What to Do with Old Photos – Slides and Negatives

Back in December, I asked you to help me by letting me know what frustrated or bothered you about photography, so that I could write about those issues in 2015 and hopefully help solve some problems for you. The response was overwhelming, and it was clear that a lot of you have been having similar issues and questions, particularly about what to do with old photos:

What do you do with your old photos? I still like them but I like the new ones and I have spent cash on all of them. I run out of wall space, so what do I do with my old photos? 

The most frustrating part of photography to me is what to do with a lifetime of photographs. 

How do I digitize thousands of B/W negatives and color slides from earlier years of our family’s development? 

How do I not get completely overwhelmed and sit and cry in a mushy puddle surrounded by decades of memories that I don’t know what to do with? 

Okay, that last one was my own question. I have the same problem that most everyone does – literally thousands of photos, in multiple formats, with no real organizational strategy. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed when I look at the boxes and boxes of printed photos, and the folders and folders of photos on my computer, external hard drive, and CDs that I’ve collected over the years. Not to even mention the thousands of photos from art school. I can’t even get into those. That’s a different project for a different day.

What to do with old photos

Today, we need a strategy. We have to come up with a plan that we can easily follow and maintain so that we don’t allow future piles to form, and boxes to fill up. Our problem is that we have so many different formats. We have printed photos, slides, negatives, CDs… and as you say, we’ve paid for these older pictures but maybe don’t want them hanging on our walls anymore – because they’re outdated, or our decorating style has changed, or we have limited space and want more up to date photos in that small space that we have. Whatever the reason, let’s establish the idea that we just can’t hang them up, in order to remove “framing and hanging” as one of the options we have to deal with this problem. Remember, sometimes more options means less action.

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So with the walls out of the picture (pun intended), that leaves us with a better idea of what our game plan should be. First, we need to recognize that the slides and negatives that we have can’t be viewed in their present form, so we need to change the format if we intend to ever view them or share them with future generations. That means we need to digitize them. We can buy a scanner and do all the work ourselves, but that means we have to definitely know what we’re doing, have the time to do it, and purchase a scanner that will give us decent enough quality so we aren’t wasting our time. Or, we can outsource the work to a company that does this stuff every day. These three companies all come highly recommended, and will scan your negatives, slides, or printed photos for as little as 22 cents per image: ScanCafe, DigMyPics, and ScanMyPhotos.

If you literally have thousands of slides and negatives, you could spend a decent amount of money having every slide and negative scanned. It might be worth it to look through your slides and negatives before you send them, to make sure you’re not sending any duplicates, and that you aren’t sending 45 pictures of your grandmother’s cat – make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. This will take some time. It will be worth it though, when you consider the alternative of your kids and grandkids never seeing the photos at all.

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So now we have all of our photos either printed or on CDs or the computer. They’re all viewable, shareable and manageable. Let’s take a deep breath and revel in the steps that we’ve taken to get where we are. Step #2 will take some doing as well, and we don’t want to overwhelm, remember? So let’s put a pin in this and return in February to talk about step #2.

Do you need help or advice on which company to choose to scan your negatives and slides? Email me with your questions and I’ll help you decide on the best choice for you.