Archiving and Sharing Film-Based Photos

by Al Perry

Have you ever noticed the first item saved when home fire or disaster occurs? People usually value family photos above other possessions. Also, in family estate settlements, distribution of family photos can be a contested activity.

A few years ago, I finally developed the courage and energy to tackle a long-awaited job: scanning slides and negatives accumulated prior to introduction of digital cameras. The primary purpose of digitizing was to create a backup in the event of fire, flood or other disasters that might cause damage to old film, prints and delicate 8mm movie footage. The secondary benefit of digitizing was to more easily retrieve and share photos with family and friends.

Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China, 1981 © Al Perry

I understood it would take a long time to collect, choose and scan the photos. Two weeks were used researching best techniques to achieve the best scan possible. Because scanning boxes of negatives, positives and prints is labor intensive, I wanted this to be a one time job done properly and not to be repeated.

After gathering up the photos in suitcases, I tagged each to be scanned and enlisted help to scan them. We used a Nikon CoolScan with 16 bit, 4,000 dpi resolution for the 35mm positive slides and negatives and an Epson flatbed scanner for prints and medium format film. We worked on this project for 12 months at which point my wife asked to have her family photos scanned. I then offered to scan my mom’s photos. In all, we spent eighteen months working part time scanning and cataloging the photos.

After scanning the selected photos contained in 8 suitcases onto one hard drive, I placed a copy of the hard drive in our bank safe deposit and another copy in our office. I then made a reduced resolution jpeg of each scanned photo and shared with family and friends. Sharing these photos has been well received by all recipients.

In summary, achieving a backup of old photos provided me with peace of mind against loss, and the opportunity to share with others.