When making a decision about a wedding photography package, couples often ask, “Will the negatives be included for us to keep?” The answer varies. Some photographers prefer to keep the negatives because the photographer or studio is skilled at preserving these precious originals.

If couples do purchase the negatives or have them included in their wedding package price, the responsibility for preserving these important originals falls to the couple. Here are some guidelines that should be followed for the safest storage.

How to Care for Your Wedding Negatives

Quick Guide 

Negatives should be stored in archival negative sleeves and the sleeves placed inside an acid-free box. The box should be clearly labeled. 

Place a desiccant (silica gel pouch) inside the box to prevent mold and mildew. 

Store in a cool and humidity controlled room.

Safe Handling of Negatives 

Negatives are most easily damaged when they are removed from the archival sleeves. Dust, scratches and fingerprints can result when negatives are removed from the protective sleeves. Negatives can be permanently ruined if bent or creased. This can happen with any negatives but especially larger (medium format) negatives are prone to creases from improper handling. If you must remove the negatives from the archival sleeves, handle them only by the edges with cotton gloves.

You can avoid removing the negatives from the archival sleeves by simply viewing them while they are in the sleeves. Negatives do not need to be removed from the archival sleeves until they are at the lab to be printed.

If you wish to only print a part of the image or ‘crop’ the image, follow the instructions of the photography lab that is printing the negatives. Sometimes, special negative sleeves and cropping guide tools are used. The lab can provide these, or, if you order prints over a customer service counter, the customer service person will assist you.

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Storage of Negatives

Room temperature will work well for short-term storage. However, long term storage of negatives calls for special care. Relative humidity should be kept below 60 percent. Using a room dehumidifier and silica gel helps further control the humidity inside the box. Keep the storage containers away from windows, radiators, and warm air registers. Coolest possible temperatures are best for long-term storage. 

Light can affect the photographic dyes in color negatives. Storage temperatures for true black and white negatives is not as critical as for color negatives. Some newer types of black and white negatives are actually black and white images recorded on film that contains color dyes. Check with your photographer to get the specific name and type of film you have.

While humidity and heat control is still important, fading due to light exposure is a further concern for color negatives. It is best to place negatives in metal drawers or file boxes. Metal is superior to wood or plastic because woods and plastics may contain volatile substance that can adversely affect your negatives. Properly stored color negatives can be printed many times without noticeable fading.

Protection from humidity, heat, and light combined with careful handling to avoid dust, scratches and bending will ensure that negatives will last for many years to come.