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What are negatives?

Updated: Nov 13, 2020



Negatives are the main way in which images can be generated either through scanning, using an enlarger to print them or through digital printing methods on inkjet printers. It is important to remember however that a print can be replaced and replicated many times if the negative is still in tact however, the negative itself is irreplaceable. It is the master that copies are made of and without it or with any damage including scratches, dust or fingerprints, if the photographic print is lost that image is lost or damaged forever. This is why having a digital back up is so important and why scanning in your negatives to be able to create this digital copy extends the longevity of the images from the negatives. Negatives can last for generations if handled well however knowing the best way to handle these can be tricky, read our blog post on how to look after your negatives to find out more.



Negatives are so called due to the reversal of light captured when processed. In simple terms, the dark areas are light and the light areas are dark. When we use film in our cameras, a negative image is then produced this is because the chemicals used in the photographic process are incredibly light sensitive in order to capture the image quickly. Darkening the film rather than bleaching it by the exposure to light makes it easier to develop and work with.



The types of negative film that we are most used to seeing is 35mm film which goes inside point and shoot disposable cameras and most common film cameras. They come in a metal canister in either 24 or 36 shots and is one of the easiest ways of getting into film photography. Film negatives also come in another two formats, medium format which is a strip of 60mm wide film that works in a similar way to 35mm behind the lens, and large format which comes in multiple sizes all the way up to 8 x 10 inches. This is handled as single sheets of one exposure at a time and is costly so must be handled with precision and care.




Negative images have not always been captured on film nor have they always been 'negative' early forms of film or cine-film produced colour positive images for use in theatres and early motion pictures. It was also used to create slide film which were positive to allow them to be projected onto a wall using a slide projector. Early negatives were also made on a thin sheet of glass making them very delicate, some of the very earliest negatives were made on paper.


Whichever way you decide to go ahead with film and negatives, it is an incredible process. Different chemical combinations effect the film differently that is how you can have different colours and tones in your final images. Each image is unique and it is a great way to explore your creativity. I urge you to try film if you haven't