Digital photography has been popular for at least 10 years now, pretty much relegating film cameras to dinosaur status among the masses. So what about the end product of all those years of film photography, those hundreds or perhaps thousands of 4 x 6-inch prints and 35 millimeter slides?
For this outdoors photographer, some of these goods are stored in flimsy photo albums and gathering dust on a shelf, and the considerable remainder are packed in cardboard fruit boxes and stored willy-nilly around the house, and sadly, even out in the barn.
A lot of outdoors folks are in this same situation of neglect, allowing a wealth of precious memories to go pretty much unseen and therefore unappreciated, or worse, to degrade or be ruined.
“Two things destroy photos fast. One is light and the other is moisture, which leads to mold and mildew,” said David Draper, manager of Hunt’s Photo & Video in South Portland. “Photos and slides need to be kept in a dark, dry place.”
The first step in preservation is to gather everything together, preferably in a place with a table, chair and good lighting, and one you can make a fair mess of for a while. Then it’s on to the sorting process.
For prints, go through the envelopes and shoe boxes one photo at a time. The winnowing process can be difficult, so don’t be hard on yourself; save as many as you want to save.
Handle the print negatives with care to avoid scratches or fingerprints, and try to match up the strips with the prints.
“They’re your originals, so be careful,” said Draper
For slides and print negatives, buy an inexpensive slide sorter or light box to accomplish the sorting without getting a nasty crick in your neck. Save and label the slide boxes.
Sorting photos and slides is time-consuming, but done in comfortable stages can be not only enjoyable but downright fun as you relive many good memories.
The next step is storage, which must be in acid-free and dust-and-moisture resistant containers. Use plastic sheets for prints and slides you want to keep handy, and plastic sleeves for print negatives. Both can then go into three-ring binders. Cardboard boxes similar to file folders are made for storing prints in bulk. Your slides can be stored as if in their original boxes or in plastic sleeves. These special storage items are relatively inexpensive, but do be sure you avoid the really cheap products made with acids.
After your prints and slides are safely stored, you can think about converting a portion, or all if you have the time, patience and money, into digital files by scanning.
A professional scanning service is fast and efficient, but it will cost about $1 per slide or print. If you have a lot, you may want to purchase a scanner and save by doing it yourself.
A quality flat-bed scanner that will handle the entirety of your needs – prints, print negatives and slides – and scan at a high resolution of 6400 x 9600 dpi (dots per inch) at a minimum will cost anywhere from $200 to $500. Look for models by Canon, Epson and other reputable manufacturers.
“Scanning is time-consuming,” said Draper. “It’s definitely a winter project.”
When done, you’ll be able to share your many years of memories with friends and family via computer screen, email or social media, making the effort and expense very worthwhile.
Going forward, managing these and the rest of your digital images can be a chore, and storing them on your computer is inviting a hard drive crash. Consider a program like Adobe Elements or Lightroom to not only manipulate but catalog your photos. They can then be backed up using an external hard drive, with a second such drive for redundancy.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is an avid hiker and photographer. Find “Carey Kish” on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CareyKish.