Let’s admit it…even a lot of us who are obsessive about organizing our photos can be neglectful about organizing our negatives! And yet, organizing your negatives is a surprisingly simple process that can help protect your negatives and make them easier to use for generations to come.
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Step #1: Using Negative Storage Sheets
Negatives are pretty delicate items. They don’t like to be handled, or pressed against each other, or extreme environmental conditions. Stacked together, floating around loose in that envelope they came home from the processor in? Well, that’s pretty much the worst thing we can do to them! The safest – and easiest – way to take on organizing negatives is to do it the way the pros do and use negative storage pages.
Negative storage pages are sized and punched to be stored in binders. Using them is super simple – just slide your negative strips into the pockets from the long edges of the sheet, and you’re done!
Print File is the most well-known maker of photography storage sheets of all types. I have used Print File 35-7B sheets for years for storing my 35mm film negatives. Each of those sheets holds 7 strips of negatives that are 4-5 frames long. The sheets are made of archival quality polyethelene, which is safe for storing negatives.
Do you have some of those APS film cartridges, where the film rolls back up into the cartridge after being processed, lying around? I had a couple. I was surprised doing some internet research to learn it is very easy to wind the film out of the cartridges so it can be cut up and put in negative sheets just like regular 35mm film. (Click here for the instructions on how to do it.) Instead of having to store bulky cartridges, now my APS negatives are filed in sheets with the rest of my rolls of 35mm negatives!
But storage sheets aren’t just for negatives! They are also an efficient way to store slides that allows easy access to look at them to find what you want. Why devote tons of storage space to storing boxes of huge carousels you never use? Ditch the carousels, and replace them with slide storage pages that are much easier to store.
Of course, the whole point of organizing negatives is to be able to find things. So it’s important to label your negative storage sheets. You can’t just write on a polyethelene sheet with a regular pen, though. I use a Stabilo pencil, which is sort of a grease pencil and writes well on the sheets. (These are really soft, so I recommend using a make-up pencil sharpener to sharpen them.)
If you have index prints, they can also be very helpful in knowing what is on your negatives! Don’t get rid of them! I have written on the back of mine the relevant dates, locations and other information for the roll of film using a Sakura Identi-Pen. Then I have inserted them in photo storage pages and filed the sheet of index prints in my negatives files, in front of the relevant sheets of negatives.
Step #2: Create Order
This step is super simple! Most rolls of film will have had multiple events or topics on them. (Oh, if someone could have told us in the days when film was so precious that we only took 24 pictures on a week long vacation that someday we’d be snapping pictures in the grocery store…we’d have thought they were crazy!) This means that the only really manageable way to file negatives is by date. So sort all of those sheets into chronological order, if they aren’t already.
Step #3: Storing Negative Storage Sheets
Once you’ve got all those negative sheets loaded and sorted, what do you do with them? There’s lots of ways to store them, depending on how many you have and what your storage concerns are. Mine lived in regular 3 ring binders for a long time, stored in a file drawer. There’s also binder boxes made especially for storing archival photo sheets.
For the last decade or so, one of these file cabinets has been home to my negative sheets. I had them in hanging files, and they took up about one and a half drawers of the cabinet.
Hanging in the file drawers was quite an efficient way to store them. The negative sheets are firm enough to stand up and not put pressure on the edges of the negatives. Being in the drawers also kept my negatives protected from the light, since light exposure can lead to fading.
But I decided that I wanted to move my negatives for several reasons. First, the file cabinets are getting old and frankly I’d like to put something that looks nicer in what is a very prominent wall in my living/dining area. But second, and more important, is that file cabinet storage is not portable or protected very much from water. Since the hurricane disasters that have hit us here in Florida the past few years, I’ve realized the importance of having precious items in my home be both easily portable and protected from the elements.
If you are also worried about these issues in organizing your negatives, the good news is that I’ve found what I think is the perfect solution: a Sterilite Hanging File Box. Stored in two of these boxes, my negatives are now easily portable. And the plastic container, while not impenetrable, will offer some protection for them against water infiltration.
The sheets of my negatives hang in the file boxes just the same way that they previously hung in my file cabinet. I simply transferred them from one container to the other.
My two boxes of negatives now live on a top shelf in my craft studio. If needed, I can easily move them to a more secure area of the house for protection during a storm, or put them inside yet another container to offer double protection. Or, I can even put them in the car to take along during an evacuation. It gives me great peace of mind to know that!
Now that our negatives are under control, next it will be time to tackle all of those photos! I’m ready if you are! Stay tuned!