Week 16: negatives

April theme: Check it out

I thought I wrote about this already, but can’t find it. Guess I only posted it on Twitter. I’m an experienced genealogist, 63 years old, been doing research almost since ancestors were invented. But I only recently learned how to scan negatives. See, you can teach old dogs?

And look what I found!

After my mom’s death few years ago, I inherited her stash of photos, along with a bunch of negatives. I mostly hold them up to my computer screen to see if they might have any image I’m interested in, and usually then discard them. If I have the photo already, it’s just much easier to scan the photos. And I have inherited literally thousands of photos, and do not need any more vacation landscapes, pictures of flowers, or snow ….

But I found some images of family members that I never saw before. So I asked my friend Google for the best way to scan negatives (without having to take them somewhere and pay lots of money and hope they didn’t lose them. And without having to download a special app or buy special equipment.) Through a mishmash of web instructions, and the help of my son, here is my method.

Put the negative on your scanner bed. Find the YouTube video of the 10 hour white screen (So your phone doesn’t turn off during scanning – which is where my son’s help came in. Who would have thought YouTube had a video of a white screen?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3pF2jkQ4vc Make sure you have the video turned the right way on your phone so it fills the whole screen, and lay your phone down carefully so it doesn’t flip directions.

Put your phone down over it. Leave the lid open. Scan (as a jpg).

Crop the image to just the photo. Open in a photo editor, and invert the colors. I use a version of Adobe Photo Editor, so my pathway is filter -> adjustments -> invert.

I have the formal, photographer photos from my parents’ wedding, but have never seen these candids before.

Sometimes on negatives, it’s a little tricky to figure out which side to use, and you may have to reverse the image. (In my program, it’s Image -> Rotate -> flip horizontal). In the above photo, I could tell it was oriented correctly because my mom’s hair is parted right.

Here’s an awesome photo of my grandfather in his truck. The steering wheel is on the wrong side. No, he wasn’t British. I scanned the image backwards and had to flip it. Also, the negative was larger than my phone. (My ipad mini might be better for this, but so far I’ve been too lazy – or overwhelmed by my to-do list – to try.) This was one of a group of negatives taken by my dad when he was in college, before he was married. So I was surprised when I enlarged the picture and found my mom’s dad! It must be from when my mom and dad were dating.

Honestly, it feels a little bit like magic.



  1. Marian Wood says:

    Great idea, especially the 10 hour white screen. Clever way to avoid losing the background while scanning!


  2. Barb LaFara says:

    Love this! I think it would work for scanning slides too! I will give that a try since I inherited hundreds of slides. Easier to deal with than your negatives, but I feel your pain. Thanks for sharing!


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