Organizing Photos and Negatives

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Organizing Photos and Negatives

I have hundreds of packages of developed film and photos stuffed in boxes and drawers, etc. I need to hear some ideas of how to organize negatives (both in canisters and cut in envelopes), and how to keep logs of these photos. These are more than just personal photos, and one day, I may need to produce the negative to a photo, so I need a way to keep both photos and negatives safe from moisture, pressure, and loss.
Lisa T.
Warwick, GA

Use an Index Print

I struggled with many different ways to organize my negatives until I stumbled onto the way I use now! I have all of my photos developed with an index print. This allows me to see what pictures are on each roll. (Wal-Mart will make index prints from your negatives.) I bought a regular photo album into which I can slide 4 inch by 6 inch photos. I then put the index print on top and slide the negative behind it. I label each index with important information such as who, when and where. You can still use this for canister film by numbering your index print and storing the canisters by number in a small, clear craft box (such as one to store embroidery thread) or small fishing tackle box with dividers. To store my actual photos, I simply use a photo storage box that is labeled with the same numbers as the negatives and index prints.

A Solution from an Archivist

As an archivist at a college, I work with this problem every day. You can protect your photos and negatives very inexpensively. You can purchase boxes and envelopes at a company like Gaylord (, which sells archival and library supplies. Look under photo storage and negative storage. You will need separate boxes for negatives and photos. Wherever you buy them, the boxes and envelopes should be acid free. First, I would create an index for the items, which you can do with a simple notebook or in a computer program. Give each item a unique number, such as A-1 (A for the box it is in and 1 for the number within the box).

In the index, cross reference the photo to the negative by making a note where the other is located. This simple procedure will keep your photos protected, as well as organized, so you can find them when you need them.

Try This Easy Method!

If your photos are still in the same package as the negatives, it is easy. Use the following method to file them and then keep up with any more photos as soon as they come home from the developers.

  1. Date the negatives with a felt pen or stick a label to them and file them in a three ring binder. Just punch with a three ring punch and insert them into the binder.
  2. When the binder gets full, label it according to the dates on your negatives that are in the book and keep them on a shelf.
  3. Then date the back of the pictures with the same date that is on the negatives.
  4. Mark the back of the pictures also with the number of the photo as per the negatives. You may or may not have noticed that all negatives are numbered.

After you take these simple steps, you can find the negative for any picture in no time. Just take the date and number off the back of the photo and go to your appropriately dated negative binder.

Store your negatives in a warm, dry place. Some people recommend that you keep your negatives in a fire proof safe. That would not be very practical as even though most safes are safe for up to certain temperatures, your negatives would still be there but would be melted. You may consider keeping them in a building separate from you home and the photos in your home. If one goes up in smoke, you will at least have the other and can make new negatives from the old photos if needed.

With the advent of digital cameras, probably the most efficient method of keeping photos is to keep them on CD. I have now started doing that, and whenever I need a photo, I can find it and print it very quickly. There are many photo programs out there.
Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada

Scan Your Photos

I would scan the photos into my computer, create "folders" and label them accordingly. Then burn it on to a DVD or CD. You'll never have to worry about moisture, damage or anything else. If your hard drive dies, you will have the CD or DVD. If you don't have access to a scanner, there are many places on the Web that offer such services. One that will give top quality service and results at an affordable cost is

Take the Next Step:

  • Consider acquiring a negative scanner and save all of your negatives on your computer.

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