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How To Edit Film Scans In Adobe Lightroom by Samantha Stortecky

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film
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Written by Samantha Stortecky of Splendid Musings Photography

It’s a good day! You know why? Because you just got freshly scanned film images in your inbox, and they’re just waiting to be processed. And I’m here to show you the rundown on how I go about this sometimes daunting process. From importing in Adobe Lightroom to exporting, and everything in between, I’m here to show you how I do it all. So pour yourself a cup of coffee, and let’s get this party started! (Find Adobe Lightroom on Amazon: Adobe Lightroom CC, Adobe Photoshop CC & Lightroom CC Bundle, Adobe Lightroom 6)

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

Importing Film Scans into Lightroom

At this point in time, I’ve downloaded my film scans from the lab (PhotoVision Printing) and put them in their proper folder on my desktop and backup hard drive. After Lightroom has opened up, I start by importing all of my recent downloaded images into Lightroom 4 (the most current versions are Adobe Lightroom CC and Adobe Lightroom 6). *Note: All screenshots are from Adobe Lightroom CC

Once that’s finished, I create a new collection inside a Collection Set. Now, I hope this doesn’t get too confusing, hang tight with me here because it’s going to save you a lot of strife in the future! I keep all my stuff organized by having specific Collection Sets for “clients (year)” and “personal (year)” and so forth. Inside each Collection Set are separate Collections for each individual client or personal occasion. I find that keeping everything overly organized helps me to go back and find images a lot quicker and easier!

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

After creating a specific collection and adding the newly imported images to it, in the “Library” tab in Lightroom, I drag the images and reorder them in the collection based on how I’d like them to look on a blog post/gallery/etc. I try to keep my images in the order I photographed them, but sometimes different timelines look better. This helps create a smoother process when uploading them to a gallery or a blog post in the future. Everything will have been in order from the beginning!

Editing Color Film Scans in Lightroom

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

Once everything is organized, I go into the “develop” tab in Lightroom and get the party started. I don’t have a particular order for which images I edit. Once I’ve downloaded my scans, I tend to have a few that jump out at me and get me excited. Those are the images I typically start editing.

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

Now is where the fun starts. I choose my favorite image and start in the “Basic” tab on the right. I go from top to bottom, Temperature being my first stop and Tone Curve being my last. Except Exposure, that I save for the very end. Most of the time I don’t touch my Temperature and Tint too much, my lab does a pretty swell job. Then, I move onto Highlights and Shadows. Nine times out of ten, my Highlights say -40 and Shadows -15.

Shadows don’t usually go further than -15, but my Highlights can range from -40 to -100 if my image was shot in particularly harsh lighting. At this point, you just got to use your own preferences and tweak based on what looks visually appealing to you!

Next up is Clarity. Film has a natural “softness” to it so I find bumping up the Clarity by +10 can add a little extra pop to my images.

After bumping up the Clarity, I then take my Saturation down a notch. I find this helps remove any overly colorful areas in my images, especially with skin tones. Depending on the image, my Saturation goes down by -10.

I find that adding a lot of contrast tends to make the image oversaturated with blown out details, so I very rarely touch the Contrast slider. Instead, I toggle with the curves bar in the Tone Curve section by lowering the Darks by about -30. I find this gives my images a more “natural” pop of contrast without messing with the other features of the image. As always, this varies from image to image. Sometimes -30 is too much and I do -15. Use your creative eye and find what best supports you!

And last but not least, Exposure! As stated above, I save it for last and my lab does a fantastic job (thanks PhotoVision Printing!) so my exposure doesn’t get messed with too often. I usually bump it up around +0.20 to +0.90. I just keep adding exposure until I notice I’m losing details, then I stop. Most of my images sit around +0.40.

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

Finishing Touches on Your Film Scans

Apply the brush tool by pressing K on your keyboard. I use a soften skin effect at -45 Clarity. I tend to use this brush on my 35mm images where a lot of grain shows up on my subjects face. Using the brush around the cheeks and forehead area on subjects faces helps take away some of that punch that you can get when shooting with high grain.

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

I do add a Sharpen filter to my images as a final step. I use a Sharpen Preset to make it easy but this is how it looks on every one of my images:

Amount: 50

Radius: 0.90

Detail: 35

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

Once I’ve finished editing, I press the number 5 on my keyboard to mark that image as “5 stars.” This way, I know which images are done and are my favorite for exporting.

At this point, I do a once-over of my images, do some last minute tweaking, and then walk away from my computer. I typically come back later with a fresh set of eyes and do a final tweaking session before exporting my final images.

Editing Black & White Film Scans

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

Black and white images are so freakin’ easy to edit. I almost always use the same film stock and edit it the same exact way every time. I like my black & white images to be grain heavy. I feel like it adds a lot of drama and emotion to an image which is why I shoot with Ilford Delta 3200 (find on Amazon). Sometimes I use Ilford HP5 (find on Amazon), and, if that’s the case, I turn the Grain amount up to about 35 during post processing.

I also love a little warmth to my images, especially my black and white scans, so I will up my Temperature by +5.

As far as the rest of the editing process goes, it’s the same exact way I edit for my color scans (except for the saturation)! Hooray for consistency!

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

Converting Color Film Scans to Black & White

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

Sometimes, I’ll get my color film scans back from my lab and find an image I like but know it would be stronger in black and white. For these images, I change the treatment from color to black & white under the Basic tab in Lightroom. Click B&W under the menu labeled HSL/Color/B&W.

After this, I process my image the same way I would regular black & white and color film scans. The only difference being that the grain amount usually goes around 30-40, and I up the warmth by going under Split Toning and moving the Hue to 50 and Saturation to 10.

These images themselves are great straight from the lab, but I knew converting them to black & white would ultimately make them a lot more powerful. I applied all the changes mentioned above and exported like normal!

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

Exporting Film Scans

Export Location: I make sure that they go to a “Specific Folder,” and that it’s the folder where I saved all of the scans when I downloaded them. I just make sure they go into a separate folder titled “Edits,” because I’m all about that ::hashtag:: organized life. Don’t look at my computer, it’s just an endless maze of folders within folders. Folderception.

File Naming: I always do the “Custom Name – Sequence.” It looks a little something like this: “SplendidMusings- StorteckyFamily-1.jpg.” I always have my business name in there, followed by the client name (or occasion), and then the number of the image.

Image Sizing: Nothing fancy here, I keep everything unchecked and blank other than my resolution, which is 300 pixels per inch.

Once you’ve changed these setting, they should keep and stay the same for every export you do from there on out. Easy peasy lemon squeesy!

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

Hopefully, this will help you edit your film scans. It seems pretty daunting when it’s all typed out, but once you get a rhythm and groove going, the editing process speeds right by and is so easy (and dare I say, fun). Just crank up some tunes, grab a drink, and marvel at your beautiful film scans. ^_^

How to Edit Film Scans in Lightroom by Splendid Musings Photography on Shoot It With Film

If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to reach out. I love talking about anything to do with photography and film, so game on!


Thank you so much, Sammi! To see more of Samantha’s work, be sure to visit Splendid Musings Photography on her website and Instagram!

If you have any questions about editing your film scans, leave them below in the comments! And you can check out all of our film photography tutorials here!

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