How To Store Your Negatives

Everyone is talking about which cameras to use, or which films to use, but what have I noticed is a common experience and nugget of wisdom from seasoned analogue photographers? 


Wishing they had developed a system for storing their negatives, before they got in too deep…

How to store your 35mm film negatives thumbnail

Why should I store my 35mm film negatives?

While it's great to get your negatives scanned and stored digitally, keeping your negatives gives you a physical backup should technology fail you. 

If you’ve ever had the same negatives scanned by more than one lab, you will also notice that the minor corrections will be done differently by different people and can change the look of your images. 

As you develop your shooting, you may find a lab with an editing profile you prefer, or even start to scan and correct your images yourself. Storing your negatives gives you the option to go back years later, rescan and alter the look of your images.

Finally, if you ever want to darkroom print your images, you’ll need the negative. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.

If you choose to receive your negatives back from a lab, you might as well store them correctly! Improper storage will lead to deterioration over time, causing them to fade, warp, wrinkle or in some cases, take on a gross vinegar-y odor.

35mm film reel in front of film storage solution

What should I be aware of when storing my negatives?

They must be kept in a cool, dry, dark location.

A place, like a loft of a garage, with large temperature fluctuations and potential moisture will cause the negatives to deteriorate. 

While negatives are developed and not light sensitive in the way that undeveloped photographic film is, exposure to light will also cause fading.

Harmful chemicals like acids, even on your fingers during handling, will cause surface damage and fading to the negs. Not to mention, it will leave fingerprints which will need cleaning off later. It's best practice to wear cotton gloves while handling negatives for this reason, as they will absorb small amounts of moisture on your fingers and limit the risk of using fingerprints. At the very least, keep contact to a bare minimum.

Use gloves when handling your 35mm film camera negatives

Finally, dust will also show up when you scan your negatives and would need cleaning off. So aside from limiting light, avoiding dust is another great reason to keep them in something sealed. You can buy small air blowers, or use compressed air to clean off dust without using physical contact. Taking your film out of its sleeves or handling generally is a prone time to introduce dust so definitely worth being aware of.

So what are the best ways to store my film negatives?

Option one: the quick and easy way.

Film labs will return your film in small plastic pockets, made of polyethylene.  These are what you call non-archival - great for a temporary solution, but will still last a long time. Storing these, in a box, away from heat sources or moisture will generally be enough to keep your film in good shape.

If you only have the one camera and lens set up, or don’t shoot film very often, this isn’t a bad option as you won’t have a tonne to sort through if you need to find something. 

You can number the negatives or have notes attached as to what is on the roll (subject matter, camera, rough date, etc ). I also advise having a note somewhere capturing all of the information for all of the negative slips in one place - I do this, and add the reference for the negatives in the location where the digital files for my scans are stored. This means you can find either the scans from the negative or vice versa, or find either when you want to find photos of a specific subject matter.

The downside of using this system is that once you have over 10 rolls of film, finding specific rolls (and particularly specific photographs) will be come a lot harder. As well as this, the sleeves that film labs send their films in are not a long-term solution and will not be very effective in keeping your negatives flat.

Option two: purpose-built and organised.

The next step up would be to store the negatives in purpose built storage solutions. This would normally be a ring binder box, with plastic or paper negative sleeve pages. 

The sleeves are usually harder wearing than the ones you would receive back from a lab and are structured enough that they sit in the binder as a page; they also have the binder holes and usually sections where you can add notes.

You can annotate information like the date, camera used, subject matter and store negatives from over 100 rolls of 35mm film in one binder, keeping your storage compact and in safe materials. Max, for example, has a ring binder of paper sleeves with 120 rolls of film. In ONE binder!

Adox are a great example of a brand doing ring binders and archival negative sheets. You can similarly get boxes to store your negatives in, but personally, I’d rather page-turn than rummage. The sheets/sleeves are the most important part of the negative storage set up as it’s these that will be in direct contact with your negatives for prolonged periods.

Option three: professional archiving.

This involves all the points from Option 2, but with a little added magic. If you’ve got the time, you could produce contact sheets for negatives, or print the one your lab (such as Gulabi) may create. You can then add them to the folders in front of your negative sleeve, so you can easily see the photos that are on a given strip of negatives.

I have heard of some people who print out QR codes for each set of negatives, which you can scan and it’ll take you to a webpage where the files of the scans are stored. I applaud these individuals, truly. This is the maximum amount of effort you can put into storing your negatives.

How do I organise my negatives digitally?

Having a good system for organising your scans is just as important as organising your physical negatives.

How you organise your digital files is down to you. You could store your files in an online software, such as Google Drive or WeTransfer.

You could group by the camera and film you use, or chronologically of everything you’ve ever shot. I really do recommend having some form of link between your digital and physical storage, i.e. a note to which negatives your digital files are, or where the scans are stored for each slip of negatives. 

The amount of information you choose to record is also a matter of preference, but a good place to start is:

  • Date
  • Subject matter
  • Camera and lens

Other helpful information you could include may also be:

  • If you shoot with expired film, was it expired?
  • The developing lab

So, to summarise...

Keep your negatives away from light, dust, and extreme temperatures.

Handle your negatives with soft cotton gloves.

Buy a ring binder and some negative sleeves to store your negatives in.

Organising your film can feel like a bit of a mission, and ultimately the longer you leave it, the larger your collection is likely to be and the more deteriorated the film you have is likely to get. 

Luckily, it's something you can tackle bit by bit and, once you have a good set up, very quick to do with each new developing order. It’s all about making things as easy as you can for your future self, and a really lovely and worthwhile way to honour your own images for the future.


Article written by: Daisy

Daisy is an artist, turned analogue photographer. She works as an engineer and she enjoys photographing her travels and adventures. She posts her work on her Instagram: @whisquila.shots

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