoshop, make a background layer copy and work on it so you don’t make a mess of the original photo.

b. Luminosity Adjustment

Next, you need to make a luminosity mask to adjust the shadows and the highlights separately on the photo. If you press Ctrl+Alt+2 on Photoshop, it will create a luminosity mask based on the brightness of the photo. After this is done, go to Curves under Layer and then New adjustment layer. This way, you’ll get a curves layer to adjust the image highlights.

If you want to get the same selection again, Ctrl+Click the curves later. You can always inverse it using the Select>Inverse option. Make a similar curve layer but for the shadows. You can remove any unwanted shadow on the scanned copy with this method.

c. Hue Layer

This is another important adjustment, especially you have negatives of landscape sceneries to scan from. You’ll always find a cyan layer on your scanned photo. You can use the hue slider and adjust the cyan towards a bluer hue. You can then apply desaturation.

Scanning old film negatives is not only interesting but it also makes you store and cherish your memories on a digital platform. So, take out the negatives of those childhood photos from the basement and start scanning using our guide on how to scan film negatives! Turn those negatives into graceful memories that you and your family can enjoy looking at together on occasion.


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