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Photography Question 
Donna Dunbar
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/6/2003

OLd Negative processing

We recently have been cleaning out some very old things from my fathers possessions amoung them were several very old negatives and even a few tin types. I would love to have these copied and or printed does anyone know of a great place that might specialize in restorations or old film printing? As these are precious antiques I would hate to lose.I might be able to scan the tintypes and correct them myself but the negatives are a rather large format they look to be about 4x6.

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7/3/2007 12:18:53 PM

Alan N. Marcus   Hi Donna,
The “tintype” or “ferrotype” was produced in abundance until about 1880. After that, most prints were made on paper. The usual size was 2 1/4 inches by 3 1/4 inches. The image is actually a negative affixed to a black metal plate. The black undercoat causes the image to appear as a positive in good light. Examining them at an angle in subdued light allows you to see that the image is truly negative. Additionally the image is reversed like a mirror left to right. Thus rings and parts of the hair etc. appear on the wrong side. You can copy these ferrotypes with your digital camera. Just set them on the floor and mount the camera on a stand or tripod light evenly and copy away.

As to the large format negatives, they are likely 4 x 5 inch sheet film produced on a studio or press camera. Likely they are in good shape. Poor shape would mean they are scratched or faded or stained. If stained, you will see blotchy spots of brown or sepia tone. If uniform sepia or brown, they are likely toned and that’s a good thing. Properly toned negatives are archival and likely are not damaged. However, old film can be brittle and old film can be in poor shape if stored in damp conditions. Since the image layer is gelatin, damp subjects the negatives to attack by mold or mildew.

You can scan 4 x5 negatives using a specialized flatbed scanner. These models replace the top platen with a platen containing a florescent lamp. However, you should try using an ordinary scanner. Place the negative directly on the glass of the flatbed then cover the negative with a piece of glossy inkjet paper, shiny side down. The scan will be likely be substandard but you will get an image.

You can skip the scanner and use your digital to make a copy of any negative. To copy, procure a piece of 10 x 10 inch flat milk glass from a local glass shop. Elevate the milk glass off the floor, use two stacks of books and support the glass between them like a bridge. Under the milk glass, place one or two small florescent fixtures. These are common under-counter fixtures from the hardware store. The idea is to make the light as even as possible. You can also overlay the florescent lamps with opal or frosted plastic. This frosted plastic is sold at a hardware store in the lighting fixture department. The idea is to place the negative on clean milk glass illuminated with diffused light from below. With your camera in the close-up mode, mounted on a stand or tripod, copy each negative creating a digital file. Most all imaging software allows you to render a positive image into a negative or visa versa. Thus you can create a positive image.

Otherwise, your town will likely have a photo lab or a pro photographer that continues to output black and white prints. Look in the phone book yellow pages for a custom black and white photofinisher.

Best of luck,
Alan Marcus

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7/3/2007 10:32:58 PM

Donna Dunbar
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/6/2003
  Thank You somuch for your great advise you've given me some really great ideas, lucky forme my father kept the negatives in really great condition and I think only one that my grandmother had has a small amount of damage.Since it really scares me to send these through any lab I will try your suggestions and do these at home.
Thanks Again, Donna

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7/4/2007 7:18:01 AM

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