Beginner's question - digital contacts

A complete beginner with NLP - I wish to make digital contact sheets by simply photographing a full roll of cut 35mm colour neg strips in a clear acetate sleeve placed on a lightbox. Presumably I can (using Lightroom) crop down to one frame so the background light source is excluded, do the NLP conversion, apply and then reset the crop in Lightroom so that the whole roll is visible with the NLP adjustments applied. Does this approach make sense?


OK - I can see that this is a popular approach. I’m still on the trial version of NLP, and it seems that I can’t just convert the single frame and then reset the crop in Lightroom - I have to apply the conversion before I can access Lightroom again. Is this correct?


Check out the user guide:

There’s a Facebook forum for Negative Lab Pro as well and a similar question was posted on there:

The method you describe should be fine, Nate Johnson (creator of NLP) replied on there as follows:

"I quick tip: if you want a better conversion on a contact sheet like this, first crop in to just one image with no border showing (or with a little border but definitely no sprocket holes or direct backlight. Then after the conversion, you can just recrop to show the full contact sheet. You get a better conversion this way because otherwise, the conversion analysis will include the non-film areas in its analysis and that will throw it off. "

The first attempt by the OP showed insipid washed out colour with a blue cast, that advice seemed to fix it.

That said a few years ago I had to do it for someone else’s archive films and a got a pretty decent result using a DIY preset in Lightroom alone, a little hit & miss because of the different types of film, NLP should be better provided you use a representative frame first of all.

@nate : How about a new feature allowing un-cropped conversions, e.g. by checking boxes saying that extreme white and black areas should be ignored? The border buffer is what I usually use, but in a contact sheet, the buffer doesn’t work…

A better question would be, why do you want a contact sheet?

Are you creating one so avoid digitizing all frames and only your picks?
For a reference to identify frame numbers on the negative to be printed?

Only the first reason makes sense to me. It doesn’t need to be a perfect. I’d shoot a random frame to get the exposure settings, and then apply that to contact sheet. Some will be over or under exposed, but I can still decide which ones I want. I would want the sprocket holes and frame numbers to be visible. Including the light table and sprockets won’t change the scanning settings, it can add flaring with some lenses and camera alignment.

Maybe there are other reasons to make a contact sheet. Use Bridge or Lightroom to make it from all the finished images.

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The first reason you give - these are old family negatives from many years ago, only a few of which are worth enlarging - digital contacts are far the easiest way to allow family members to make their selects without involving me in unnecessary work!

I made contact sheets when I started working with my parents’ negative archive. I used a technique similar to Nate’s for converting. Here’s my whole workflow which required additional steps not normally required.
My negatives were either in envelopes, glassine pages or in plastic pockets from the labs. Many strips were misplaced in wrong places. Quite a puzzle, but I’m still thankful to my mother who had taken time to file most of them safely. Since it’s not easy to read negatives, I decided to do all the organizing with the computer.
I moved the loose strips to pockets and photographed the pages as-is on a light table, all in the same scale. I imported the frames to Lightroom and made virtual copies which I straightened and cropped to individual strips. Then I made collections and collection sets for film types, approximate years and for each roll.
When I had collected enough strips belonging to the same roll, I put them in the right order. Then I made yet another virtual copy which I cropped tightly to one well exposed frame, converted it and, if it looked ok, synced the settings to all those strips.
Slowly I could add strips to incomplete rolls. After the roll was considered complete, I created a print collection for it. The template could be 1x7 for a seven strip roll, for example. For missing negatives I used placeholders which were strip sized black images. Finally I saved the page as a jpeg contact sheet.
It was important to name and tag the files, virtual copies and collections in a constant way (using film type, roll ID and the strip number). It made the whole task a lot easier. The individual strips on the contact sheet were named with a template collecting different bits.
With a 42 MP camera the resolution of an individual neg frame is ok for this purpose. Even the frames in the pergamine pages are acceptable.
Now I have only a few orphaned negatives left but sadly it is also evident that there are many gaps. Are they just missing or were they deliberately thrown away, probably I will never know.
I could share the contact sheets rather quickly and I hope they will keep my relatives busy while I continue with the individual frames.

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Wow, that’s quite some task, your relatives are very fortunate. Negatives are often thrown away, my Grandfather was the exception and I have all his, mainly from his Kodak Autographic 2A and many around 100 years old. I somehow doubt that digital images will be around so long.

All it takes is a periodic archive migration, copying the files to a new drive, using the cataloguing app that can hopefully also read the previous catalog data…and of course someone in each generation to persue the task. Or have them all photographically printed and stored as physical copies again :wink:

Yes, but…so in my view in most cases it won’t happen. it must be hard enough keeping the archives of illustrious photographers safe for future generations when they are administered by a venerable institution but left to disparate relatives, a multitude of passwords and various cloud storage and software subscriptions then the chances are slim. My grandfather’s negatives and prints sat in a couple of shoe boxes high up in his back room cupboard, now they’re in a similar place in my house and I’m scanning them of course. I just wish that I’d asked my mother to write on the back of the prints who everyone was.

Absolutely true, @Harry , digital archives will probably be lost before the original negatives.

And yes, names and dates help to fill the gaps. Imo, it’s essential to fill Lightroom’s metadata fields (and write xmp sidecars) for future generations. The xmp sidecars can be read by a simple text editor, no need for asset managing apps, although they greatly help to find images with a certain content, taken at a certain time etc… Every little bit can help.

I forgot to add that in the end I was finally able to put the negative strips in the right order. I also threw away the glassine negative pages which had turned yellow and the album pockets made of pvc.
Now I’m in a hurry to go through the pictures with my father, who is very old.

I too decided to photograph whole rolls of negatives into “contact sheets” but found a way to crop out the individual frames so negativelabpro can work its roll magic. When you have hundreds of rolls you need a way to see what’s important . I had most of mine in Print File clear pages and photographed them in Raw on a light table on a Sony A7R5. I photographed 4 strips of 4-6 negs at a time to get closer so it took 2 quick shots per roll. I got mixed results with the coloring this way so I wrote a script for photoshop that automatically cropped out the individual frames into separate TIFs and then neglabpro could do its full roll conversion magic! I just ordered an Essential Film Holder so I can now go back and photograph the best individual frames at a full 60Mpixels.

Just on the subject of contact sheets themselves, I think they are enormously useful. I’ve pretty much always had a darkroom and have always used my ubiquitous Paterson Contact Sheet Proof Printer to make a contact sheet of each film. When printing B&W in the darkroom it makes it easier to judge the exposure and paper grade required as well as of course selecting which frames to print. The same goes for printing colour negative, there is no choice of grades but you could get a pretty good idea of the colour filtration that you might want to dial in to deal with different light conditions across the roll. No array of sliders and dropdowns then, just a simple combination of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow filtration to dial in and the exposure time.

When looking at films as historical records then the other frames on the roll give very useful clues as to the events depicted and the people present, at a glance. I think it’s well worth the effort in the digital age as well but you need either a decent flatbed scanner with a transparency hood or a large light panel and a copystand. Much more involved compared to doing it in the darkroom.