How To Make Film Proof Sheets Without A Scanner

Light pad for making proof sheets.

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If you want to make a proof sheet from a set of negatives, you can make a contact print in a darkroom, have a lab make you the contact print, or use a large format transparency scanner. Another way that might be easier and less expensive in the long run, is to photograph the negatives on a light table. I recently discovered very affordable, incredibly thin LED “light pads” used for tracing or light boxes. I recently purchased this one that works well for making proof sheets, and is big enough that you can easily fit six six-frame strips of 35mm film (from a 36 exposure roll). If you want the highest quality proof sheet possible, you’re better off with a darkroom contact sheet, or using a large format transparency film scanner. But for making pretty good proof sheets cheaply and quickly, this is a good method.

This light pad has a dimmer which is accessed by holding the power button down. I’d recommend using the brightest setting. Here are suggestions on how to photograph the negatives:

  • Put your camera on auto or daylight (“sun” setting).
  • “Bracket” your exposures, meaning shoot a variety of exposures; normal, underexposed, and overexposed.
  • With photo editing software,  you’ll need to invert the image so your negatives will be positive (Lightroom users, see below).

How to invert images (make negative positive or vice versa) in Lightroom: in the develop module, change the default linear curve from this:
Lightroom linear tone curve.

to this:
Inverted tone curve in Lightroom.

And once you’ve inverted the curve for the first time, save that as a preset so you’ll be able to do it more quickly for future images.

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