You have loaded film into your camera, composed your image and pressed the shutter. You have now captured an image on your film. When that film is processed, it reverses the tones of the subject. In simple terms, the image is dark where the subject was light, and light where the subject was dark. That resulting image is known as a negative.

What do I do with them?

Negatives are normally then used to make prints by reversing the image a second time to restore the light and dark areas to their original tones. You can do this yourself by printing it onto photographic paper in a darkroom using an enlarger or by contact printing. This can also be done via a lab service (please note black & white and colour films are processed differently so make sure that your lab can process black & white films before handing your film over. We have collated a list of labs here).

Like digital files, a single negative image can be used to generate many final prints with widely differing appearances. Negatives are typically strips or sheets of transparent plastic film and will last for many generations if handled well. However, it is important to remember that a print can often be replaced, as long as the negative is available, but the negative itself is usually irreplaceable. Similarly, since many prints can be produced from a single negative, a flaw on a negative can affect many prints.

Digital photography has led to various hybrid developments. Many labs offer a scanning service to convert your negative into a digital file. There are also plenty of options for you to do this yourself. From a scanned image, you can share online, produce inkjet prints, or make silver gelatin prints using a digital enlarger.