Are 99.9% of Your Photographs Just Not Important Enough To Save?

by | Last updated May 29, 2017 | Featured Post, Storing Originals | 39 comments

My photo collection sitting at the top of my trash can

If this was your entire photo collection sitting in this trash can in the photo above, would this make you …

… actually feel relief … or utter panic?


What if I added to this scenario. What if to the best of your knowledge, all of your photos sitting in the trash were already scanned and safely backed up on a couple of your hard drives.


Do you now feel relieved … or still utterly panicked?


From everyone I have talked to about this scenario, it seems safe for me to say that I believe the world is in somewhat of a divide whether it's actually okay to throw away your prints and slides once they have been scanned and digitally preserved.

And for some, hopefully not too many, I am sure they would say it's okay to throw away many if not most photos before they were scanned and preserved.

Yes. You heard me.

Let's Consider My Aunt's Conflict

Logan Electric Slide File Model 200 Item #750523

Logan Electric Slide File Model 200

Not too long ago, I finished up a nice video review of the Logan Slide File 35mm slide box. It's an archival quality metal box that is safe to store your slides in.

It's the first video that not only am I in, but my Dad's making his “SYEL” screen debut as well.

For this reason, I thought I would email a link for the video to my Aunt Karen.

Even though my Uncle has shot thousands of slides through the years and is in the process of scanning them, I really didn't think she would be interested in the subject of the video. I just thought she would enjoy seeing video of her brother and I working on a family photo project together.

About a day or so passed when I got an email back from her. She was very complimentary of my work as you would expect your delightful Aunt to be. (Thanks Aunt Karen!)

But, she added something at the end of her comment that I totally wasn't expecting.


We thought your video was very good. But I have to ask WHY we are storing all the slides???? I thought we were scanning them so we could get rid of some more STUFF! 


Well first, I wrote her back and apologized. I told her my intent wasn't to push any kind of “metal archival box” agenda on her. And she told me later she didn't think I was.

Secondly, I have to admit, that's a pretty logical and fair question she asked!

I mean, why should the average person go through this huge job or expense of scanning all their photos, just to have a second set of them?

The Big Reply

So, I knew I had to write my Aunt back. I couldn't leave a monstrosity of a question like this hanging out there — especially when she used like 4 question marks in one sentence.

But, it's funny to me that I had to think about it for a day or two before I could even come up with a complete and possibly persuasive enough answer for her.

“Why should you keep your original prints and negatives?” I kept asking myself.

If the scans aren't of high enough quality to warrant being able to toss the originals, what is the point of even scanning them besides sharing a few of them around with friends and family on social networking sites and email?

I became agitated with myself. 

“Shouldn't I just know this off the top of my head!?” I mean I do have this little scanning website here with my name on it somewhere.

I kept thinking, “Why isn't it just a known belief for people that you keep your originals — I mean, they are … they're at least sentimental right? Isn't everyone sentimental????”


Disclaimer: I think we maybe should just go ahead and get this out of the way. If you haven't guessed it already from reading this website, I'm on the side of the fence that can't help but practically gasp when I hear someone talk about throwing their original photos away. Yeah, even the “not so focussed” and “that's my Mom's thumb in the shot” ones.


Over the last several years, I've now heard the logic from enough people from the “other side”  that I guess I should at least begin to recognize this as a respectable option.


That being said out loud, I still felt I should send my Aunt Karen any non-sentimental logical reasoning that would at least explain why I personally would never want to toss out my family's original photos.

I'm sure over time, the list will grow longer. But that week — silly, stupid, genius or pathetic — here's what I came up with.


1 Scanning Mistakes:

What if I discovered I had made some mistakes scanning some of my photos and wanted to rescan them.

It's like when you write something and go to proofread it for mistakes. No matter how many times you re-read your work, you always seem to miss a couple things.

This has happened to me several times as I've scanned my collection. I realized I had rushed through my workflow too fast that morning and a couple of slides were cropped too much and I was missing information from the original image.

I like the peace of mind knowing I can return to the original if I ever want or need to.

2 Future Technology:

How will I feel when new technology comes out that can scan and extract even more quality and detail from my photos than I was able to the day I scanned them. The day you scan a photo is the day you “lock in” that days' technology.

What if one of my nieces or nephews took an interest in them one day — possible when I am no longer around — and wanted to rescan some of the collection with this new “futuristic” technology?

Storing the originals — especially film negatives — gives you technological opportunities later.

3 Scanned Before Cleaned:

I know I scanned some slides that really shouldn't have been. What I mean is, they were way too dirty or moldy to produce a good scan from. I really should have set them aside and cleaned them with a special chemical first.

So I know I want to go back and re-scan some of them that really mean a lot to me that are in bad shape.

(I went ahead and scanned them, because as some of you already know, my goal right now is to get them digitized as fast as I reasonably can so that my parents can go through them and help me order and label them. Later, I will clean them up and make them look pretty.)

Storing the originals gives you the option to perform temporary scans.

4 Digital Longevity Technically Unproven:

The process of digital preservation hasn't been around that long yet. We are all still learning how to save and archive digital files and have them last theoretically forever.

Are all of us digital junkies really prepared? Because DVD's can rot, hard drives can fail and natural disasters do occur all over the world.

This involves backing up to several hard drives, storing them in more than one place (just in case a natural disaster destroys your home for example), and also looking into backing them up to the “cloud” (internet storage companies that charge a monthly fee).

Even though I am confident I am going to be responsible and look out for my digital files, I love knowing that if something DID go wrong with my failsafes, I have the originals to return to.


But Still — Seriously, What's the Point of Scanning Then!?

All this said, I know… they do take up space!

Most of our lives we're pre-occupied acquiring things, and then the last part of our lives we spend giving away these things.

And I feel like I am already ahead of schedule. I am middle-aged (I had to cough that one up) and already starting to really reduce the amount of things my wife and I have in our house. I am putting work into carefully consolidating down to as little as I can.

But for me, personally, these analog “memories” will probably be the last thing I will pitch — and that will probably be like the ol' saying, “over my dead body!” Someone can bury me literally under my collection. It can be grass, then dirt, then my collection and then me.

personal photo album open with hand-written captioned photos

Am I really just being overly sentimental to a bunch of old paper and chemicals?


Shortly thereafter, I ran across a couple forum comments on that smacked me right in the face with this very question.

They were just a couple of thoughts out of many, buried in a discussion about 35mm slides.


Sorry to tell you guys, but 99.9% of your pictures just aren't that important. If you don't throw them out before you die, your wife's next husband will. Including the so-called keepers.

~ Alan Klein

I agree with Alan. Our slides are not important to anyone really other than to ourselves and I think it is a fantasy to assume they need to be treasured like works of art.

~ Robin Smith


I guess it's possible Alan and Robin wrote these words with little thought. They could have been a knee-jerk reaction typed out on their smartphones while they were waiting for their movie to start in a theater. They were just trying to be funny — right?

Or, they could have taken their time and typed out their true and sobering belief in the matter after months of deep-hearted analysis.

Either way, what they said is still truly scary to me.


Are we really lying to ourselves if we think our print and 35mm slide collections will be appreciated generations from now?


When my will is read aloud in front of my surviving family (or is that only done by rich people in the movies?), will any one of my nieces and nephews be upset if I chose them to take over as caretaker of my treasured old photo collection?

If their truth be told, would every one of them actually prefer to be awarded my almost valueless Groo the Wanderer childhood comic book collection instead?

Maybe, sadly it's true.

On the surface, it does appear that our little “future generations” are being groomed to appreciate only digital images — consumed quickly and then clicked out of view.


“Oh look Uncle Curtis — there's a cat doing something funny in this ‘pitcher' !”

“Oh yes. Yeah that's cute.”



So Analog Is Done Then?

I certainly wouldn't say it's done. I'm sure this is a conversation that will continue on for years to come.

But in the meantime, here's something truly interesting I remember stumbling onto earlier this year that should make the answer less obvious for even the cynical. The information passed by me so quickly that it almost didn't register.

But it did.

Jaws 4k Transfer Restoration from

Technicians spent 4-5 months restoring “Jaws” to extract 4k digital files from the original camera negative. (via Pocket-lint)

Jaws the Restoration

I was watching this absolutely fascinating 8-minute documentary showing how technical masters recently restored Steven Spielberg's masterpiece “Jaws” for release on Bluray.

I mean — thank goodness! Right?

Who wants to watch that dirty old version of “Jaws”  that's been out on just standard-definition DVD when you could watch an even newer cleaned-up digital version on high-definition Bluray, brought back to life from cleaning up that out of date, clunky original film negative! (Read a little sarcasm there)

What's exciting about this age is we're able to restore these movies—we can bring these classic [Universal Pictures] movies back to life in a way that makes them more vivid than even we remember them when we went to the cinema to see them.

~ Steven Spielberg

Even though I work in the industry, I am still amazed at the level of technology that is constantly flowing from it.

It was easily apparent this movie was going to look and sound utterly fantastic when they are done restoring it. I was all set to buy a copy of it just halfway through watching this video!

Here's is the whole thing if you want to watch it for yourself.

(Problems playing video? Click here)

The Interesting Relevant Part

Here's the part that really caught my attention.

As the documentary is coming to an end, at exactly 6 min 30 seconds in, the music slows and becomes sentimental. We hear angelic voices say the following in order:


The outputs of this project are both film and digital. We are restoring high-resolution digital files as well as recording a new negative.

We do both because digital files, while they are convenient to work with, and they allow us a wide range of options, for archival means, we still want a piece of film to put away.

~ Peter Schade
(Vice Pres. of Content Management and Tech. Services – Universal Studios)

This is our cultural heritage. It's very important to preserve the physical film—the 35mm film and the negative.

~ Steven Spielberg

Film is a known commodity. We can put that on a shelf and store it in the proper conditions and that thing will last 100 years plus.

~ Peter Schade


These “harp strums” were like music to my ears!

All that money was spent to make an almost near-perfect digital version of this feature film, yet they spent even more money to make sure there was yet another (analog) piece of film created to ensure this movie lives on forever.

Well Which is the Right Choice Now?

Well I don't think this says that my thinking is right and anyone who feels they wish to throw out their original prints and negatives after scanning is wrong. Not at all.

But, what this does prove to me is that even the technicians working with the highest levels of technology available, still feel there is reason to doubt that today's level of digitization and digital preservation is “good enough”.

They must believe there are still just too many unanswered “what ifs” to take any chances by removing analog sources from the future equation.


So I hate to tell you, but whether you decide to hold on to your original prints and negatives is still going to have to be a decision only you can make.

And after reading this, you may now feel your whole life's collection isn't even as important as “Jaws” so what's the point of even treating it like it is!!!


And this still doesn't solve the possible problem if our surviving family members end up not giving two feathered hoots about inheriting our old fading collections.

What About Me You Ask?

So maybe you could say I have decided I am going to hold onto my prints and slides — not necessarily for my family — but for me. Yes me! Just having them makes me feel better.

And as for my surviving family?

Well I'm going to continue spending my own free time scanning and restoring all of my family's photographs so that when I possibly have to take this analog collection with me to the grave, I will have a pristine digital copy of it waiting for all of them.

This way, hopefully every once and awhile, when the time is right, my nieces and nephews will be able to click or swipe or whatever their futuristic tablets can do then, through all of these old amazing “story-filled” photographs that meant so much to their loved ones before them… who made their beautiful lives possible.

Polaroid icon

I really hope you enjoyed this. I would love to know how you feel it.

For example, why do you think people should save or should not save their original photo collections? Please let me know in the comments below.

Also, I've created an anonymous poll I would really appreciate if you would take a few seconds to be a part of.  (I'll wash your dog for you!)




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..I have spent what seems like an eternity organizing my photos. I actually wondered today….who is going to want them or care? Can I toss more than half and never notice? I’m also “middle age” and downsizing. I’m in this “I can’t get rid if it syndrome daily and its making me crazy. Would love feedback. My kids want zero.
Need happier purging.


Love the article. Going through this same thought process myself. Thanks for the insight. I will definitely do both, scan, and save. Love your writing style. So entertaining. Made me giggle out loud a few times.

Judith Sullivan
Judith Sullivan

When I asked my chidren if there was anything in particular they wanted from our family home two of the three asked for the pictures. (The third one wants to live on a boat!)

My Grandfather took a mail order course from Kodak in the early 1900’s and took lots of photos which he developed himself. I have copies of these as well as all of the negatives and of course will pass them on to my children. There will be copies for both children as Grandpa made lots of copies and Mother made books for my brother (no children) and me. These documented both Grandma and Grandpa’s families as well as their married life and their children growing up. I highly value this collection.

Mother took lots of pictures of my family growing up and I also took lots of pictures. I just hope we can find enough space to preserve all of these as well as the negatives.

At 78 years young 😋 I find working with all of these photos as well as other keepsakes brings me comfort and great memories now that my family, most of whom were around for over 60 years of my life, are no longer living.

Conclusion: I believe it would be a sin not to keep the originals!


I recently inherited thousands of slides taken by my parents and my uncle. I’m an only child with no children; so I didn’t need to save them to pass along to anyone. I went through all of them and scanned those with people I recognized in them (having a digital image is enough for me). The rest held no interest for me, but I couldn’t bring myself to just throw them away; so I ended up selling them (primarily in hugh lots) on eBay. That way, they still exist and they’re with someone who is either a collector or who sells to collectors. In any case, they are going to good homes, which is much better than my saving them and having them end up in a landfill after I’m gone.

Sherry Elliott
Sherry Elliott

One way to help you decide might be to spend a small amount of time and $$ to create “capsules” to store your slides/negatives/original prints. Think of these as time capsules. They take the smallest footprint possible to store and ultimately pass on your archive.

For several years I have used these acid free boxes from Clear Bags. They are called “Crystal Clear Boxes”. They are perfect in the 4×6, 5×7, and 8.5×11 size to sort and/or save and display your family history. A great feature is the ability to sit one of these boxes on a shelf (either horizontal or vertical} and show off your favorite from the group of up to 100 original prints inside.

They will also hold up to 120 slides. After you have scanned a bunch, it is very easy to put them into one of these boxes . . . and also fun to see your progress on display. In addition to the small amount of space they take up, you can add a custom wrap that shows what is inside the “capsule”. Pretty sure this will make it harder for anyone to throw these in the trash after all of your hard work.

Since I’m a great grandmother now, I pass on the full capsules to the family member who might enjoy them most. Since they are originals, it is fun to think they might survive. But if not, many digital versions and backups were created over the years, and hopefully they will be findable.

Here is a shot of the capsules still on my view. They sit in an inexpensive cube setup from Target. What is really cool about these cubes, other than the price, is they also sell fabric boxes that slide right into each opening. So you can store and hide your work in progress as you go. The best thing is the cubes will hold a letter size crystal clear box. So it can sort of be like a filing cabinet that takes up little space . . . and looks really cool.

old geezer
old geezer

Some reality checks are in order for decisions about the average photo collection. First, unless taken by a legendary pro, value is either sentimental, or historical. That is photos of family, friends, places, events, where greater import is attached to the oldest and scarcest images. None are likely to have artistic worth, except with lots of manipulation and printing for “old fashioned” cards etc. Your photos are not important to the world. If aging family can identify individuals, dates, locations, write that in pencil on the back of each photo. Once lost, that information makes such photos worthless to relatives. Consider you are “curating” a collection, so culling poorly exposed, out of focus, damaged and duplicate photos down to the few decent shots before scanning is essential, as well as in saving originals afterwards. Distilling down also serves to concentrate on those images that bring to mind a story, as that is the value in keeping them. Spending time digitally restoring even fewer special images may be worthwhile, but basic color rebalancing of faded colors may be entirely adequate for the purpose. Make DVDs of both original scans, and edited jpegs for normal viewing, perhaps with some slideshow program that adds captions or narrative describing persons, times, particulars. No one but family cares about old photos; if you’re lucky, you’ll connect with a younger relative willing to take on the responsibility of caretaking the archives. Note, regarding how “advances in technology” have died suddenly, in regard to scanning and restoration, because the market is diminishing. Film scanners are going extinct, so decide what and how best to preserve your important images now, and throw out the junk that wasted film fifty years ago.

Susan Mellers
Susan Mellers

Hi Curtis,
My dad, born 1922, used to complain about the shoeboxes full of B&W snapshots that my mom never labeled. In 2013 I inherited them, plus my dad’s unlabeled photos, plus many slides, neatly labeled by mom. None of my 3 siblings wanted any of them.
To me the treasure is the old slides of our childhood, 1947 (parents’ wedding) thru the 80’s, including many of their grandchildren. I am scanning them–thanks for the tips, Curtis!–and plan to add my memories to them. My kids and several of my siblings’ kids are looking forward to this.
Meanwhile the unlabeled shoeboxes and piles of bad slides of my parents’ trip to Europe are oppressing me! You still have your parents to share their memories. Bravo about temporary scans to give you time to collect them. But I really don’t see much value in much of this.
Unless… facial recognition allows them to be identified in the future.
Any thoughts about times you really wouldn’t save things? I would have been grateful to inherit a small, organized and annotated collection. My kids hope that is what they inherit.
Thanks! Sue M
PS. For context, my husband and I have 3000 slides, mostly his backpack trips. I inherited maybe 7000 from parents and grandparents. Plus thousands of their print photos, and thousands of mine, plus uncounted digital photos. They make us realize we are old! My kids would toss them all as unworkable. I’m teetering on the edge!
PPS. My thoughts on what to save have influenced my current photography.

Trevor Stewart
Trevor Stewart

I know just how this goes. My late grandfather (1854 – 1934) was an avid and skilled glass plate amateur photographer. He took extended holidays throughout New Zealand when it was still a pioneer society in the 1890’s through 1920’s and took many, many photos. I saw this collection as a 10 year old, stored in cardboard boxes, gathering dust in the late 1950’s, stored under my aunty’s house. When I next asked about the collection as a young adult, I was informed that “those old things were dumped into the Auckland Harbour”. The 1970’s was a hopeful time for the future when a lot of “cleaning house” was done so ruthlessly.
I have at least one that has survived. These were of a professional quality that our historical archive museums are now crying out for and New Zealand is the poorer for their loss.


I’m 73 and have be working to scan my prints and slides. Throughout most of my hobby I was more interested in landscapes than people. Now that I am going through my collection, I have a lot of landscapes that aren’t very impressive, but I find value in those relative few that include people, especially family. I may not even scan the hundreds of landscapes and instead trash them in favor of keeping every photo that has people or memories. In other words, I am considering “culling” my collection so as to catalog those that mean a lot and dispose of those that have no meaning.

jane wilson
jane wilson

my brother asked me where the negatives for our pictures were because he wanted to have them. 10 yrs ago when my parents moved to a seniors home, and they were downsizing they didn’t seem important enough to save so i threw them out. When i think about it now, it just breaks my heart. We dont have many pictures and we have some poor quality as well as really good quality black and whites and we are going to scan them but I am so disappointed in myself for not thinking before discarding them or not talking to someone else in the family first. Please please please save your negatives.