Photo Negatives

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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.



  1. Negatives are captured using a lightbox mounted on a regular overhead capture station
  2. They are optimized by normal procedure in Camera Raw, then they are made positive in Photoshop

Capturing Negatives


  • 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


  • DO NOT take the negative out of the plastic sleeve UNLESS (1) the sleeve isn't transparent (you can't shoot through it) AND (2) you're sure it is not too fragile (it won't flake or break)
  • Place the negative on the lightbox and place black paper around the edges of the negative to mask it
  • Capture as normal
  • See the note below on white balance

Optimizing Negatives

Camera Raw

  • Optimize as normal in Bridge's Camera Raw interface (rotate, align, crop, white balance)
  • Export as a TIFF file, as usual

Adobe Photoshop

  • Open Photoshop
  • Within Photoshop, open a TIFF file
  • To invert the image, choose Image --> Adjustments --> Invert (this should be hotkey Ctrl + I)
  • To enhance the color, choose Image --> Auto Color
  • Other enhancements that might work just as well or better
    • Image --> Auto Tone
    • Image --> Auto Contrast
  • Save the image

Note on White Balance

  • The first batch of negatives we did on the lightbox had a corner cut out on every negative, and we were able to use that exposed area of the lightbox surface to get white balance for each item; this is what you should do if possible
  • If at least one image of the batch you're doing shows through some of the lightbox, 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
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