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New Life For Older Images

Don't let digital technology overshadow your film archive

New Life For Older ImagesSometimes it seems that the world moves too fast. When did all my photographs become an underused reference library? It wasn’t that long ago that my 4×5 chromes and 35mm slides, mostly in repro dupe form, were actively being sent out to clients. I’ve spent hundreds of hours cataloging my images, with captions and keywords and bar coding, to make them easily accessible and ready to submit.

A tremendous change has taken place in the photo stock industry, bringing together the Internet and the digitization of the world’s vast resource of images. This change has many advantages, but it also has impacted most professional photographers, sometimes with a negative effect.

The convenience and efficiency of online stock searches and purchases is clear, and photographers are taking advantage of the many online stock sites to sell the usage rights to their images. When I started teaching an online workshop a few years ago, I discovered that some of my students had more of a stock “presence”on the Internet than I did!

In the past, my business hasn’t been very dependent on stock agencies, and so the stock industry changes didn’t affect me much at first. And when I did sell stock, I was contacted directly from editors and art directors who had seen my work in print. Then recently, when many of my books went out of print, stock researchers who had usually found my work through these books were now searching for images on the web instead of calling me. For those who do contact me for stock licensing, I now submit JPEGs for consideration and often upload larger files to FTP (File Transfer Protocol) sites if an image is selected.

What my ramblings here lead up to is that I’ve got some scanning to do! I’ve fallen behind on today’s stock trends, and now it’s time to catch up. I’m developing my own searchable stock site, so I’ve been trying to work out the best way to scan the thousands of images sitting in my office untapped.

Currently, I have a few hundred images, mostly 4×5 film, which were scanned on a Tango drum scanner by West Coast Imaging. Besides offering great scans, they’re located in my hometown, so no originals have to be shipped to and fro. These were scanned for the purpose of making my fine-art prints, so the highest quality was required. These files are easy to repurpose for a stock website.

I’ve also had a few images scanned on an Imacon virtual drum scanner. Imacon’s scanners offer excellent quality, but the cost is too high for many photographers. A few pro friends use Nikon scanners for their 35mm slides with fine results, but Nikon doesn’t make a scanner that works for 4×5 film.

Lately, I’ve been working with Epson scanners, the 4990 and, more recently, the V750 Pro. Both scanners offer a very good option for photographers who want to digitize their favorite images. The resulting scans are good enough for most publishing uses and for prints as large as 20×30. The flatbed scanner allows me to scan all the formats I’ve used over the years—4×5, 6×7 and 35mm.

But many photographers don’t have time to scan their images and to photograph, too. West Coast Imaging ( offers a service for making high-quality scans on a Creo flatbed scanner, designed for building a stock library at a reasonable price. I’ve used the service with excellent results.

The business/stock-management software I’ve used for about 15 years are InView and StockView by HindSight ( An add-on piece of its software, searchLynx (, takes the existing images in my stock database and creates a searchable online stock site. Photographers Tom Mangelsen and David Doubilet use this software.

All I have to do is add JPEGs to the database, which is why I have so much scanning to do. Then comes captioning and keywording before the images can be available online. Also, the StockView software automates the installation of my digital files by taking the selected images into my database, which in turn can be uploaded to the stock site.

The most exciting aspect of scanning, however, has been rediscovering past work that has been hiding away in the filing cabinet. I came across this panoramic image the other day and scanned the film to show a client. In the process, I easily installed the JPEG into the image’s record in my database. And, since I had it available, I sent it to another client today.

If you’re not involved with stock, these trends may not matter much to you. But if you’d like to market your work, start to scan, caption and keyword your images. Who knows what jewels you’ll find hidden in your files! For those using digital capture, develop a workflow that includes organizing your files with captions and keywords as you add new work. That way, you’ll be prepared to submit to stock agencies or launch your own stock site. Or else you’ll be left behind!


William Neill is a renowned nature and landscape photographer and a recipient of the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography. Neill's award-winning photography has been widely published in books, magazines, calendars and posters, and his limited-edition prints have been collected and exhibited in museums and galleries nationally, including the Museum of Fine Art Boston, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The Vernon Collection and The Polaroid Collection. Neill's published credits include National Geographic, Smithsonian, Natural History, National Wildlife, Conde Nast Traveler, Gentlemen's Quarterly, Travel and Leisure, Wilderness, Sunset, Sierra and Outside magazines. He is also regular contributor to Outdoor Photographer with his column “On Landscape”.