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How To Make Digital Negatives

Updated: Aug 6, 2023

Erin and Jake Photography will walk you through the step by step process on how to make digital negatives.

diagram of how to make digital negatives

You will need:

A Digital Image Transparency Paper Photoshop Inkjet Printer

As big fans of alternative process photography, we are working on some creative cyanotype original prints for the Erin and Jake Fine Art Gallery. To start this cyanotype process, we will need to make digital negatives. Here is a step by step process on how to make digital negatives in Photoshop.

1. Find An Image , Edit, Re-size

The first thing you need to do is find the image you want to work with. Don't be afraid to get creative here! You can also design something in Photoshop. It doesn't necessarily have to be a photography image. For the best quality, your images should be 300dpi.

Choose an image with clear contrast and defined shapes to start with. This will give you a good idea of how your negative will translate to print in the shadows and highlights. This is the time you will want to edit your image with the thought of your final negative in mind. Keep in mind the size of your negative will the same size as your final print. Now would be the time to also re-size your image for your final negative and completed print.

water reflection in a pool

For example: I will be using the image above of a photograph we took of a pool reflection. At first glance, I am a little concerned that there isn't enough contrast between shadows and highlights to make a quality cyanotype print. My end goal for my cyanotype project is to develop strong highlights and deep blue shadows so I can attempt the full spectrum of blue tones. I am going to add a levels layer (not my traditional curves layer) to achieve a little punch and dip in the right places. I am then creating a collage from a series of nine 8"x10"'s, so I will need to size each image to 8"x10". (Curves provides more customized contrast control than Levels. Levels provides enhancement of contrast only by setting highlight and shadow points. Curves allows you to adjust contrast by setting and positioning control points along the entire tonal range.)

2. Convert To Grayscale

In Photoshop, convert your image to greyscale. You will need to convert it to grayscale to make your negative.

convert to grayscale in photoshop

3. Flip

Next up, flip your image horizontally (from left to right). This is because the negative will be placed print side down on the paper. Face down will give you the best results.

Steps on how to make a digital negative

4. Invert Your Image

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Invert

Inverting an image in photoshop for digital negatives

The invert settings window will pop up. Under "Color" Select Orange and hit okay.

We select Orange for UV density. Some prefer other colors. Green is one of the best UV blocking colors for multiple alternative process photography techniques, but I have found orange to be my favorite tones for Cyanotype. Feel free to experiment in this step!

Digital negatives in photoshop

Your image should now look like this:

Digital negative in photoshop

5. Print Your Negative!

Place a sheet of transparency in your inkjet printer and send your adjusted image to print.

Experiment tip!: Sometimes it's fun to double expose two negatives on top of each other. Or for higher contrast cyanotypes, cleaner lines and sharp whites, you can double stack the same negative.

You are done and ready to use your negative after the ink fully dries!

Helpful Cyanotype tips! - Place the negative face down on your paper to make your print. Closer contact, cleaner image. It will also be the correct orientation.

- Keep it flat. Lay a piece of glass over your digital negative. It will give you a sharper image. I secure the glass to a board with butterfly clips.

- Experiment and have fun! Different types of image will work better than others, this will be down to experimentation. You can also experiment with exposure times, the number of negatives used, the material you are printing on, wet vs dry cyanotype, etc. You make the rules to your art. Push the boundaries.

- Exposure times. Your results will also vary depending on the brightness of the sun.I find Noon to 3:00pm to be the most ideal. But I experiment often with later evening prints, often, in summer months in Southern California.

Los Angeles Photographers Erin and Jake Photography
Erin Delsigne and Jake Roach

Happy Creating!

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