Safely Storing Your Negatives, Slides And Old Photos

A beautiful, rambling flower garden at Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria.

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, preserved many of the archaeological treasures within the pyramids from the ravages of time.

Silica Gel Sachets

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 gel to soak up any moisture in the air introduced when you seal the lid. While closing the lid it’s also a good idea to burp the lid/container to expel as much air from the container as possible.

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 they should return to their original color.

In my case the situation is a bit more complicated. 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.

So 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 that would need to be a huge safe, which is unpractical.

Archiving Your Photos, The Digital Alternative

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, 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 storage, at least for our most important and best images.

I'II soon be starting a process to have a significant amount of my film-based images professional scanning. 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 gone into 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.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru