Category: Scanning

The Fastest And Easiest Method For Removing The Orange Mask In Photoshop

When scanning color negative film you face the task of removing the orange mask in the negative to restore the colors for the digital image. I have tried several scanning software and other free and commercial methods but never have really been satisfied.

While tweaking a scan in Photoshop I discovered a method that seems to produce consistant and good results: divide the raw negative scan with the orange mask color.

You will need:

  • a scan of the orange mask (one per roll of film)
  • raw scans of your image frames, all scanned with the same exposure settings as the mask scan

Step 1: Scanning

I use VueScan Professional for scanning so the scanning instructions are for that software. I’m sure it is possible to get the same results from other scanning software.

Load your film strip into the film holder and do a preview. Make sure that “Lock Exposure” is unchecked. Set all cropping options to manual. Then select a part of the film strip where only the orange mask is visible.


Do another preview. After it is done, check “Lock exposure”.


Make sure that you are saving the raw scan and set the file name. Scan the image.


After this, scan all your frames keeping the exposure locked. Step 1 is now done.

Step 2: Remove the orange mask in Photoshop

Firstly, open your mask file in Photoshop. Use the color picker tool to set your foreground color to the mask color. Use a larger sample size to get a nice average color of the mask. For the next steps, it is important that the mask color is selected as the foreground color.


Now open a raw scan of a frame from your film strip.


You can create an action of the following steps.

From the Photoshop menu, select Layer / New Fill Layer / Solid Color. In the dialog, change blend mode to Divide.



Click OK and accept the current color in the color picker. Your layer palette should now look like this:


From the menu, select “Layer / Flatten Image” and then “Image / Adjustments / Invert”. The orange mask is now removed and the image is positive.


Tweak the white balance and brightness settings either manually or automatically. Image / Auto Tone usually does a decent job:


Alternate step 2: Remove the orange mask without Photoshop

Most likely, several image processing software can be used to perform step 2 (please leave a comment how to do it in your favourite software).

The wonderful ImageMagick command line tools work just as well. For autotoning the image, I recommend Fred Weinhaus‘ great autotone script.

I have written a script called to remove the orange mask. It also has an option (-a) to execute Fred’s autotone.

(Sorry, the script is for Mac/Linux users only. I know it can be converted to Windows but I don’t have the resources to do that. If you want to, please go ahead. The script is GPL licensed.)

This is the same image processed with negdiv and autotone:


Analog-To-Analog-To-Digital versus Analog-To-Digital-To-Analog

I bought another enlarger. It’s an Opemus 5 made in Czechoslovakia probably in the 1970s. Now I can print pictures taken with my Hasselblad on 120 film.

While testing the enlarger I made a print that I was quite pleased with. It was sharp with a nice bokéh and had rich blacks and clear details. But how does the analog print compare to a digital one? If you also need a digital image, should you scan the negative or the silver gelatin print?

My scanner (CanoScan 9000F) is not the best possible film scanner but it produces decent images. I scanned the same image from the negative and from the darkroom print and adjusted them to look as similar as possible.

This is the scan from the negative:


This is the scan from the silver gelatin print:


There is not much difference. You can get a decent digital image both ways. Dust removal is an issue in both cases. I found that the print scan needed a bit more work removing the dust.

For this picture, I wanted the background to be almost completely black. The original negative has more detail in the background and if I had wanted to show that in the digital image, it probably would have been easier to do with the negative scan. The analog print would have required more dodging and burning in the darkroom.

But what if you want to have the picture on paper? I also have an Epson Stylus Photo inkjet printer that can print decent pictures. I printed out the image scanned from the negative and compared that with the silver gelatin print. It doesn’t make sense to rescan the prints and show them here but what I found out was:

  • The bokéh areas of the inkjet print seem to have some digital noise. Those look better in the silver gelatin print.
  • The white of the silver gelatin print looks brighter.
  • Both prints have rich black. The black from the inkjet printer looks even a bit darker but not pure black.
  • The inkjet produces grey tones through mixing colors. If you look at the output in a tungsten light indoors it may not be so apparent but if you look at the pictures (inkjet vs. silver gelatin) side by side in the daylight, the difference is very clear. The darkroom print is truely monochrome while the inkjet print has a greenish tint. Certainly the inkjet output can be improved through color calibration but I think that the silver gelatin paper can outperform any amateur-level inkjet printer for b/w pictures.
  • Probably related to the monochrome nature of the silver gelatin paper, the details in a b/w picture look sharper than from the inkjet.

Conclusion: I will continue scanning my negatives and happily share the scans online. But if I have a shot that I really like and want to hang on my wall, I will setup my darkroom and spend a lovely afternoon smelling the chemicals 🙂

(The picture was taken with Hasselblad 500C using a Carl Zeiss Planar 100 mm lens at f/3.5 on Kodak Tri-X 400. The film was developed in D-76 stock solution.)

My Vuescan-Lightroom Workflow For Scanning Color Negatives

I have tried several options for scanning color negatives. The software that came with my Canon scanner produces somewhat decent images for some frames but I didn’t feel that I have enough control for adjusting individual images. So I bought a license for VueScan.

VueScan is great and confusing at the same time. It has a huge amount of options but the user interface is… let’s say not very clear.

I tried the default settings in VueScan and the results were somewhat ok. I tried adjusting the scans inside VueScan but to be honest, Lightroom is much easier.

I tried to use the film profiles in VueScan but that gave me worse results than the default settings. I tried to sample the film base color and some other stuff that I found instructions for online but they didn’t seem to work out either.

Given that I use Lightroom anyway to catalog my images and the develop module in Lightroom is very good, this is how my work flow for scanning color negatives works nowadays.

In Vuescan, I try to make decent scan to develop in Lightroom. For this, I set the input settings like this:


Using 48 bit RGB gives you the best possible color space to continue working in Lightroom.

I prefer to fix the colors in Lightroom. That’s why I leave the restore checkboxes unchecked on the Filter tab. On the other hand, I trust VueScan to do basic grain reduction and sharpening. You should probably test what works for you. (I recommend using Infrared clean if your scanner supports it. I did not select it for these test pictures as it is very slow on my scanner.)


For color settings, I leave everything at default and select Auto levels for Color balance. For some images, other settings might work better but I find it easier to always use the same settings and work in Lightroom. Make sure that you select ProPhoto RGB for Output color space. This is the color space that Lightroom uses and setting it makes sure that the colors transfer correctly from VueScan to Lightroom.


For output, make sure to produce a TIFF file with 48 bit RGB and to include the TIFF profile (which makes sure that the ProPhoto RGB file works in Lightroom).


The output from VueScan using these settings may be pretty good but often it will look a bit bland. This is an example image straight out from VueScan.


Lightroom’s auto setting has quite a bad reputation. It has improved in later versions and often times using it in Lightroom 5 will give you a better starting point for manual edits. This image is developed from the previous one using Lightroom’s auto development setting and auto white balance.


The white balance did not look quite right and I prefer my images a bit more contrasty. This one is after some manual tweaking in Lightroom.


I don’t think that there is a one workflow that will always produce best possible images. This is how I work to scan my color negatives and how I have gotten most consistent results. I’d love to hear your suggestions for improvement.