Photo Negatives

From UA Libraries Digital Services Planning and Documentation

Photo negatives represent one of the only times we present something online in an altered state from how they appear in the archives: we invert them so that they look more like regular photographs.


Negatives can be captured two ways

  1. Using a flatbed scanner with a transparency unit (preferred)
  2. Using a lightbox mounted on a regular overhead capture station

Negatives are optimized by normal procedure in Camera Raw

  • If done with the camera/lightbox, you will have to make the TIFFs positive in Photoshop

Negatives may be very fragile

  • Especially for glass negatives -- if you think you'll damage a glass negative by capturing it, don't

Method 1: Flatbed Scanner with Backlight


  • Find the flatbed that has the thicker lid, the one with backlight built in, or change out a regular lid for a backlight lid
  • Connect the lid to the base of the scanner with the serial cable
  • Remove the white reflective plate that usually covers the inside of the lid
  • Make sure screw on the inside of the lid is turned to the unlock position
  • Make sure scanner is plugged in and connected by USB to the computer
  • Turn the scanner on


  • Open EpsonScan
  • Use normal capture procedures, except change these settings
    • Document Type: Film
    • Film Type: Positive Film
    • Uncheck box for 'Thumbnail' at bottom of panel
  • If it balks at trying to do a preview, change settings back to Reflective and do a preview like that; after doing a regular preview, it should work on the settings for negatives


  • Use Camera Raw to optimize as normal, but note:
    • The image should be in positive form now; if it is not, follow the directions for inverting it found in the section below
    • The image will already be in TIFF form, so make sure you export it to a different folder than the one it's currently in.
    • It's not really possible to white balance the image.

Method Two: Camera Plus Lightbox


  • Put the lightbox on one of the capture stations that can accommodate it, size wise (currently, the Canon EOS 5D in 214 and the Canon EOS 7D in 216), and plug it in
  • Turn the lightbox on
    • Follow the instructions on the front near the switches
    • Note: like the regular lights, these require a bit of warm-up time
  • Turn off the overhead lights and the regular capture lights.
  • Gather several pieces of black paper to use for masking


  • Place the negative on the lightbox and place black paper around the edges of the negative to mask it
  • Capture as normal


  • Optimize as normal in Bridge's Camera Raw interface (rotate, align, crop, white balance)
    • Note on White Balance
      • If at least one image of the batch you're doing shows through some of the lightbox (for example, because it's missing a corner or has a hole in it, use that exposed area to white balance that image, then copy that white balance over to the rest of the images in the set
      • If no images show any background, you'll need to take an additional image specifically for white balance purposes -- just pull back the masking paper to expose some of the background and use that for white balancing the set
  • Export as a TIFF file, as usual -- it will still be in negative form
  • Open TIFF file in Photoshop
    • Invert the image: choose Image --> Adjustments --> Invert
    • Save the image