Digitizing 10s of thousands of hi-quality 35mm slides

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by RobbW, Jul 2, 2021.

  1. I was heavily into photography as a hobby many years ago, but kind of let it fall by the wayside as kids and life took up most of my free time. Now that my children have gotten older and do not require as much constant attention, I'm trying to get back into it. Along with re-entering the hobby, I am also attempting to start a huge photo-related project with, hopefully, some business potential.

    A long time ago, my wife and I inherited the entire photographic catalog of one of her relatives who was a very prolific and well-respected photographer, Fellow of the PSA, and world traveler. In this collection is more than 20,000 35mm slides from the 1940s-1970s from all of his world travels and photography projects. Many of his images are beautiful, gorgeous landscape and travel photos from far-off places including behind the Iron Curtain of the former USSR during the cold war in the 1970s when no Americans were really allowed into the country.

    We are in the very beginning stages of preparing to digitize this slide collection in order to start building a prospective business with it. I could really use some good advice on how to get started with this digitizing effort. I need to very quickly digitize the slides and have both a lower-size preview of each image along with a full-size image that will be used for editing and printing. My main sticking point is which method of reproduction should I use to digitize these slides as quickly as possible but still capture the highest possible resolution I can, especially for the best of the best slides.

    Would I be better off creating a setup using my DSLR camera, a dedicated slide scanner, a flatbed scanner, or some other method? I really want to get a good workflow set up for this project. What's giving me analysis paralysis right now is the fear of starting this project, getting several hundred or thousand slides into it, and suddenly realizing I had been capturing the images wrong all along and have to completely start over.

    Thanks for any help, advice, or recommendations.

  2. I'd first get legal advice that you actually own the photos . US copyright protection transfers to the legal descendants if there is no will. Even if there is a will, If there isn't a clear line that your wife owns the photos, you could get sued later by the legal inheritor. Are you in America?
  3. You would want to know your customers requirements before making a scanning strategy.
  4. Once you have resolved (per AlanKlein) the legal ownership, I'd partner with someone in the business of scanning.
  5. FWIW, Jay Maisel opted for using DSLR with ES2.
  6. And what kind of business would that be? If you're thinking stock, there are millions of "beautiful, gorgeous landscape and travel photos" in existence today on microstock and other sites that sell for peanuts. Plus, digital image quality far surpasses slide films of that age so many stock companies won't take digitized film images. I'd say don't put in the huge effort that it will take.
  7. OP, test out all options. Then decide from there.

    Good luck! Sounds wonderful.
  8. All too true.
  9. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    Without a shadow of a doubt I would approach your project the other way round. I'd scan maybe a couple of hundred and use those to see whether I can create a worthwhile market for them. See how much you think you might raise. Assess on that basis whether it's worth digitising the rest. It is not a given that the answer will be "yes".
    Jochen likes this.
  10. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    Couple of further comments

    Point above about Jay Maisel. He was fortunate enough to know that his catalogue was worth something and quite probably also had/has assistants to actually do the work. I take it that neither of those apply to you?

    Stock agencies not taking scans. Well there was certainly a time when the bigger /better agencies didn't take 35mm scans, citing quality /enlargeability concerns. They did take scans from medium format and bigger though, and indeed my first years working with stock agencies were entirely based that way. In fact they would initially take the slides from you and have the scans made & pay for the scanning themselves. That didn't last too long though! Then the cost and mostly getting the work scanned fell to the photographer. The factor driving the stock industry to become pretty much 100% digital was that photographers quickly got fed up with paying for zillions of high res scans ( at least Imacon std. even from Medium Format), many of which would never get sold- and rushed into digital. Then the rush became headlong when the bigger agencies declined to even look at slides at all and photographers had to speculatively scan work to get agencies to even consider them.

    Naturally enough these last few phases didn't last too long, because frankly they were just totally uneconomic and made no sense.
  11. Maisel? I had read he sold his Manhattan building for $50 million. Wow! Id like to have a fraction of 1% of that. Just need about $60k for a cine' scanner. Amazing how wealthy some people are.

    Anyway, if the big cache of inhereted photos are not worth much, scan and donate to the Internet Archive.
  12. As you recognised, the value lies in the time capsule factor and that the quality of the images is of professional grade. Now you have to find out what already exist on the market. Pictures taken by westerners behind the Iron Curtain exist. Some where tourists, some on oficial mission (reporters, invitees, etc.) So you need to see if your images are unique enough and enough above amateurish snapshots. Enough that somebody would pay for these photos.
    Is the collection marketable as stock photos as suggested by others or is it marketable as entire? Are these photo reportages, do they tell a story or are they separate shots?
    Another aspect (this one will not bring me much friends for sure) is that the copyright belongs to your wife. Fix it in writing what _you_ get for doing the work.
  13. I would just reiterate, the market is completely flooded since every one who ever took a snapshot, wants to sell their images.
    Google™ responds to a search for "stock photography"
    That's thousand millions or milliards

    Your odds of being struck by lightning are
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2021
  14. If the OP wants to scan them in hopes of making lots of money, I suspect I agree that isn't likely.

    But many people have boxes of slides with sentimental value.
    (Even if they aren't pictures of family members.)

    It might be that the sentimental value is enough to get them scanned, or at least some of them.
    (I suspect many of us overestimate the sentimental value, but that is a different question.)
  15. I too would reduce the scanning to, say, 2000 (max) of what you consider the most interesting. If some subjects seem to attract more business then you can gradually fill in the gaps with the complementary shots from the same time/country/event. 20,000 scans is essentially unattainable without a government budget and battalion of workers in my opinion, your brain would likely explode from the dullness of it all.
  16. I would contact John Malouf and see if he'd talk to you. He's the guy that discovered Vivian Meir and "brought her to market". He's actually a very nice guy. We met him in L.A. at the gallery he showed her prints at. He had the same issue. You might want to do some research on his path. At least he's someone who has actually done what you seem to want to do.

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