Safely Storing Your Negatives and Transparencies

With Egypt on my mind I'd like to suggest a good, cheap way to store your old negs and trans: a box within a box, within a box. Just like the pyramids. If you think about it, that's what's preserved many of the archaeological treasures within the pyramids from the ravages of time. 

For relatively small quantities of images I'd suggest a series of sturdy, archival acid-free storage boxes for this purpose. You could then place them into a larger airtight container with several large sachets of silica get to soak up any moisture in the air introduced when you seal the lid. 3 or 4 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 5-10 minutes. The actual time will depend on the size of the sachet. 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.

In my case the situation is a bit more complicated. I have about thirty hard plastic 3-ring binders in which I store my negs and trans within acid-free plastic sleeves. I guess there's about 30 sleeves per box, on average. They really are like boxes, as the plastic wraps all the way around on all sides and they shut tight. So while each binder provides pretty good protection for the images within, I don't have all my film-based, lagacy images stored within a single controlled environment. I've considered a safe into which a humidifier would be installed. But that would need to be a huge safe, which is unpractical.

In the end the best way to preserved our film-based images is to have them professionally scanned and transferred to digital storage. Of course, its also important to have the files backed up and stored in at least two locations.

One of the first big jobs I plan to undertake when I return home in March is to select and dispatch a significant amount of my film-based images for professional scanning. I estimate the task will take about a week for me to complete and should be finished by the end of March 2011. 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. You can look forward to seeing many of them posted on this site from time to time.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru