Saving Valuable Negatives: by Dominic Lee, AMPA

My wife tracked down and phoned the now retired photographer who shot her parent’s wedding and asked him if she could buy copies of the wedding photos. He barked out that he had dumped the negatives when he retired and put the phone down. It was clear from his reaction that this was not the first such request he had received. Was that an air of regret in his voice, did he realize that he could have charged the same price for 1(10×8) photo in 2011 as he received for the entire wedding album back in the 50’s? We will never know, and neither will he because he was foolish enough to dump the negatives.

Of course it’s a momentous task keeping all those files in a state of preservation and in a filing system which would allow you to retrieve them. And realistically the money you get for the odd copy you sell to some deceased relative is not worth the effort. But keeping the negatives or digital files could be of great value historically. Portraits of children making their First Holy Communion; judging from the fact that 80% of those attending Mass nowadays are OAP’s it wont be long before First Holy Communion photographs become as rare as hens teeth.

I used to photograph 4 or 5 Priests getting Ordained every year. I even photographed a Nuns Profession. I bet there isn’t a photographer under 40 who has been asked to cover any of those. So even photographs with Priests or Nuns in them will have an historic value in the not too distant future.

Some old photographs sold at a UK auction recently for £75,000 (they had been valued at just £80) and are now estimated to be worth half a million Pounds. Yet large amounts of negatives depicting life and fashion over the decades are being dumped every year as photographers retire.

Have you sorted out what’s going to happen to your historic collection or are you leaving it to a member of your family to bury or cremate them alongside you?


Priory Studios Logo

Dominic Lee and his wife Mairead are the owners of Priory Studios located in Dublin, Ireland. Dominic is the primary photographer and Mairead manages the accounting and frame production. Additional staff members include: Vladimir who handles digital retouching and printing, and Linda manages the operation.

Phone: +35312880755
Twitter: @priorystudios

Here’s how you can share your tips, techniques and tutorials on

*The Current Photographer website contains links to our affiliate partners. Purchasing products and services through these links helps support our efforts to bring you the quality information you love and there’s no additional cost to you.


  1. Thank you for your article. I hope that, despite the ubiquity of digital images, people will appreciate and archive film negatives. Friends (and even my husband) often joke about my archiving ways. After all, it’s expensive, arduous, not as sexy as buying new shoes, and it can border on mind-numbing. I have fastidiously archived my own photographs and negatives for almost 20 years. Friends laugh at my ways…that is, until they need “that black and white of Matt and the golf club in San Francisco.” Then they realize that throwing negatives in shoe boxes is throwing history into a landfill. And they know that I can retrieve nearly anything in about five minutes.

    I agree with you–it may not be your history, but it’s someone’s history, even for future historians’ use…and that warrants safekeeping.

    Being from the east coast, I am daily amazed at the lack of general interest in history in Southern California…but they do give a damn about film care. That’s a start….

    Cheers and thanks for a fine article.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.