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Color, positive picture (A) and negative (B), monochrome positive picture (C) and negative (D)

In photography, a negative may refer to three different things, although they are all related.


A negative

Film for 35 mm cameras comes in long narrow strips of chemical-coated plastic. As each image is captured by the camera onto the film strip, the film strip advances so that the next image is projected onto unexposed film. When the film is developed it is a long strip of small negative images. This strip is often cut into sections for easier handling. In larger cameras this piece of film may be as large as a full sheet of paper, or even larger, with a single image captured onto one piece. Each of these negative images may be referred to as a negative and the entire strip or set of images may be collectively referred to as negatives. These negative images are the master images, from which all other copies will be made, and thus they are treated with care.

Negative image

A positive image is a normal image. A negative image is a tonal inversion of a positive image, in which light areas appear dark and vice versa. A negative color image is additionally color reversed, with red areas appearing cyan, greens appearing magenta and blues appearing yellow.

Film negatives usually also have much less contrast than the final images. This is compensated by the higher contrast reproduction by photographic paper or by increasing the contrast when scanning and post processing the scanned images.

Negative film

Many photographic processes create negative images: the chemicals involved react when exposed to light, and during developing these exposed chemicals are retained and become opaque while the unexposed chemicals are washed away. However, when a negative image is created from a negative image (just like multiplying two negative numbers in mathematics) a positive image results (see Color print film, C-41 process). This makes most chemical based photography a two step process. These are called negative films and processes. Special films and development processes have been devised such that positive images can be created directly from film; these are called positive, or slide, or (perhaps confusingly) reversal film (see Transparency, Black and white reversal film, E-6 process).

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Simple English

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'Negatives' and 'Positives'; A - original image ('positive'), in color; B - 'negative' of image A; C - Image A in 'greyscale' (e.g. on black and white film), positive; D - 'negative of image C

Negative film is the name for a photographic film that will give images which have their colors inverted, after development. This inversion means that the complementary color is used. A second process (usually called making a print) is used to obtain any number of photos, which can also be in different sizes. The other kind of film is called reversal film, where development results in exactly one positive image (which does not use complementary colors).

Negative flims that use colors have multiple layers. Each layer is sensitive to a different wavelength of light.

Most amateur flims in use today are negative films.

The benefits of this kind of film is that it is very tolerant to exposure differences, without noticeable loss in quality. Another benefit is that getting the film developed is very easy.


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