Negative (photography)

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Color positive picture (A) and negative (B), monochrome positive picture (C) and negative (D) Pozytyw i negatyw.jpg
Color positive picture (A) and negative (B), monochrome positive picture (C) and negative (D)

In photography, a negative is an image, usually on a strip or sheet of transparent plastic film, in which the lightest areas of the photographed subject appear darkest and the darkest areas appear lightest. This reversed order occurs because the extremely light-sensitive chemicals a camera film must use to capture an image quickly enough for ordinary picture-taking are darkened, rather than bleached, by exposure to light and subsequent photographic processing.


In the case of color negatives, the colors are also reversed into their respective complementary colors. Typical color negatives have an overall dull orange tint due to an automatic color-masking feature that ultimately results in improved color reproduction.

Negatives are normally used to make positive prints on photographic paper by projecting the negative onto the paper with a photographic enlarger or making a contact print. The paper is also darkened in proportion to its exposure to light, so a second reversal results which restores light and dark to their normal order.

Negatives were once commonly made on a thin sheet of glass rather than a plastic film, and some of the earliest negatives were made on paper.

It is incorrect to call an image a negative solely because it is on a transparent material. Transparent prints can be made by printing a negative onto special positive film, as is done to make traditional motion picture film prints for use in theaters. Some films used in cameras are designed to be developed by reversal processing, which produces the final positive, instead of a negative, on the original film. Positives on film or glass are known as transparencies or diapositives, and if mounted in small frames designed for use in a slide projector or magnifying viewer they are commonly called slides.


The first creation of a negative photograph was done by the French scientist Nicephore Niepce in 1826. The photograph, titled View from the Window at Le Gras is an image of parts of the buildings of Niepce's estate and the surrounding landscape. The development of photographic film and monochrome photography developed rapidly in the following decades. [1]

Negative image

Picture showing a dust storm during the Dust Bowl period, Texas Panhandle, TX Dust bowl, Texas Panhandle, TX fsa.8b27276 edit.jpg
Picture showing a dust storm during the Dust Bowl period, Texas Panhandle, TX
A negative of the previous image. Curiously, it appears to be the original photo. Dust bowl, Texas Panhandle, TX fsa.8b27276 negative.jpg
A negative of the previous image. Curiously, it appears to be the original photo.
Positive colorNegative color

A positive image is a normal image. A negative image is a total inversion, in which light areas appear dark and vice versa. A negative color image is additionally color-reversed, [2] with red areas appearing cyan, greens appearing magenta, and blues appearing yellow, and vice versa.

Film negatives usually have less contrast, but a wider dynamic range, than the final printed positive images. The contrast typically increases when they are printed onto photographic paper. When negative film images are brought into the digital realm, their contrast may be adjusted at the time of scanning or, more usually, during subsequent post-processing.

Negative film

A strip of four color negatives on 35 mm film Filmstrip.jpg
A strip of four color negatives on 35 mm film

Film for cameras that use the 35 mm still format is sold as a long strip of emulsion-coated and perforated plastic spooled in a light-tight cassette. Before each exposure, a mechanism inside the camera is used to pull an unexposed area of the strip out of the cassette and into position behind the camera lens. When all exposures have been made the strip is rewound into the cassette. After the film is chemically developed, the strip shows a series of small negative images. It is usually then cut into sections for easier handling. Medium format cameras use 120 film, which yields a strip of negatives 60 mm wide, and large format cameras capture each image on a single sheet of film which may be as large as 20 x 25 cm (8 x 10 inches) or even larger. Each of these photographed images may be referred to as a negative and an entire strip or set of images may be collectively referred to as "the negatives". They are the master images, from which all positive prints will derive, so they are handled and stored with special care.

Many photographic processes create negative images: the chemicals involved react when exposed to light, so that during development they produce deposits of microscopic dark silver particles or colored dyes in proportion to the amount of exposure. However, when a negative image is created from a negative image (just like multiplying two negative numbers in mathematics) a positive image results. This makes most chemical-based photography a two-step process, which uses negative film and ordinary processing. Special films and development processes have been devised so that positive images can be created directly on the film; these are called positive, or slide, or (perhaps confusingly) reversal films and reversal processing.

Despite the market's evolution away from film, there is still a desire and market for products which allow fine art photographers to produce negatives from digital images for their use in alternative processes such as cyanotypes, gum bichromate, platinum prints, and many others. [3]

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Film stock Medium used for recording motion pictures

Film stock is an analog medium that is used for recording motion pictures or animation. It is recorded on by a movie camera, developed, edited, and projected onto a screen using a movie projector. It is a strip or sheet of transparent plastic film base coated on one side with a gelatin emulsion containing microscopically small light-sensitive silver halide crystals. The sizes and other characteristics of the crystals determine the sensitivity, contrast and resolution of the film. The emulsion will gradually darken if left exposed to light, but the process is too slow and incomplete to be of any practical use. Instead, a very short exposure to the image formed by a camera lens is used to produce only a very slight chemical change, proportional to the amount of light absorbed by each crystal. This creates an invisible latent image in the emulsion, which can be chemically developed into a visible photograph. In addition to visible light, all films are sensitive to X-rays and high-energy particles. Most are at least slightly sensitive to invisible ultraviolet (UV) light. Some special-purpose films are sensitive into the infrared (IR) region of the spectrum.

Photography Art, science and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation

Photography is the art, application, and practice of creating durable images by recording light, either electronically by means of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film. It is employed in many fields of science, manufacturing, and business, as well as its more direct uses for art, film and video production, recreational purposes, hobby, and mass communication.

Photograph Image created by light falling on a light-sensitive surface

A photograph is an image created by light falling on a photosensitive surface, usually photographic film or an electronic image sensor, such as a CCD or a CMOS chip. Most photographs are created using a camera, which uses a lens to focus the scene's visible wavelengths of light into a reproduction of what the human eye would see. The process and practice of creating such images is called photography.

The following list comprises significant milestones in the development of photography technology.


Calotype or talbotype is an early photographic process introduced in 1841 by William Henry Fox Talbot, using paper coated with silver iodide. The term calotype comes from the Greek καλός (kalos), "beautiful", and τύπος (tupos), "impression".

110 film

110 is a cartridge-based film format used in still photography. It was introduced by Kodak in 1972. 110 is essentially a miniaturized version of Kodak's earlier 126 film format. Each frame is 13 mm × 17 mm, with one registration hole. Cartridges with 12, 20, or 24 frames are available on-line. Production variations sometimes have allowed for an additional image.

Photographic paper Light-sensitive paper used to make photographic prints

Photographic paper is a paper coated with a light-sensitive chemical formula, like photographic film, used for making photographic prints. When photographic paper is exposed to light, it captures a latent image that is then developed to form a visible image; with most papers the image density from exposure can be sufficient to not require further development, aside from fixing and clearing, though latent exposure is also usually present. The light-sensitive layer of the paper is called the emulsion. The most common chemistry was based on Silver halide but other alternatives have also been used.

Louis Daguerre

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, better known as Louis Daguerre, was a French artist and photographer, recognized for his invention of the daguerreotype process of photography. He became known as one of the fathers of photography. Though he is most famous for his contributions to photography, he was also an accomplished painter and a developer of the diorama theatre.

Reversal film

In photography, reversal film or slide film is a type of photographic film that produces a positive image on a transparent base. Instead of negatives and prints, reversal film is processed to produce transparencies or diapositives. Reversal film is produced in various sizes, from 35 mm to roll film to 8×10 inch sheet film.


A darkroom is used to process photographic film, to make prints and to carry out other associated tasks. It is a room that can be made completely dark to allow the processing of the light-sensitive photographic materials, including film and photographic paper. Various equipment is used in the darkroom, including an enlarger, baths containing chemicals, and running water.

Color photography Photography that uses media capable of representing colors

Color photography is photography that uses media capable of capturing and reproducing colors. By contrast, black-and-white (monochrome) photography records only a single channel of luminance (brightness) and uses media capable only of showing shades of gray.

Contact print

A contact print is a photographic image produced from film; sometimes from a film negative, and sometimes from a film positive or paper negative. In a darkroom an exposed and developed piece of film or photographic paper is placed emulsion side down, in contact with a piece of photographic paper, light is briefly shone through the negative or paper and then the paper is developed to reveal the final print.

Photographic printing is the process of producing a final image on paper for viewing, using chemically sensitized paper. The paper is exposed to a photographic negative, a positive transparency , or a digital image file projected using an enlarger or digital exposure unit such as a LightJet printer. Alternatively, the negative or transparency may be placed atop the paper and directly exposed, creating a contact print. Digital photographs are commonly printed on plain paper, for example by a color printer, but this is not considered "photographic printing".

History of photography The invention and development of the camera and the creation of permanent images

The history of photography began in remote antiquity with the discovery of two critical principles: camera obscura image projection and the observation that some substances are visibly altered by exposure to light. There are no artifacts or descriptions that indicate any attempt to capture images with light sensitive materials prior to the 18th century.

The conservation and restoration of photographs is the study of the physical care and treatment of photographic materials. It covers both efforts undertaken by photograph conservators, librarians, archivists, and museum curators who manage photograph collections at a variety of cultural heritage institutions, as well as steps taken to preserve collections of personal and family photographs. It is an umbrella term that includes both preventative preservation activities such as environmental control and conservation techniques that involve treating individual items. Both preservation and conservation require an in-depth understanding of how photographs are made, and the causes and prevention of deterioration. Conservator-restorers use this knowledge to treat photographic materials, stabilizing them from further deterioration, and sometimes restoring them for aesthetic purposes.

A chromogenic print, also known as a C-print or C-type print, a silver halide print, or a dye coupler print, is a photographic print made from a color negative, transparency or digital image, and developed using a chromogenic process. They are composed of three layers of gelatin, each containing an emulsion of silver halide, which is used as a light-sensitive material, and a different dye coupler of subtractive color which together, when developed, form a full-color image.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to photography:

Analog photography Non-digital photography that uses film or chemical emulsions

Analog photography, also known as film photography, is a catch-all term for photography that uses chemical processes to capture an image, typically on paper, film or a hard plate. These analog processes were the only methods available to photographers for more than a century prior to the invention of digital photography, which uses electronic sensors to record images to digital media.

Dye transfer is a continuous-tone color photographic printing process. It was used to print Technicolor films, as well as to produce paper colour prints used in advertising, or large transparencies for display.

Photographic film Film used by film (analog) cameras

Photographic film is a strip or sheet of transparent film base coated on one side with a gelatin emulsion containing microscopically small light-sensitive silver halide crystals. The sizes and other characteristics of the crystals determine the sensitivity, contrast, and resolution of the film.


  1. Sommerfield, Katy. "History of Negative Photography". Aperture:A Kodak Digitizing Blog. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  2. Padova, Ted; Murdock, Kelly L. (11 February 2008). Adobe Creative Suite 3 Bible. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN   978-0470130674 . Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  3. "HP Introduces Large Format Photo Negative Application for Fine-art Quality Professional Photo Edition". Bespoke News Archive. 6 July 2010. Retrieved 2 November 2017.