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Home /Science / Why are Negative Photos called Negatives?

Why are Negative Photos called Negatives?

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By Mollee Shannon

You remember what it was like to open the back of your camera and insert the end of the film strip into the film progressor. When you picked up your photos from the processor in their paper envelope, you also got back strips of photo negatives.

Those negatives could be used to make as many copies of your photos as you wanted!
It seems like a pretty good thing to have photo negatives on hand, so why are they called “negatives”? The science behind photographs and negatives is interesting, complex, and quite frankly, genius!  


Some Light Exposure to the Science of Light Exposure 

When light passes through the lens of a camera, the chemicals in the film interact with the light to darken the film, capturing the shapes that will become your photograph on your photo negatives. What is dark on your photo negatives appears light on your photos and vice versa. 


Holding up photo negatives to the light reveals an image that is usually tinted orange or even brown. Scientists have even noticed something really weird! Humans have extreme difficulty recognizing faces in photo negatives. Weird? Well, this is because the color in the negative is actually opposite the color that will present itself in the photograph.


 On the color wheel, each color has an inverse color, and this inverse color is what appears in the negative! So if you can’t recognize Great Grandma’s face in that old box of family photo negatives, don’t worry! You’re in good, or should I say “negative” company? 


Since the light exposure and colors in the photo are quite literally the opposite in your photo negative, and early photography aficionados got to pick the lingo, this light and color inversion is described by calling the film strip images “negatives.” In fact, in the early days of photography, prints were often referred to as “positives”! Cool, right? 


Developing a Positive from a Negative 

The great thing about photo negatives is that when stored properly, they can be used to reproduce images over and over. So if you come across one of those old envelopes of photos and some of your precious positives are stuck together, no worries! You can always have new ones made from your negative strips.


Even better, you can now have your photo negatives transferred directly to a digital format! That way you never have to worry about your prints sticking together, or becoming overexposed to the elements. You probably never thought you’d hear someone say, “You never know when your negatives will come in handy!”


Southtree has the best photo negative processing equipment in the industry, so turn your negatives into digital positives! Could anything be more simple?

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