Prior to scanners becoming a commodity, how did photographers make duplicates\backups of their negatives?

For example, if a wedding photographer's shop burned down, how did they recover? Or was it a case of if the originals went up in flames they were gone forever?

I've seen slide duplicators with bellows (which look dubious), but what about negatives?


2 Answers 2


The originals were that. The originals.

Obviously you tried to keep the negatives in a safe manner because the nitrates and films were very flammable, could being eaten by fungus, decolor, or all kind of things.

Even in remastering on movies like Star Wars they went for the original negatives, which were in bad shape.

In feature films after the original negative you produced a positive then another negative as a master to produce film copies. Probably this 2 intermediate films were the best back up you could have.

Home users didn't usually back up negatives. Probably had 2 copies of the printed photos and that was it.

The original negatives had some special value, for example in investigations, historic value, etc. So people were more carefull back then.

Digital era

Prior to the "inexpensive scanners" were the "expensive scanners" so you could go to a shop to use a drum scanner and have your image scanned that way.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Weird sidenote: before 1912, copyright law only existed for printed material, so motion pictures were printed onto paper sprocket-holed strips to obtain copyright. Ironically, the paper prints survived the decades in the Library of Congress better than most nitrate negatives. See: loc.gov/rr/mopic/mpcoll.html \$\endgroup\$
    – inkista
    Apr 15, 2015 at 21:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ And since 35mm film comes on cassettes a wedding photographer could do this. Do you have any more details about the film copying? It might be off topic though. \$\endgroup\$
    – SailorCire
    Apr 16, 2015 at 13:06

Put them the safest place you can, but even the safest place is never "safe."

Remember the Jacques Lowe case? Had extended exclusive access behind the scenes of the Kennedy administration. Put his treasure trove of negs in the toughest vault he could find. In the basement of the World Trade Center.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Now, had he considered geographical diversity and put every second strip in the second toughest vault he could find... \$\endgroup\$
    – user
    May 24, 2016 at 14:54

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