How to get the original film look

Hello all,

What would be the workflow to get the most original/authentic film look ? I mean that if I shoot with a Portra160 or a Ektar100 how should I scan my film to get the Ektar 100 look for the the Ektar 100 film ?

I know that depending on the scanner and the software used there is already an alteration but I want to know the most appropriate workflow in Negative Lab to obtain this.

Currently what I do is setting all parameter in NLB to none (color model = none) + Tones (standard lab) + WB (none)

I guess it’s specialy in the WB parameter where there is more impact ? But I feel that if I use Kodak for Kodak films it’s more like a general preset and that would decrease the particular film’s caracteristics (let’s say among an Ektar100 and a Portra400) I am wrong ?


I get asked this question alot, so let me try to answer!

First, it is crucial to understand the components that make any given film stock different from another film stock.

The biggest inherent differences between various film stocks will be:

  1. The dynamic range (for instance, Portra will have a larger dynamic range than Ektar)
  2. The inherent contrast (related to point 1, for instance, Portra will have less inherent contrast than Ektar)
  3. The Color Chemistry (Portra’s chemistry is optimized for pleasing skin tones, Ektar is optimized for bolder, more vivid colors)
  4. The Color Balance To Make A Given Scene Appear Neutral (really, this is only somewhat influenced by the film stock, and many other factors also play a role. In a traditional darkroom setting, color balancing color negative film was a process of trial and error, regardless of film stock)
  5. The grain structure

So these are the factors that are inherent in any given film (with #4 being something that the film stock influences, but the factors of the scene itself probably influence more).

Second, let’s talk about what we mean when we say "original/authentic film look."

Everyone approaches film with a different goal and a different internal concept of what they hope to get out of film.

  1. The Film Lab Look - this is mostly influenced by the automatic processing algorithms of Noritsu and Frontier scanners used at traditional film labs. It is characterized by strong midtone contrast, warm color balance and sometimes “fade” in the shadows and “glow” in the highlights. This is the look that many of us associate with the “authentic” film look, and it feels like it is “unedited” because we personally have not had to do any editing, but of course, it is the process of internal algorithms, machine calibration (or mis-calibration), and skilled lab technicians. I personally love this look. Here’s an example of editing for the lab look:

  2. The Cinematic Look - This is a more “naturalistic” look, where each individual frame feels less normalized (i.e., there may not be anything rendered as truly black or truly white), has less saturation, and nothing feels compressed or exaggerated. It’s also more likely with the cinematic look that you will want your neutral grey reference to not appear truly neutral, but to convey the sense or mood of the lighting in the place… for instance, you may want to render a scene as extra cold when it has cold lighting, or extra warm when it has warm lighting. Here’s an example of the cinematic look – although you also render this much warmer or much cooler just depending on your goal:

  3. The True To Life / Personal Taste Look - Some film photographers have a goal of editing film to look realistic to the scene in real life (or at least their memory of it). It’s possible with enough editing to make a film shot almost indistinguishable from a shot taken with digital. This usually involves balancing out some of the aspects that are particular to a film… for instance, for a low-contrast film, like Portra, you may add some contrast to make it appear truer to life. Or for a high-contrast film, like Ektar, you may want to remove some of the contrast. Despite having inherent, built-in characteristics, one of the big advantages of shooting color negative film is the inherent flexibility of the negative. There is no rule that says you can’t use the film as a starting point and adjust from there to whatever you wish! Here’s a quick attempt at editing the scene just to my personal vision of the scene:

Even though the three examples above look very different, I would say they all still retain the fundamental characteristics of their film stock, which in this case is Fuji 400H (R.I.P.)

For instance, if I had shot this same exact photo with Ektar, and applied the same conversion settings and editing settings in Negative Lab Pro, you would see very different results (the blue in shirt would be much more saturated, the skin would be harsher with more red in it, etc).

So, all that to say, that it is equally important to have a vision for what you hope to achieve out of your film, and determine not just a film stock but also define what you personally desire your look to be.

With that in mind, let’s look at your settings:

Setting the color model to “none” will just use whatever camera profile you had selected prior to launching NLP (in most cases, that would be “Adobe Color,” unless you had specified a specific profile previously). I wouldn’t recommend setting this to “none” unless you have a specific custom profile you want to use… you would generally be better setting this to “standard” instead of none.

That’s good if you desire the “Film Lab” style of processing… if you fall into one of the other camps, you would be better starting off with a different tone profile. For instance, if you want more of a cinematic look, try starting off with “Cinematic - Flat” and adjusting from there.

You will almost never want to leave WB at NONE. This doesn’t mean it is neutral or more natural… it just means that it isn’t correcting any of the color casts in the underlying film or due to the color of the lighting in the scene. I usually try “auto-netural” and “auto-warm” and see which of those creates a more neutral color balance, and tweak from one of those.

What other software programs call “Film Profiles” or more or less just static color balance settings. These are less powerful than the auto color balance settings (because they can’t account for variance due to lighting or other factors), but I have included a few static color profiles for use (Fuji, Kodak, Cine-D, and Cine-T), and in some circumstances, they will look amazing, but in other circumstances, they will need a lot of adjustment.

Balancing the colors (to render grey and grey, or to achieve a warm or cold look) in no way negates the characteristics of the film itself… remember that even in a dark room setting, color filters were necessary to getting neutral colors from film, and much of it was a trial and error process.

I hope that has helped answer your question!

Creator of Negative Lab Pro

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@nate is that 2.3 I’m seeing? :slight_smile:


Thanks a lot Nate for this precise explanation, things are clearer now. It’s also nice to realise that even in the dark room, color where balanced with filters. I’ll do some tests I guess for the WB because I am not sure yet that I am looking for neutral/natural results, but I realise now that is just a personal choice and not something that brings me to a more “authentic” look.

Thanks again !

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Shhhh! :shushing_face:

You’re welcome! :raised_hands:

Hi Nate, any chance we can reset the sliders with a double click in v2.3 :wink:
No big deal but it would be kinda nice.

You can currently reset any of the sliders by single-clicking on the setting name.… for instance, to reset the brightness slider, just single click “brightness” and it will reset.

(There is some limitation in the Lightroom SDK, so there isn’t a way for me to register a double-click on the slider itself, unfortunately!)

Got it, thanks for the response Nate?