Cheering Up Film Negatives

I am the Queen of Failed Puns.

Fiancé and I bought a film camera second-hand awhile ago, because you know, unlimited instant-playback smartphone photography was getting boring.

It was SO FUN.

Pentax PC35 AF-M
Pentax PC35 AF-M

It was an odd blend of mystery and control. We were free to point and attempt to focus the camera on what we wanted, but once the shutter was released, there was no way of knowing how the photo turned out. Film was precious, so it usually took us a long time to get through all 24 shots (sometimes when we’re lucky, the camera allowed 2 bonus(!) shots). We’d reunite with our memories a year later, only to find out we had focused on the door and not the clever girl drinking from the film canister.

Focused incorrectly on background door instead of foreground.
I suppose I’d sip out of shot glasses too.

Because I am also the Queen of Arbitrary Rules, I decided that any photo we took on film must have at least one of us in the frame. Doesn’t matter HOW much of us was in it.

Cheering with Tercel at McMaster University.
End of the rooooad!! \o/

While using a film camera was exhilarating, there were some pretty damning negatives (sometimes I can be the Queen of Awesome Puns).

  • Film was expensive. We had to pay once for the film, and then again for the photos to be developed. Twice! We’re paying twice! We also had to drive pretty far to the closest place that could even develop the film.
  • There’s a risk of losing memories. If you don’t install the new roll of film correctly, you might get a completely blank roll of film back. We learned this the hard way.
  •  Although it might just be the fault of the shop we go to, but they chose which photos were worth printing. I am unfortunately a believer that all photos are worth keeping, unless it was all thumb.

Lately I’ve been going through all the photos Fiancé and I took as a collective since we first started dating (from 2009 until present day), and printing + filing them away into photo albums. I happened upon the photos we printed from our film camera, and noticed to the horror of my Photo-Hoarding Soul that someone decided I didn’t want to keep these large fistful of photos.

Thankfully, Google saves lives.

Equipped with the new knowledge I obtained from Robert’s Productions as well as my new lightbox, I set out trying to restore my lost photos.

Capturing Your Negatives

Don’t bother scanning them. I tried this with the lid closed and opened, and it doesn’t work. No amount of Photoshopping helped.

You’ll need light shining through your negative, but a plain background. Hence lightbox. I love my lightbox.

Lightbox setup to capture film negatives.
Lightbox setup to capture film negatives.

As you know I am very new to photography, so I don’t have any professional photography tools (I don’t even have a tripod yet). I mounted the film between two pieces of glass from a two-photo photo frame, and kept them all together using binder clips. The clips had a second, super-necessary purpose of keeping the film upright.

I don’t have macro lenses, so you’ll have to take a bunch of test shots with various settings until your negatives come out clearly. For me:

  • Shot from further away, but zoomed in. This prevented a reflection of my camera on the glass
  • low ISO (I used 800. At first I used 6400 in an attempt to capture as much detail as possible, but the graininess made it difficult to process in Photoshop)


  1. Load your photo into Photoshop, then crop and rotate it until you are content.
  2. With your photo layer selected, click on (1) “Create new fill or adjustment layer”, and then (2) “Invert“. This was my le gasp moment because the photos I were dealing with today had negatives that were hard to make sense of in my head. Inverting them immediately brought back memories. : ]

    I learned all this in 10 min, so you can too!
  3. Then, create another adjustment layer (1) and this time go to (3) “Levels…“. Choose the Red channel (4), then drag around the handles (5) until you are happy. Repeat with the Green and Blue channels (4).
    • For me, I found it useful to first drag in the black and white handles to the borders of the histogram… mountain(?) for each channel (see image below).
    • Then fiddle with the gray handles until you are satisfied with the colours. I found the more you move it to the left, the brighter the photo.

    Adjusting levels.
    Drag in the black and white handles to the borders of the histogram before you move around the gray handle.
  4. Finally go back into (1) “Create new fill or adjustment layer” and mess around with Saturation, Curves, etc until you are satisfied with the result. : )

    Restored lost negative!
    Restored. Someone at some point decided that this photo was trash. They clearly don’t know how to appreciate blind selfies and cat rumps.

How many lost negatives do you have? Do you have any other strategies to restoring them?

Here’re some samples of what I managed to salvage! Imma be rushing off to print a bunch of blurry but treasured photos at Costco now!

Examples of restored lost film negatives.
I was holding a “pest repellent”. It was the most ridiculous, hilarious thing I’ve ever impulse-bought. We returned it the next day because we figured we’d get noise complaints within 1 hour of using it.





Step-by-step instructions on recovering photos from film negatives.



4 thoughts on “Cheering Up Film Negatives

      1. Well even original photos wouldn’t have been that good for poster size prints. But certainly great to rescue old snapshots. I’ve got a whole bunch of negatives myself! How we ever survived with film… No idea!

        Liked by 1 person

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