Vintage negatives

I got a box of old negatives from my mother in law, from just looking a them against a light source it was clear there were many with people, some from a birthday party and some with objects that would make them easy to date. From the cars in some of the negatives I guess these were from the early to mid 1900s.

Woman sitting on old car, early 1900s
Cars make for great objects to date a photo


I scanned some of the negatives a while ago but did not document the process or keep track of the ones I had scanned. This time I was determined to document the process and mark the negatives so it would be easy to match the photos with the negatives.

The negatives were all individually stored in paper envelopes about 8cmx10cm in size. The negatives had varying sizes, I suspect from different cameras. From the number of multiple exposure negatives it’s clear these cameras were a bit simpler than the modern day ones.

Unintended (I suspect) multiple exposure

I set up my camera pointing down at an LED light table so one size of the negatives would fill most of the frame, then put the negatives in the right spot one by one and clicked the button. While the picture was being taken with a two second delay to get rid of camera shake, I wrote the number of the image on the negative envelope for easy identification later. To get the best possible picture I made sure to put the emulsion side up. This process took a few hours.

My process for scanning the negatives

Some of the negatives peaked my interest, but I’d had to wait to see what they really were once I had them loaded onto my computer. Google image search was helpful in identifying some as been taken during the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933.

Digital processing

I don’t have any special software for processing ‘scanned’ negatives so I just used the Tone Curve in Lightroom to flip the images from negative to positive. This also gave me a chance to adjust the tonal range of the images by bringing in the black and white points.

Tone Curve for flipping image from negative to positive and adjusting tonal range.

As was the case with the example above a lot of the negatives did not fill the whole range, but after an adjustment like above they would still come out fine.

All the other Basic adjustments worked a bit counter intuitive due to this tone flip but with a bit of trial and error I was able to get some decent results.


Since I did have the dark room set up with chemicals ready to print, I tried to make some hard copies. And to my surprise it was pretty easy to get good results.

Dark room setup for bigger than 5″x7″ prints
Washing tray and drying rack

This is on unknown paper (probably Ilford Multigrade) I got when I bought my enlarger, developed in Ilford Multigrade paper developer.

Print from a 70 year old negative

Yeah, the focus on the old camera also sometimes seemed to be a problem.

All in all a worthwhile and successful project and made me wonder if something similar can happen with my RAW files decades from now.

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