How to Digitize Old Negatives for Next to Nothing

When we moved the side table, from our basement to our bedroom, in the $100 Room Challenge, we found some old negatives in one of the drawers. Since this end table came from my parents house, both of whom are now deceased, I was curious about how I might digitize old negatives like these, so we could see what was on them.

DIY Digitize Old Negatives

Learn how to digitize old negatives for free.

Who knows what kind of gems you might find, right?

Old 35 mm negative strips

The date on the sleeve said 1978 and one of the pics showed a glimpse of a sign that said Waiting for The Monorail. I was pretty sure that we went to Disney World in the late sevenites, so I was pretty excited to see pictures of my family from that trip.

Finding a Light Source

You might be surprised at how many videos and techniques are on the web showing you how to digitize old negatives. The basic process is pretty easy, however there are many contraptions you can build and detailed options too.

First you need to light the negatives from behind. I tried two methods.

Digitizing negatives with iphone light and blocks

First I used the flashlight from my iphone and placed the negative in a piece of paper above it using a couple of wood blocks.

Negative flat on lit iphone.

The other method was placing the negative strip directly on top of the iphone. Here you need to go into safari and get a white background. Also, make sure the brightness setting on the phone is set to the highest level. Then take a photo of the lit negative. I used my DSLR camera but you can also use another iphone to take the picture. You could also use an ipad to light the negative, and take a photo of the negative with your iphone.

Rick & Denise with iphone and blocks.

The first method using the phone flashlight and blocks did not work as well and left a grainy texture.

Denise and Rick Wedding picture from a negative.

The second method of laying the negative directly on the phone worked much better.

Editing the Photo of the Negative

Once you take a picture of the negative you need to upload it to the computer. Then  you can use photo editing software to turn the negative into a positive. I use Adobe Lightroom, however, you can use other free photo editing software such as picmonkey, fotor, or pixlr.

 

Editing software for converting negatives.The Key Editing Tool

Look for the tool called Curves or Tone Curve. If you have the option called Invert just choose that and your negative will turn positive. If not, then drag the lower left point of the line all the way to the top, followed by dragging the upper right point, dragged to the bottom right. You can see in the graphic above the first two have a diagonal line going uphill. That’s what they all look like at the beginning. You need to drag the points to make the tool look like the last image. This will invert the image, turning it from negative to positive. 

Gabby after converted and edited

After that you can play with the other settings to get the best possible picture. This set of photos had a cool tone, so I warmed them up with the color tool.

If you don’t have access to Lightroom or Photoshop, you can use Fotor.com or Pixlr.com. Both are free, including the curve tool. Picmonkey is another great option, but their curve tool is part of the paid option, but they do have a free trial option too.

Denise and Rick wedding reception in black and white

Editing software also lets you convert pictures to black and white, and have other interesting effects using filters.

Gabby in black and white

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. These negatives were obviously not from Disney World. The Monorail photo was from my brother’s trip to Seattle, and there were only a few of those. The other pictures were taken at my sister’s wedding reception in 2002. That’s her and her husband at the head table in the photo above, and the cute little girl is my niece Gabby.

The 1978 date was simply a copyright date from the photo processing company. Still, it was fun learning how to digitize old negatives, and now I know just what to do.

 

About Patti Estep

Patti is the creator of Garden Matter, a home and garden blog filled with projects to inspire your creative side. She loves crafting, gardening, decorating and entertaining at her home in Pennsylvania. When she is not working on a project at home or searching for treasures at nurseries and thrift stores with her girlfriends, you’ll probably find her with family and friends, at a restaurant, or home party enjoying new and different food adventures.

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Comments

  1. Thanks Patti, I learn something from you everyday what a great idea.

  2. This is neat; I didn’t realize this was possible. I still have my wedding negatives and I think many others. Wasn’t sure what to do with them so I just boxed them up with everything else. This would be a fun project later in life as I think I’m going to take my favorites photos and put them into one of those digital frames. I never sit down to look through photos anymore unless I’m packing or unpacking. Great tutorial!

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    • Hi Carole,

      Definitely try it with your wedding pics. That would be fabulous. I have one framed photo of us from our wedding day. I have not idea where the others are. Probably in those boxes we never unpacked from our last move 12 years ago. Sheesh!
      Have a good one,
      Patti

  3. How cool! I will have to try because I have a ton of negatives from my dad.

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