Toss or Keep? An Argument to Keep Slides & Negatives

keep slides and negatives

Toss or Keep? An Argument to Keep Slides & Negatives


One of the questions we hear in the studio is:

“Now that my slides and negatives are digital, can I just throw them away?”

There is a mass movement of folks that are unencumbering themselves from their possessions. The influence of the Danish lifestyle and digital archiving methods have empowered people to let items go. We understand the desire to declutter, but “scan it and toss it” is not always the best approach to dealing with family photos – including slides and negatives.

Most people think that slides and negatives are an obsolete format. That isn’t true. Film is still being made and used by photographers. A number of companies use tape to back up their corporate data in addition to digital methods. It’s reliable, sustainable, and holds tons of data. The same is true for a well-cared for slide or negative.

We often advocate for clients to digitize and properly store their film formats. The original formats help date the images for genealogists. Slides and negatives are the original generation of an image, and they hold the most information about a photo. Each following generation (a scan, emailed JPEG, digital download, etc.) loses a little more information from that original. It’s harder to restore a photo from a poor 3rd generation image than it is to work with the original slide.

Why? Here are a few scenarios:

  • The scan of the slide/negative may not have been properly scanned (poor resolution, cheap machine, bad technique).
  • The digital file may have been properly scanned, but it was downsized in sharing, and the original digital file cannot be accessed.
  • A cheap print was made by a machine that cropped the full image to create a standard size print, losing the composition.
  • The cheap machine copies from the store pixelated the image and made a short term dye sublimation print that fades in a few years.
  • A drive failed, the cloud didn’t backup, etc. and all that is left is a cell phone capture of an image.
  • The CD or DVD holding the image file degraded and is unreadable.

If this happens, a pro can always go back to the original film format and create a new digital image. If the slide/negative is thrown out, then you run the risk of losing your images for good or settled for something less than perfect.

How to store:

Slides and negatives should be stored in a cool temperature environment that is stable, dry, and out of direct sunlight. Main floor closets and bookshelves are usually our first recommendation.  We recommend storing film formats in a plastic preserver like Print File. The Library of Congress has a good online document for the handling of photographs and negatives.

In the grand scheme of life, slides and negatives are the keepers of stories and history. Stored properly, they will outlast any digital format. With the proper storage, they might take up a little space, but it’s a small price to pay for saving your history – and much cheaper than paying to save a terrible box store push button copy.

Want to know more? Visit our photo restoration page.