Negative Image

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Today’s Question: I’ve been wanting to create negatives from my digital images in order to make chemical-based prints. I have both Lightroom and Photoshop Elements. I can make a negative using Photoshop Elements, but I would like to stay in Lightroom. Is there a way in Lightroom to create a negative image?

Tim’s Quick Answer: It is possible to create a negative version of an image, but in this context it won’t be as simple as simply inverting the photo. Instead you’ll need to create a customized curve optimized for the final output conditions, which can require considerable trial-and-error to accomplish.

More Detail: The key to an inverted image is an inverted Tone Curve adjustment. To get started, make sure you are in the Point Curve mode rather than Parametric mode. If you see sliders for Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows below the curve display in the Tone Curve section of the right panel in the Develop module, click the Point Curve button at the bottom-right of the Tone Curve section to switch modes.

Next, drag the black end point at the bottom-left of the curve display all the way to the top-left corner, and drag the white end point at the top-right of the curve display all the way to the bottom-right corner. This will create a basic inverted image, but it isn’t necessarily an optimal result for your final output.

If you are working with a black and white image, the process will be relatively straightforward. You can simply choose the “Black & White” option under the Treatment header in the Basic section of adjustments, and you’ll have a grayscale inverted image at this point.

However, even with a black and white image the simple inversion won’t necessarily provide an optimal tonal distribution in the final print based on a negative created from the adjusted image. If you are working with a color image the process is even more complicated, with a need to adjust the individual color curves found on the Channel popup below the histogram display.

So, it is most certainly possible to create an inverted image in Lightroom, but creating an adjustment that will produce good results in a print based on such a negative image can be a bit of a challenge. That said, once you have identified a set of adjustments that produce a good print, you can save a preset based on those adjustments to provide a good starting point for other images you want to print in the same way.