Organizing Negatives For Scanning

This is a non-technical question but i figured i’d give it a go.

I’m going to take on scanning my negatives this year - it’s about 20 years of mostly black and white 120 (some color 120 and some 35mm color/bw). Not a giant archive but significant enough that it requires some planning and preparation. I was wondering if anyone has any advice on how to best approach it?

Everything is sleeved in printfile pages and organized roughly by date in binders. I’m thinking that i’ll:

  • break it up by format
  • then from there break it up in ~20 roll sets, labeling each set - and the pages in it - with an identifier of some sort
  • when scanning i’ll keyword each negative with that set identifier
  • after scanning i’ll put them back in the binders with their respective set so i find easily find them again in the future if needed
  • I’ll have keyword presets set up in advance with emulsion and camera info so i can assign them during import.
  • I’m exploring lenstagger for updating exif as well.

I know there’s a whole profession based around this sort of thing, and while i don’t want to go overboard i want to figure out how to make the work viable while getting the most organization out of it at the same time. This is going to be something i do in the evenings and might need to stop for a while at some point so i want to be able to have a pretty easy way to stop and pick up where i left off hence the ~20 sheet sets.

Total size is ~800 rolls.


I have a similar project and thought of similar things as you have. Your plan feels sound with a little something that you might want to consider too:

  • Select first and digitize afterwards or the other way 'round?
  • Run tests on how to expose and process different film brands and negative densities. This might not be too important with your mostly bw source material though.
  • Batch size: Digitize how many films before doing the rest in Lightroom?

Tried lenstagger too, but found that some data is difficult to enter in such way as to make info visible in other applications. Lens data can go in several places (exif, iptc) being one of them…

Other than that: Thanks for your input, some of it will probably find a way into my project too.

Thanks for the reply, here’s what i’m thinking - and i’m still pretty fresh in ironing out these details:

  • I wasn’t going to edit too much before or during scanning, and was going to scan everything unless there were very obvious bad negatives (i’ve got some 35mm with contact spots when i screwed up during developing) but for the most part everything i’ll take it all, including the subjectively bad ones :wink:
  • Great advice on the testing. I’ve started doing that with a B&W and color but need to spend some more time on it still. One thing i’m trying to figure out is if i should maximize my sensor real-estate for 120 by shooting 2 digital frames for each film frame and stitch them together in lightroom. I’ve done that with some 1-off tests, and there’s some hassle with it but it produces a great file. I’m not sure though if it’s a better file than a single frame.
  • For batch size, i was thinking i’d bite of 20-25 rolls at a time, shooting 1 roll at a time, converting and applying keyword templates and then moving on to the next roll. I want to make a couple of runs of this though first and maybe adjust my workflow accordingly.

It sounds like i’m thinking of lenstagger the same way you are. ITPC was my initial thought and i might just stick with that.

In terms of organizing the actual scanning work i was going to organize my negatives first, into film types and sets of 20-25 sheets each and put color coded labels on each sheet. Then once i’ve scanned that sheet i’ll add another sticker to it indicating it’s been scanned. As each set is completed it’ll get added back to a binder for storage. Those set numbers will be part of the keywording so when i need to go find the physical negative in the future i’ll have a reference location and won’t have to sort through too much to find it.

…my 120 negatives are 4.5x6 (42x56mm) which would precisely fill two full frame shots including some borders. Nice idea if you plan to print really big. On the other hand, you can always redo the scan once you see which images are worth while.

Hey there, I really wish I there was a definitive set of instructions somewhere, but here’s what I’ve picked up from books/websites and it works well enough for me.

I consider my binders a family, my individual print file pages a parent, and each negative as a child.

My families are created and numbered sequentially (001, 002, 003…) I start a new one whenever I get about 100 rolls since that’s when they get too full to comfortable page through. Easy enough to go back to your first binder and call that 001, and work your way forward.

My parents (the actual roll) are numbered by year it was shot, and then sequentially through the year (19001, 19002, 19003…). I keep a notebook film log and every time I load a roll I jot down the date, camera, EI, etc. so I have it for metadata later.

Now for the children, each individual negative. They get scanned one by one in order. I make a folder for the family, and make a folder for each parent. I tether using Capture One and I have the naming scheme reflect my parent_child hierarchy, so negative 1 from roll 19001, in binder 003 will show up like this 003>19001>19001_01.cr2.

This keeps everything super organized and easy to reference in a catalog system. It doesn’t get picky between film formats or anything, and I can easily go back through and reference the roll numbers in my notebook to add metadata.

As for the actual organization leading up to digitizing, I’d recommend going through and sequentially labeling the binders/rolls so that they have a definite ID (19010, 19011) regardless of their format, trying to be as chronologically sequential as you can. Then I would pick a film format for your scanning rig, and go through and scan every single negative of that format in that binder. Change to the next format and scan again until you complete the binder. Make some coffee and start again.

I would highly recommend keeping it simple and disregarding “set identification”. Unless there’s a clear way to mark it within the binder I would avoid making it more confusing. You’ll have metadata to do the heavy lifting of searching by format, type, date captured, etc.

Re: 120 scanning, I would scan them all as a 1 shot process, and then if you find a really stellar image later down the road you can go back and replace the file with a stitched DNG. But save the hard work like that for later if you’re seriously going through 800 rolls of film.

Big tip/timesaver will be to invest in a USB foot pedal and map it as the shutter button keyboard shortcut so you can just tap your foot to capture. This keeps your hands free to quickly work with the negatives.

Good luck!

I don’t really have the chance to read everything right now, but i have an ok system i like…

i make a folder for each roll,
i name folder with approx date processed and camera and film, 2020_01_15_G2Portra800

this could be changed to another form of ID number.

I write on a piece of paper the folder name, or date, camera, film, and put it in the printfile sleeve.

in the folder are scans named 2020_01_15_36.JPG
the last 2 numbers correspond to the frame numbers in the film edge markings.

when I view the folder, it is like a digital contact sheet.

i enter in the metadata the camera, film, and roll id, and also date shot on each frame if i know it, and subject of the photo.

from there I actually copy each frame into a folder for the event or shoot, and batch rename for the event/shoot, or just the person or subject of the photo.
or EventJan2020_001.JPG when it spans more than 1 roll.

i put the contact sheet folder in a folder called 2020_FilmContactSheets, and treat them as contact sheets, sometimes making em mid or low res,

and treat the files in the event/shoot folder as the working scan files.

when I was wishing there was a standardized system, this is what I came up with, sorta mimicking the days when i would shoot chromes and only scan selects. or have actual contact sheets and only print selects.

hope this helps someone or other

I used a smartphone camera for “record keeping”. Negatives from my parents were sorted into folders with some number printed on the sleeve. Accurate time in the DSLR is important.

Before shooting I make a photo from the folder I currently do. For every next folder … the same. When the SD card is full or the battery is empty I look at the timestamp from the smartphone pictures to see which files belong to which folder. A small script embeds the EXIF timestamp in the actual picture so that you can see it instantly.

Example of how it looks in case it’s hard to imagine:

With that time info you always know which file belongs to which folder. The whole digitizing was an archival project, so not focused on quality, more on speed. In the end it took ~5 minutes for a normal film of ~36 pictures.

I just (nearly) competed organizing my family archive. I’ve got one print that goes back to about 1850. If you’re on the NLP Facebook group, you’ve probably seen a few photos I took of the “library”. I’m going to get into the actual scanning, naming, and keywording part pretty soon. I’ve been referring to Peter Kroge’s eBook on Digitizing for help with a lot of the components. I started that in May of last year. Now I’m getting to finally doing it. I’ll be following you down this rabbit hole shortly.