How to Make Film Negatives Positive!

Experimental Project

I must just say that this exercise served no purpose for me other than to see if it worked. Lets face it, If you've got some old negatives that you want 'digitizing', it would be much simpler to just scan them. But... if you don't own a scanner and love to experiment, this may be a solution!

First off, I needed to capture an image of the negative. To do this I simply used a digital camera set to macro mode. I say simply, but there is of course more to it than that. There are certain criteria that need to be satisfied. 1: The negative has to be held at a set distance from the lense for consistency. 2: The negative has to be held completely flat so that it remains in focus over it's surface area. 3: The negative must be lit from behind with a pure light. This final point is important. During my first trials, I calibrated the white balance of my camera against a sheet of white paper illuminated from behind on which was placed the negative. The results were dreadful due to the texture of the paper being clearly visible. Moving the paper back so that it became out of focus was not a lot better. It just seemed to produce a poor quality of light that made the image appear grainy

After much experimenting I settled on the following approach. A section of a toothpaste box slid over the barrel of the lens!

Then, suspending a negative between two small sheets of glass (from cheap clip frames), I held this sandwich against the toothpaste box and then pointed the whole contraption up to natural daylight, not forgetting of course to first set the white balance to the sky. I should point out here that it's best to do this on a gloomy day when there's a sky full of white or grey clouds. It doesn't even have to be a bright day, just colourless! I expected there to be some camera shake, but as the whole thing is kind of joined together, it all shakes in unison so not a problem.

So this is what you will end up with

Open your favourite photo editor (I use PhotoFiltre) and convert it to positive

The first thing you'll notice is that it doesn't look very good. This is because a colour negative has an orangy brown tint which when reversed becomes a blue tint (remember the colour triangle from school), so this will need to be corrected. Now I'm sure Photoshop has a button you can press that will instantly do this, but as I don't have Photoshop, I went looking on the net for some software that will do the job and found ColorCastFX which carries out the task nicely. But before loading the image into ColorCastFX, it must be cropped first otherwise the software will give an inaccurate rendering of the image due to the dark borders of the negative etc. It's also a good idea at this point to straighten the image if it's not completely horizontal and correct any pin cushion effects caused by the closeness of the macro. The image (shown below) is now ready to be opened in ColorCastFX

ColorCastFX is very easy to use as there are only 2 settings, 'Fix' and 'Gamma'. The best way to set these is trial and error, though if you start with them at about midway you won't be far off

With a final bit of tweaking in PhotoFiltre, the finished image is shown below

It's even easier with B&W negatives as there's no need for colour correction!

The results can be variable, but overall I think it works fairly well for such a 'Heath Robinson' approach. I had great fun trying it out