Click Here to Receive New Posts
in Your Inbox

This form does not yet contain any fields.

    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

    Now Available

    Follow Me
    « Obtaining a Vital Record for Los Angeles Genealogy | Main | 5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Virtual Conference »

    Why Save Old Negatives?

    Last night we had dinner with a friend who had just brought home boxes of old photos and negatives to sort and share with his family. He was wondering whether or not he should keep the negatives with the selected prints. It's a good questions. Now that most of us use digital photography, film negatives have become nearly obsolete.

    But before you throw out that old color or black and while film, it might be worth considering what you will be losing.

    Film negatives are to photography what HD is to television. Sharper, richer, better.

    I found this image a few years ago with a batch of negatives from my grandmother Arline. The detail from the scanned negative is impressive:

    U.S. Military Unit. Negative. Digital image. Privately held by Denise Levenick, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Pasadena, CA. 2008

    A new print made from a clean, well-preserved negative will produce a much sharper, better image than a print made from a digital scan of a photo. 

    The negative is the 1st generation version of the image seen by the eye. The print made from the negative is the 2nd generation. 

    When the print is scanned, this digital image becomes the 3rd generation. Print it out, and you will be holding the 4th generation.

    A better solution is to make a digital image directly from the negative.

    Digital technology can capture much more information than is visible on that 2nd generation print. A "digital negative" can be manipulated for restoration, enhancement, and enlargements. It can be stored in multiple places to insure preservation in the event of disaster or damage to the original. It can be owned by multiple people.

    How to Scan Film

    Negatives and slides contain more detail than most photographic prints, so you will need to scan film at a higher resolution to capture all that information. Many museums and institutions recommend film scanning at 2400 to 3200 dpi in TIFF format. This creates very large files, but will make very good prints.

    If you plan to enlarge the image to poster-size,  you will want to increase the resolution even further.

    Many flatbed scanners will accommodate film and slide scanning with the use of a special film adapter. Be aware that it can be time-consuming to scan film at high resolution. 

    It's Okay to Play Favorites

    Any photo scanning project can benefit from thoughtful selection. For most collections, it's not necessary to scan every single image. Choose the best of several, choose the representative photo that captures the most people, or choose highlights from a particular year or decade. 

    Skip over photos that are unfocused, cut off heads or limbs, or show endless frames of endless desert. 

    Preserving Negatives

    After you've scanned the negatives to make digital copies, preserve the film in specialty archival negative pocket pages in a negative binder, or vertically in special negative boxes. 

    Store film in a cool location, less than 68 degrees if possible. Keep out of the light. Avoid excess moisture and fluctuations in humidity. An cool interior closet is a good location.

    All modern film is Safety Film, manufactured from non-combustible materials. Older film may have a vinegar-like odor; this is a clue that the film is unstable and dangerous. Isolate the offender and take it to your local professional photo supply for advice. The best solution may be to digitize the film as soon as possible and destroy the original.


    PrintView Printer Friendly Version

    Reader Comments (6)

    Yes, you should absolutely save negatives. My grand-aunt kept a large collection of family photo albums during her life. When she died all the albums were divided amongst her family and disappeared to the four winds. When I started getting interested in my family history, most of these albums were inaccessible to me. But one of my aunts had in her possession a box that belonged to my grand-aunt that contained ALL her original negatives -- 50 years worth of family photographs. She didn't know what to do with them so I took them and began scanning. Having the original negatives has allowed me to begin to reassemble all the family albums from scratch.

    September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom

    I agree. You really do need to save the negatives...just in case. I inherited my paternal grandparents trunk of photos and there is not ONE negative in any of the photo envelopes. My grandfather would get his photos back from the developer, look at his pictures, and throw away the negatives. He never thought anyone else would want a copy of his pictures. Several color photos that he took in the late 1940's have changed color over the years due. I have been able to correct the color with my home scanner, but it would have been better for me with the actual negative.

    September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGinger James

    Tom and Ginger, you really bring up a few good points! Sometimes the negatives survive when the photos are scattered to farflung families. Lucky for both of you that the film is still around to be restored and shared.

    September 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterFamily Curator

    So you're saying that all my boxes of negatives - I can scan into a scanner- just like I do a photo and it'll come out like a photo?!!

    September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzan

    Yep, Suzan! You can scan negatives on your scanner and get an image that's even better than if you used a photo! You will need to use a negative carrier so that the film is held above the glass rather than lying directly on the flatbed. My Epson scanner came with a set of handy plastic film carriers. You will also need to increase the scanning resolution, but the efforts are worth every minute! good luck.

    September 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterFamily Curator

    Thank you Denise for that information!
    Lordie- The scanning I have ahead of me now!!

    September 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzan

    PostPost a New Comment

    Enter your information below to add a new comment.
    Author Email (optional):
    Author URL (optional):
    Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>
    Find us on Google+