Photos from old Negatives :: Genealogy
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Photos from old Negatives

Journal by bcagle

Do you have a bunch of old (35mm) photo negatives that you have discovered in the course of your research? The cost to have those old negatives printed can mount up very quickly, as I'm sure anyone who has begun to have some printed, will attest. So, what is the alternative?

I discovered that with a relatively inexpensive scanner and photo editing program, you can make digital "prints" that you can save and share. While these are not of the quality of a professionally produced print, they allow you to decide which negatives are viable or desirable for reproduction.

Here is the process:
1.Place the negative on the scanner bed and cover with a clean sheet of white paper. I like to use a glossy cardstock as it seems to give a better 'read' of the images on the film.
2.Scan the film to your computer and open in your photo editor. A really good one for under $100 is Paint Shop Pro. It is easy to use and has all the features of most of the more expensive software.
3. Now you have the image you want to do a reverse. Basically you do a negative image of the negative, which gives you a dark positive. (This process depends on your software but is usually a one or two click operation)
You should save the negative before commiting the changes, just in case.
4. Lighten the photo by adjusting contrast and brightness until you have an image that you can easily recognize. Save it as a copy of the original file. I use a -b appended to the original filename.You can now print or post the image.

This process, while not a replacement for standard print, allows you to send a copy to others for identification, or share copies for fun and info. My aunt was thrilled to get some copies of her family that she had thought wer long lost, and offered to have real prints made, in addition to offering invaluable identificaiton of people in the photo.

I hope this gives some of you a chance to "see what you've got" without the added expense. After all, these days it is imperative that we put our money to our research, especially when on tight budgets.

Good luck.

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by bcagle Profile | Research | Contact | Subscribe | Block this user
on 2006-06-15 08:59:08

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by Scott_J on 2006-06-15 09:32:50

Great advice Barbara.

A little more costly solution, but still do it yourself, is that many scanners have a negative scanning attachment available. It shines a light from the top through the negative and scans it. You can get professional quality with this method.

(I've made this a "featured post" on the homepage.)

by bcagle on 2006-06-16 06:12:39

You are absolutely right, Scott. I would love to get one, but until I do, this works pretty well.
After all, I'm sure I'm not the only genealogist with a strict budget. (smiles).
I hope others will give it a try while they research the attachment option.

by stinkie49 on 2006-08-29 11:34:27

I would like to also add that in scanning one should use the dpi as high as 600 to get a real good image. You can always downsize to print.

by Cyndi on 2006-09-28 14:25:57

I'd like to add, if you have Microsft Office on your computer, Microsoft Photo Editor can do a Negative [a reverse positive] on anything you scan. I have used this successfully on old negatives taken from as far back as the early 1930's. While not as pristine as a standard print, does allow you to get some good images, and the quality isn't bad. I've been able to make prints and save digital files that would otherwise have been lost.
This would save you purchasing another Photo program. While I have Adobe, and even Kodak, I always revert to Micrsoft Photo Editor for these kinds of jobs. Simplest. Fastest. Still works great.

by Slygirl on 2007-03-19 17:06:05

I gave it a try and was amazed. It realy works.

by Farmer on 2007-06-22 23:56:44

I have lots of old negatives, I have been looking for a reader/solution for a few years with no success, I was ready to bin them.
Thanks for the tip,

by IRISHHOPPY1 on 2007-09-06 04:41:09

What a good idea I never even thought of the scanner, I have alot of negatives.

Thanks for the information truly grateful.


by Summers76 on 2007-09-06 09:31:24

Thats what I love about this site, friends can pass on lots of great handy hints....brilliant....blessings and thank you for sharing details. Summers

by bonzodog26 on 2008-06-22 11:28:18

The photo-editing program, Paint.NET v.3.31, is free to download on the internet. This excellent application allows you to 'Invert Colors' on the 'Adjustments' dropdown menu, which will convert your negatives to positive. It also has many other editing tools.

by clearymj on 2008-09-02 20:06:29

What if you have an even older negative, like pre-35mm, can you still use this method?

by sues on 2009-01-05 07:00:00

Thanks, I am going to try this. I have negatives from my parents' 1939 wedding that I want to develop and then give to my brother as a present. I have asked at professional photography shops and they just give me the run around.

by jeanie37 on 2009-10-17 06:57:46

I have just been sorting through my old negatives- 35mm & old black & whites and was thinking about getting copies of some, but know the cost is terrible and some places look at me as if I'm daft when I ask if they do copies!! I shall try the scanner & see what happens!

by bcagle on 2009-10-18 05:42:27

Thank you everyone for the great comments. Clearymj, yes scanning older negatives will usually work although the resulting image may not be suitable for printing. You should get a recognizable version that could be posted digitally, however.
Good Luck

by Loveless on 2009-10-30 12:20:12

I have a scanner that will allow me to scan old slides and negatives and allow me to print them out for myself or family members. It makes it great when you find old pictures/or negatives

by clovelly77 on 2010-01-28 17:13:41

Budget restrictions keep me at a slower pace, but on reading your artical on "photos from old negative" it has given me the feeling I can now try this new found knowage to keep up a little, with a renewed sence of acheivement.
Thank you with a smile

by vincentoliver on 2010-06-13 11:31:23

Scanning negatives (color and black and white) is relatively easy with a good flatbed scanner. You will need a flatbed scanner with a film scanning capability, this is often known as a transparency hood or film adaptor. Flatbed scanners are more versatile than a dedicated film scanner and also a lot cheaper. However, expect to pay $200 or more for a good quality scanner. Epson and Canon both have excellent models. I have published a DVD which gives guidance on film and print scanning and also some easy to follow techniques on digital restoration of damaged prints and film. The DVD runs for approx 2 hrs and 54 mins and is in the NTSC format (also playable on PAL). Full details can be found at We also respond to any readers with specific questions. We realise the importance of archiving family memories.

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