women on boat to england

Why You Need to Scan Your Negatives and Slides Now

“Oh, that is so disappointing!. What happened? I remember the images as being so much more colourful.”

My mother said these words during our recent scanning project.

Unfortunately, time and temperature had not been kind to her slides. They had indeed lost almost all of their colour and they had also acquired yellow stains of water damage. It’s a common occurrence for all prints and slides if they are not stored properly. And, just like my mother, most people don’t realize this can happen until it’s too late. The best way to prevent it from happening, other than specific storage conditions (cold and dry), is to scan the images right away.

Our memory of an event is stored in the elements of an image. Should that image change, become damaged or even lost, affects how we remember the time it was taken. And we take pictures to capture our experiences so it makes sense that we would want to protect that memory. 

Not many people still shoot with film, let along slides. But back in the days when every image had a cost, slide film was cheaper than print. And when we wanted to travel and shoot as much as we could, slide film was a must. And my parents travelled a lot. They must have over 1000 slides.

This winter we made the commitment to scan all those slides. It’s a daunting task but when I discovered how many slides she actually had, we made sure we made the time.

We started out sending a few images out to be scanned by a company in our area; Digital Treasures. This is a good option if your time is limited. Each slide or print worked out to be about $0.25. Having someone else do the scanning saved us some of the effort and the process was relatively straight forward. But what we did discover was that even after the images are scanned, you still have to download, rename and organize the images on your own computer. That takes a lot of time. 

Considering the scope of the project ahead of us, we decided to review and scan the images ourselves.

As a professional photographer, I have a scanner for just this purpose. But while it is a good (if somewhat dated) machine that can customize each scan in great detail, each slide takes a few minutes. That time can really add up. Plus we decided we wanted to share the reviewing process with the family. The best way to do that would be to show the images on our large flat panel tv.

After some research, we decided to buy the Kodak Scanza Digital Film Scanner for about $200.

There are many similar products on the market and this article isn’t a review of this scanner though I would recommend it. The resolution is 14MP (22MP Interpolated), the process is simple and it comes with an HDMI cable so you can connect it to your tv. (We did purchase a longer cable, however, to make the living room viewing more comfortable.) The scanner comes with multiple holders for slides and negatives up to 35mm in size.

kodak slide and negative scanner

The reviewing process turned out to be a lot of fun. We set a recurring time on the weekend before dinner and we generally review and scan about 100 images. The process is simple; I insert the images into the slide scanner, we all exclaim at the dated clothes, the cars, the cute kid pictures, and then my mother shares the story behind the image. We then decide whether to scan it or not. The scanner stores the images to an SD card and after our review session, I copy the images to a computer where they are renamed and organized into the date and event-related folders. As part of the photo management process, the photos are backed up to an external hard drive and then to a cloud service where we can share them with other family members. 

For the most part, the slides for the past 50 years were in good shape. It was truly disappointing to find that the images from her trip in 1956 were damaged. This trip had been family lore for years. It was truly epic.

Five Canadian women in their early 20s travelled across the Atlantic by boat to England and then rented an old London cab and drove across western Europe together. At the end of the trip my mother met up with my father and they hitchhiked and camped across the Mediterranean. Back in the early 2000’s we had scanned one or two of the images from this trip so I knew a little of the story. To see the other images faded and stained was such a shame and just brought home the point that to preserve these memories properly, we should have scanned them all 20 years ago.

2 versions of same image of man hitchhiking
The image on the left was scanned 20 years ago. The image on the right was scanned, as is, just recently.

Luckily, technology and skill were on our side. The Kodak scanner has some ability to adjust the colour and brightness of typical slides but for these damaged images, I decided to rescan them with my professional scanner and I was able to fix many of the issues. For the water damage stains, the images had to be brought into Photoshop for more extensive editing. Not impossible, but not easy either. I’m just glad we caught them before the damage became worse.

before and after image damaged by time
Image on the left was scanned recently. The image on the right was rescanned and restored in Photoshop.

Whether you choose to scan your images or send them out to be scanned, I highly recommend that you edit them first. Don’t pay to have your blurry or boring images scanned. 

To recap:

WHY do you need to scan your prints and slides now

  • Save them from the degradation that time and temperature can cause
  • Protect your memories in case of an unexpected flood or fire damage
  • Ensure that the stories and people in the pictures are not forgotten

HOW to scan your prints and slides

  • Send them to a professional scanning company. There are usually some in your area but a simple internet search will give you options near and far.
  • Scan them yourself with an affordable automatic scanner.
  • Ask us to manage the scanning and organizing process for you. You can trust us to protect and organize your images so you can enjoy them for generations to come.

 

Bonus Observation

As you review your images with others you will discover which images resonate with people. We tend to take a lot of pictures of the scenery but having a person in the image always made the picture more powerful. Something to keep in mind as you continue to take pictures of your own travels and day to day life.

Organizing Tip

As I mentioned, my parents travelled extensively throughout their 60-year marriage and the slides are scattered across many boxes. Before we put them back on a shelf, we will make sure they are labelled properly and moved from boxes to archival slide page holders and binders.

slide holders in binder

There are a couple of ways to store slides but this is one that suits our space the best. When you hold them up to a light, the plastic pages allow you to quickly review 20 slides at a time without touching the actual slide. Of course, once the slides are scanned, we shouldn’t need to review them again, but, you never know.

Maybe down the road, we will want a higher resolution scan to print. Perhaps scanning technology will improve. As my grandmother used to say about sewing your own clothes; never throw out the extra fabric until you have finished wearing the garment. In other words, always keep the original. And, until someone figures out what to do with old slides and negatives, holding on to them keeps them out of the landfills for a little bit longer.

Women in London Taxi in 1956
Five women travelling around Western Europe in a used London taxi in 1956.
Still life of lock on photo album

How to Protect Your Images

It all starts with a gasp. A tightening of the chest, prickly skin, perhaps even a cold sweat.

No!

What happened to my images?

If you are like me, your smart phone is never far from hand and you take pictures daily. Sometimes it’s just a shot of a pretty flower or interesting shadow. Other times it’s of something you don’t want to miss, a reunion with friends, a child’s first step. Whatever the images on your phone, they are important, precious. What if your phone suddenly died? What if you no longer could view your images? It’s almost incomprehensible. Not to worry, there are simple ways to protect your images from loss.

The most important thing when it comes to your images is to make sure they are backed up to some device other than your phone. Phones get stolen, they get lost, and yes, they get dropped into toilets.

I have been a photographer since I was 15. I have taken many, many photos. You would think that I had my process down pat and that I was a paragon of virtue when it comes to backing up my images. Nope. I also get distracted by life and I put off the simple tasks well, because I would rather be out shooting. If you have been procrastinating about your photos, you may find this article useful.

If you are ready to move forward, as the diagram below shows, it starts with getting your images onto your computer and the cloud. 

Graphic showing how to back up images

1.Make sure the images on your phone are backed up to either the cloud or your computer. 

If you are uncertain what the cloud is, check out this article.

2.Collect all your digital images from SD cards, hard drives and old computers and put them on a primary reliable computer.

3. Scan all prints and slides from the era before digital and add the files to your primary computer.

4. Back up all your digital images to your cloud account.

5. Save a copy of all your digital files to one or two external hard drives. Regularly update these hard drives. Store a hard drive off site, either a bank vault or a friends place.

Get this done and all your photos will be protected. Whew!

But before you pull a Flaming Elmo or run away, keep in mind that the extent of your photo management process depends on how you take pictures.

I like to think that there are three different types of photographers. I call them the Socialite, the Adventurer, and the Pro.

The Socialite

The Socialite likes to record her social activities and share them on social media but she doesn’t use any other type of camera. She may have photo albums from the distant past when she used a film or digital camera.

For the Socialite, making sure her images are backed up to the cloud and keeping a copy on her computer is a good start. Scanning her historic images is something she can do over time.

The Adventurer

The Adventurer takes pictures with her phone but she also has a digital camera and she travels with both. Sometimes she has hundreds if not thousands of images to deal with after her vacation. If she was organized in the past, she has many scrapbooks to show for her travels. 

She needs to gather all of her images onto her computer. She needs to copy her SD cards and scan her historical images into digital format. Once all her images are in the same place she can rename and organize them. From there she should save a copy to the cloud as well as an external hard drive.

There are many types of Adventurers and that will determine what software they use to manage their photos and how many places they back up their files.

The Pro

The Pro already knows what to do and isn’t reading this article. They are the Adventurer x10 and because they shoot for clients, there are legal and security protocols built into their process for managing photos.

Whatever type of photographer you are, the fundamentals don’t change when it comes to protecting your images. We all need to back up our photos to one or more places other than our phones to make sure they are safe.

Chrysler Coupe 1935

How to Archive Your Old Photos

If you were born before 2000, you most likely have boxes or albums of old photos taking up space in your home. I personally had about 30 photo albums and 15 scrap books getting dusty on my shelves. On a rare occasion I would look at them but for the most part they sat there, lonely and neglected. Until recently.

What inspired me to really take the time and do something with my old prints and negatives was a request from my mother to help her go through her own collection of albums. After being inspired by the book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson, she and I have been working our way through her lifetime of possessions. The photos were a large, intimidating part of that process.

But by taking our time and going through the journey together, it turned out to be a lot of fun. Each album, including her parents scrapbooks, were full of memories. We enjoyed trying to figure out who was in the old black and white prints and where they fit into the family tree. We marvelled at the changes to our town, the strange clothes, and the stern faces. And we giggled over old scrap books of hers showing her at camp or her summer jobs. The stories she shared with me are priceless and I have learned so much about her life before I was born.

Looking at all the photos we needed to review however, was sometimes overwhelming. How were we to choose what to keep and what to discard? Should we just scan every thing? Who will want to look at these images later?

We chose to keep only the images that were important to us right here, right now. When we were going through the really old images we had one simple rule. If we didn’t know the person or their connection to our family was too distant, we put them in the discard pile. If the image was too small or too blurry, we didn’t keep it. But we made sure to keep the real gems; my grandfather’s first job, family portraits, the first car, and the travel photos. And for the scrapbooks where my mother drew cartoons and descriptions in the margins, we not only scanned individual images but I also recorded the pages as a whole. These images are invaluable.

scrap book page from the 50s

And as part of the archiving process, we made sure all the photos we wanted to preserve were scanned or digitized. As a professional photographer, I have a scanner that does both prints and slides but due to the volume of photos, we chose to also send our images to a local scanning company, Digital Treasures. For about 25 cents an image, we were able to deal with a large selection of images. I dropped off the albums (pre Covid) and after a few months, they sent me a link to an online Dropbox so I could retrieve the images. I then downloaded the images to my computer and set about organizing them into files and folders.

The whole process was streamlined and simple and I would highly recommend it if you are ready to take on your photo archiving project.

But I know it is hard to get started on projects as large as this. Even me, a professional photographer, put it off for some time. It was actually the process of reliving all the old memories that inspired me to go through my own albums. I found pictures I had long since forgotten. I also feel much better now knowing that those memories are protected and backed up on hard drives, just in case. Next up? Creating simple slide shows so I can watch my home movies on my TV. As for my mother’s images, we have shared them with our family through Google Photos albums and on Facebook messenger.

If you are looking for a place to start with your old images, I would recommend bringing out a box or album each week and reviewing them while you watch TV. Separate out the ones you want to keep and the ones to pitch. If you do decide to scan the keepers, make sure you scan at a high enough resolution (300 dpi, 5×7 minimum) in case you want to print the image in future. If you don’t have the time or money to scan, a quick and easy option is to photograph the photograph with your camera or phone. There are a few apps on the market (Photomyne and Google Photo Scan) that are supposed to make this easier for you. I have tried them and they worked fine. I chose to go with a professional scanner because I wanted a higher resolution but that’s just me.

As a final note, there is the question of what to do with the images we have chosen to scan. Do we still keep the physical image? For how long? As someone who is trying to live sustainably or as zero waste as possible, the whole process of throwing out old images is painful. Some images can be sent to local archives, some can be given to schools for craft projects and I have kept a few for greeting cards but most will end up in the garbage now or later.

I challenge anyone to come up with a way to reuse or recycle photographs. We can send someone to the moon and spend a gazillion dollars on AI or going to Mars but no one has figured out how to keep millions of photographs out of landfills. At a minimum, I think I will hold on to the images I scanned. Maybe somebody will figure it out in my lifetime.

Old Photo Family Gathering