Three Useful Tools to Color Correct Your Film Scans by John Adams III

Medium format film image of a fashion portrait - Color Correcting Film Scans by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
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Written by John Adams III

I love the convenience of film labs. Although pricey, being able to drop off rolls of film and leave them there and be confident that it’s in good hands and that my images will be treated with care is a good feeling.

Most times, labs do a great job, but every now and again they miss the mark when it comes to color correcting. It’s hard to blame them – they weren’t there when you shot the images and can only color correct to a certain point.

Scanning is an important part of the analog process in this digital age, and the color and quality of a scanned negative directly affects the final image. Below are three tools I find useful when color correcting film scans that didn’t come out exactly as I intended.

Medium format film image of a fashion portrait - Color Correcting Film Scans by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film

1. The White Balance Tool in Lightroom

Sometimes all a scan needs is a white balance adjustment.

Have you ever had an image that is tinted a little too green or a little too magenta?

Try compensating for the cast by moving the White Balance slider in the opposite direction of the offending color.

The White Balance tool is included in the main editing panel on both Lightroom and Photoshop’s Camera Raw.

White balance tool in Lightroom - Color Correcting Film Scans by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
The White Balance Tool
Left: Not adjusted Right: Adjusted
Medium format film image of a fashion portrait - Color Correcting Film Scans by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Left: Image without any color correction
Right: Image color corrected using the White Balance tool, adding yellow and magenta to make the image warmer
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2. The HSL Tool in Lightroom

The HSL (Hue, Saturation, and Luminance) slider in Lightroom is a powerful tool that can completely change the palette of your image. This is typically my second stop if a basic white balance adjustment doesn’t work.

Let’s say, for instance, there is too much green in an image and white balance alone isn’t helping to correct it. With the HSL tool, you can select only the green tones in the image and desaturate them to your liking.

Conversely, if you needed to bring out more of a specific color in an image, this tool is useful.

Be mindful that this is a universal edit, meaning it will affect everything in the image that is that color. If you want to change the color of one specific area or object in a photo, I find it best to use Photoshop.

There is a similar tool in Photoshop’s Camera Raw under the Color Mixer tab in the main editing panel.

HSL tool in Lightroom - Color Correcting Film Scans by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
The HSL Tool
Left: Not adjusted Right: Adjusted
Medium format film image of a fashion portrait - Color Correcting Film Scans by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Left: Image without any color correction
Right: Image color corrected using the HSL tool to adjust the red light in the image

3. Selective Color Tool in Photoshop

The Selective Color tool is a layer adjustment tool in Photoshop that allows you to make subtle color and contrast adjustments to your image.

This is a tool I use in most images to nudge colors and tones to where I think they should be.

Selective Color allows you to edit the image in separate red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, white, neutral, and black categories. Each category has adjustment sliders for cyan, magenta, yellow and black channels.

The best way to use this tool is to go color to color, move the slider, and see how it affects your image.

It’s a very powerful tool that’s best used in small doses!

Selective Color tool in Lightroom - Color Correcting Film Scans by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
The Blacks, Neutrals, and Whites tabs in the Selective Color tool. You can make adjustments with the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black sliders for each tab.
Selective Color tool in Lightroom - Color Correcting Film Scans by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
The Yellows and Reds tabs in the Selective Color tool. You can make adjustments with the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black sliders for each tab.
Medium format film image of a fashion portrait - Color Correcting Film Scans by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Left: Image without any color correction
Right: Image color corrected using the Selective Color tool to adjust the color toning of the image

Film labs provide us an excellent starting point for our images, but they aren’t always perfect out of the box.

At the end of the day, as photographers, we want to make the best image possible, and these tools are a great method to ensure your scans match up with your vision for the final image.

Please remember that these tools are designed to be customized to your own specific image, and there is no one size fits all setting or preset that will work for all images!

Medium format film image of a fashion portrait - Color Correcting Film Scans by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film

Thank you so much, John! John is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out his other articles here, such as a CineStill 800T vs Portra 400 Pushed One Stop and Contax TVS Review.

You can also check out more of John’s work on his website and Instagram.

If you have questions about color correcting your film scans, leave them below in the comments, and you can pick up Photoshop and Lightroom for yourself here!

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John Adams III

John Adams III is a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find his other articles here, such as a review for the Mamiya RZ67 medium format film camera and the best light meter app for film photography.

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Blog Comments

I would like to add 2 comments:
Remember that each brand of film and each type has its own colour tint. Kodak Portra has a different typical hue than for example Kodak Ektar or Fuji Pro 400H. It is maybe better to respect these characteristics.
If you scan yourself and you use Silverfast, you can choose the type of film and the results will be more authentic. Of course, it may still be necessary to fine-tune the colours with the above-mentioned features.

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