Last Updated on March 3, 2022
Do you store your film negatives or at least thought about doing so? Do you have them in a box somewhere in your house, or are they still sitting at the lab?
Maybe you are like me. I knew that I probably should organize and store my film negatives, but I kept pushing the task off. Mine was sitting for the longest time on my office shelves. Not only did it become an eyesore, but it also started to pile up quickly.
After more than a year of traveling and taking lots of photos, I decided it was time to dust off the negatives and archive them properly. I decided to take an afternoon to get it done. And whew, after archiving, my shelves look happier now, and my film is safely tucked away in a cool, dry place.
It can be a little time-consuming if you have many film negatives. But don’t worry. It is pretty simple to organize and store your negatives once you get into the groove of it. And since you only need a few materials, it doesn’t cost too much to start. Of course, this also depends on your method and what materials you purchase.
At the end of the day, how you archive your film is really just a matter of preference. Below, I’ve outlined just one way of many ways to store film negatives and why it is essential to do so. And once you are finished, you’ll feel a sense of relief that it’s finally done…at least until your next roll of recently developed film!
But Why Should You Store Your Film Negatives?
You might be asking why bother archiving film negatives when you have them digitally on your computer? Storing the negatives digitally is easier and more convenient. I get it because I think the same. But it is always crucial to have a backup. I feel this way for many things in life, especially when it comes to things that are important to me.
What if the hard drive in your computer crashes or your laptop gets stolen? You always want to have a backup that you can go to if something terrible like this happens.
And as technology advances, the ability to go back and rescan your negatives allows you to potentially have higher quality images. For example, photographer, Andy Saunders, was able to rescan film negatives from the earlier Apollo missions to the moon to produce better quality scans using modern technology.
What once were underexposed images are now images where you can clearly see the subjects in the frames. This is amazing to me, and it is almost as if we are now rediscovering and seeing the space trips differently in a new light. You can read more about the remastering of these images here.
Plus, the ability to rescan your film negatives is excellent if you plan on printing big!
Materials You Need to Organize and Store Your Film
I love it when something doesn’t cost much money, and I don’t need many materials to start. To organize and store your film, you only need five materials.
Film Archival Storage Binder (or a regular binder):
I use an archival binder where I can snap it shut to keep out dust and dirt. But some people use a regular binder that you can buy at a retail store. The link to the archival binder I use is here.
Archival Storage Pages (Negative Preservers):
Print File Archival Negative Preservers are what I use to store my film negatives, but there are other brands you can buy. I prefer the one that holds 36 film negatives per sheet.
Some storage pages only allow you to store 35 film negatives per sheet, which leaves you with that one extra image from the roll that you will have to either keep in a separate archival sheet or attach to the current sheet you are using.
Also, you want to be sure to select the correct size that you need: 35mm, 120, or other formats. I mostly shoot 35mm film, so I buy 35mm archival sheets. The link to the archival preservers I use is here.
A Writing Pen that Doesn’t Smudge or a Sharpie
If you want to label each archival page, use a pen that doesn’t smudge or a sharpie. Also, choose a legible ink color. I tried to use a red (and purple) pen for some reason, and it was hard to read. An archival pen probably is your best option!
If your negatives aren’t pre-cut, you will need scissors to cut them to fit into the archival sheets.
You don’t want to get fingerprints or oil from your hands onto your negatives. When touching them directly, you always want to wear gloves; cotton or vinyl gloves work great.
How to Organize and Store Film Negatives
As mentioned previously, there are many ways to organize and store film negatives. Below are five simple steps to archive your film images safely.
Put your gloves on first before touching any of your film negatives directly. You are trying to preserve them in the best possible conditions, and you don’t want to get oil on the negatives.
Observe the roll of film that you want to archive. I prefer to label my archival sheets with a pen or sharpie before cutting the negatives and sliding them into the archival pages. Of course, you can always put the negatives first into the pages and then label them.
How should you label your archival sheets? Well, that is up to you. Some photographers like to be super specific with film negatives; whereas, others have more general details. I am definitely part of the latter group – as long as it has the month and year that I took the images and the location, I am good to go. Sometimes I also include the camera used.
Possible ideas for labeling: date the film was developed, location, type of film used, camera used, the date film was taken, and specific projects (professional or personal).
Your lab might give you your negatives in a roll encased in a long film sleeve. For example, when I shoot with 35mm film and pick my film from the lab, I usually get 36 exposures in a roll protected by a long film sleeve.
Since it is one big long roll of film, I need to cut my film negatives accordingly to fit into the archival preservers. I generally buy sheets where I can fit six images to a row (a total of 6 rows for 36 exposures per sheet).
Now you can cut first, then put it into the archival sheets, or you can cut a row, then place it into the archival sheet before cutting the next row.
I prefer to cut six images (one row) and then place them into the archival sheet before cutting the next row. Why? It is easier for me to put the photos in order this way. You might feel differently, however.
I also like to organize the film in the order I took the images, starting at the top (number 1) and working my way down (number 36). If you want to organize them differently, that is totally up to you. I find this organizational method simple – I’m always going for the easiest way of doing stuff.
Once your film is organized into the archival pages, it is time to put them in the binder.
How should you organize your binder? Once again, that is up to you (sorry for the redundancy here)!
I am a chronological person – I like to organize by when I took the images. One binder might include all the pictures I took in a specific year. For example, I am currently working on a binder that includes my images for the years 2020 and 2021. It works for my brain.
Possible other ways to organize the sheets in your binder: when the film was developed, specific projects (personal or professional), camera used or sorted by location only.
Where should you store your archival binders? Store them in a cool, dry place. You never want to keep them in an area with lots of moisture.
I store them on a top shelf in my closet. And that works for me! The archival binders are safe, and it also provides less clutter in my room.
And wow, it’s finally done!
How to View Your Film Negatives Once Archived
If you ever want to view your negatives in the archival sheets, you can use a light pad. You can purchase a light pad at a local craft store or online. You can also use your phone. Some apps can convert a film negative into a positive.
If you have an iPhone, you can also convert your negatives to positives by updating the settings to classic invert. This feature can be found under settings, then select “accessibility.” Click on “accessibility shortcut,” and then select “classic invert.” Once enabled, if you click your right side button on your phone three times, it will turn to the classic invert settings. You can now use this to view your film! A pretty neat trick!
Additional Tips on How to Archive Your Film Negatives
- Try not to let the film negatives stockpile. Now, you can plan a whole day or half-day to organize your film, which works well! But I find it easier to archive them as soon I get a new roll developed. Easier said than done, of course. But it is less overwhelming to have a few film negatives to archive versus twenty rolls or so.
- Don’t abandon film negatives at the lab! If you leave your negatives at the lab, the lab won’t hold on to them forever and they will be destroyed – most likely shredded!
- Everyone has their favorite film images from a roll. When you organize them into the archival sheet, why not mark the ones you love the most? You can do so with your pen or sharpie. Some photographers even use a sticker to notate their favorites.
- This might be an unpopular opinion with some, but don’t destroy your film negatives! Some might draw through the film negatives they don’t like. Some even use a hole puncher! This practice makes me cringe, cringe, cringe! I just think there are better ways to notate which exposures you like or dislike!
- If you prefer to store your film by the date you took the image, but can’t remember the date, use your phone for reference. A reference photo on your phone can be super helpful if you forget dates like I do.
- You can always store your negatives where it matches with how you store them digitally. For example, if you use Lightroom, you can label the image the exact same way you label them on your archival film sheets. This method is a little too much for me, but I can see where it can be super helpful if you need to locate a specific film negative.
- Some photographers choose to put contact sheets in front of each archival sheet of exposures. This method also can help identify your film negatives and is great for organizational purposes.
- If you happen to get dust on your film negatives before archiving them, you can use non-abrasive sheets to wipe the dust off before putting them into the archival sheets. Kimwipes works great for removing the dust.
- Lastly, make it fun! Put on a good podcast or movie while you work on this. For me, it is an excellent way to catch up on my podcast episodes I’ve missed! Archiving can seem a bit tedious, but a podcast or movie can help move the process along.
Do you have any tips not mentioned above for archiving film? If so, please comment below!