Digitally Post-processing a 5×4 Black and White Negative

Here’s a quick step-by-step of how I go about digitizing and processing my 5×4 Delta 100 negatives once I have developed the sheets.  This works for me!

Burnham Lighthouse Portrait, from negative to final digital image, using a Nikon D800E to digitize and ACR / Photoshop CS6 to process.

Step 1: using D800E and 85mm Nikkor Tilt-shift on Novoflex Castel-L rail mounted onto Arca-Swiss Cube Geared Pan Tripod head, I took 4 5×4-crop frames of the original 5×4 negative held loosely in position and flat on my MedaLite Light panel using my home-made lego slide holder. Ensure that there’s sufficient overlap to ensure a good stitch without sacrificing too much final resolution.

Step 2: load all images into Photoshop ACR and desaturate.

Burnham Process 1

[For some reason I had appeared to have digitized these using the wrong side of the film, but you get the idea).

Step 3: from Bridge, bring all images into Photoshop as a 4-shot using Photomerge, using the reposition option (usually works best, esp. as the use of the tilt-shift and the focusing rack generally ensures that nothing has moved or changed apart from the position of the lens).

Step 4: Flatten the stack, duplicate the layer, and use this layer to make any corrections to the raw negative – i.e. this is the time to use the clone tool and the spot healing brush to ‘spot’ the negative.

Burnham Process 2


Step 5: Crop to remove frame and straighten if necessary.

Step 6: Invert – resultant image is very flat indeed.  Lots of work with curves required…

Burnham Process 3


Everything after this is done with curves and some gradient mapping, to get the image to look as you want. Sometimes I’ve used some Selinium toning as well as Palladium, to add nuance to both highlights and shadows.  Another possibility would have been to add contrast in ACR to the original files before starting with layers.

Step 7: Use curve layers to pull in highlights and add a darkening contrast curve.

Step 8:  Dodge and burn using numerous other curves layers and masks, including luminosity masks to add lots of contrast to very targetted areas and add vignetting to draw the eye in.

Burnham Process 4


Step 9: Add custom platinum gradient map (colour midpoint dragged to 35%) to targetted areas in highlights, at a low-ish opacity (25%), to add a bit more life to the highlights.

Burnham Process 5


Step 10:  A lot more dodging and burning with curves for even more contrast and richness in targetted areas, esp at top and bottom of frame.

Burnham Process 6


Step 11: Flatten, sharpen using targetted USM on a modified green layer.

Burnham Process 7

100% detail from sharpened full size file

Step 12: Size for output and resharpen selectively.  (Original dimensions of 7676×9183 pixels gives plenty of room for size changes)

The Resultant Final Image, at 2048px


Originally shot 3pm 29th November 2017,
Linhof Technikardan S45
Schneider Apo-Symmar MC 150mm f/5.6
Ilford Delta 100
1/60” f/16
4º front tilt

Exposed for normal development, and home-developed with Jobo CPE-3 and Ilfosol-3 (1+14, 6 minutes).


Here’s the ‘on location’ setup shot:




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