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How To Safely Store Your Negatives, Slides And Old Photos

Posted by Schmidt Fine Art Gallery on

With Egypt on my mind I'd like to suggest a good way to store your old negatives, slides and unframed photos. Think of it as a box within a box, within a box. Just like the pyramids.

That's the concept that's, apparently, helped preserve many of the archaeological treasures within the pyramids from the ravages of time.

The Advantages Of Silica Gel Sachets

For relatively small quantities of images I'd suggest a series of sturdy, archival(i.e., acid-free) storage boxes. I have several dozen of these that are made from hard plastic and are about 7.5 cm (i.e., 3 inches) in depth.

They function much like a three ring binder, with the added protection of being sealed around the edges, and I've placed all my negatives and slides into archival sleeves that fit neatly into these boxes.

It's a pretty safe way to store my film-based images and allows me, when required, to relatively easily locate individual images.

An extra measure, which is a good idea to help protect your images from potential water damage, would be to place your archival storage boxes into one or more plastic airtight containers.

I’d include inside the containers several large sachets of silica gel to soak up any moisture in the air introduced when you seal the lid. When closing the lid it’s also a good idea to burp the container to expel as much air from the container as possible.


The spectacular facade of the Academie Nationale de Musique in Paris, France .

The spectacular facade of the Academie Nationale de Musique in Paris, France.

How To Reactivate Your Silica Gel

Three or four times a year, on days of relatively low humidity, you could re-open the container and replace the silica gel sachets with new ones or, alternatively, re-activate the old ones.

Simply place the sachets into a moderate oven for around five to ten minutes. The actual time will depend on the size of the sachets.

You'll know if the crystals need re-activating, and are unable to absorb more moisture, because their color will change (e.g., white to pink, yellow to blue). Their color, at the time of purchase, should indicate their peak condition. After re-activation the silica gel crystals should return to their original color.

Just be careful not to overheat the silica gel sachets as you'll damage the bags in which the silica gel crystals are stored and they'll fall about, either in the oven or while handling the sachets.


Boat Tour, Brugge, Belgium.



As I mentioned I have about thirty, hard plastic three-ring binders in which I store my negatives and slides within acid-free plastic sleeves. I guess there's about thirty sleeves per binder, on average.

They really are like boxes, as the plastic wraps all the way around on all sides and they shut tight.

While each binder provides pretty good protection for the images within, I don't have all my film-based, legacy images stored within a single controlled environment.

I've considered a safe into which a humidifier would be installed. But it would need to be a huge safe, which would be impractical and very expensive.

And let's not forget that negatives, slides and photos will all fade, over time.


A well-meaning monk feeding a deer at the Tiger Temple in Thailand .

A well-meaning monk feeding a deer at the Tiger Temple in Thailand.

How Best To Digitally Archive Your Photos

In the end the best way to preserve our film-based images is to have them professionally scanned and transferred to digital storage.

Of course it's also important to have the files backed up and stored in at least two locations: one at your home or office and one elsewhere.

Longer term we should all consider online/cloud storage, at least for our most important and best images.


Statues, Bruges, Belgium



A major project for me during 2019 will result in a significant amount of my best film-based images being professional scanned and backed up in three places, including the cloud.

Whether I scan them all or just the best and most important images is yet to be determined. If I undertake the process myself I'II probably scan images that I'm most likely to publish over coming years. If time and energy remains I may end up scanning more of the remaining images over time.

Once I have the scans it will be a medium-term project, probably up to several years, to process those scans and bring the images back to life.

With so many great experiences, and so much effort and expense invested in making those images, I think it’s essential that I bring them back to life and share them with you here. Stay tuned my friend.


Mother Teresa's Bedroom, Kolkata, India

What Happens After Your Images Are Scanned?

It will be interesting to see what I end up doing with the original film based images once this scanning project is completed. I've been slowly moving down the path towards a minimalist existance for sometime now.

It would be great to free up all that space that those film images are taking up in my wardrobe. But throwing them out won’t be easy.

One thing I know is that I need to take responsibility for this project. There's no way I could expect a family member to manage it for me.

If I want my images to live on I need to digitally archive my film based archive and make sure the best and most important images are put together (e.g., portfolios, eBooks, etc) in a way where they can be easily accessed by friends and family well into the future. If not, they'll be lost.

That's food for thought. For me and, maybe, for you as well.

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