A Smartphone Trick for Viewing Negatives

We allow researchers to use their smartphone cameras to take study images of material during their visits in our Special Collections Reading Room. Many of our library visitors benefit from this opportunity to snap photos to aid them in their research.

The trusty smartphone has a handy trick in its settings features that can also help researchers to view negative film in positive colors. We tried it out and were quite pleased with the results.


By enabling “Color Inversion”, “Invert Colors,” or “Negative Colors” under your phone’s “Accessibility” setting, the camera turns into a viewer that allows photographic negatives to be viewed as positives. The path to navigate to the color inversion setting on your phone will vary based the phone’s operating system (iOS or Android).

We were having so much fun experimenting that we wanted to delve into our collections to test it out some more.

These are negatives of Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House No. 22 (1960) from the Julius Shulman Photography Archive.


And here is the positive with the color inversion setting “On.”



The next time you are in the Reading Room and need to take a look at a negative, hopefully you’ll give it a try. If you can’t wait until your next appointment to try it out, you can Google “negative film” and then click on “Images” and hold up your phone to the computer screen.

If you use any other handy smartphone tricks while researching in the archive, please share it with us in the comments!

-Sarah Sherman, Reference Librarian

6 thoughts on “A Smartphone Trick for Viewing Negatives”

  1. With an iPad it is easy to obtain an enlarged view of an object as long as it is about one fist’s distance away so that the device can focus. The zoom feature can give considerable magnification. Holding the iPad steady enough can take some ingenuity, but snapping a photo permits studying the image at leisure. One can immediately enhance contrast and perhaps spot details that one would miss with the naked eye.

      1. One more tip. Turn your iPad into a white screen with an app like ‘Lightbox’, place the negatives on the screen, then view them with your iPhone using Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Classic Invert. This path will be different on different devices.

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