The most popular method for storing old photos is one of the most damaging. That’s right, stuffing a box with photos, negatives, and/or slides and packing it away in the basement is like turning your memories into a ticking time bomb.
If you want to keep your photos safe from disaster and away from the ravages of time, then it’s time to properly store them. The following tips will help you preserve old photos so that they will be around for many years to come.
Use care when handling
It’s highly recommended to use cotton gloves when handling photos. There are unseen oils and dirt on our hands that could do some serious damage to prints over time. If you can’t use gloves, then delicately handle the photos at the edges when moving them around.
You should also keep your preservation project in an area that’s neat and clean, and away from damaging lights, extreme temperatures or humidity, smoke, foods or liquids. Imagine you’re an archivist handling ancient and precious materials—photos require that same kind of delicacy. While you may not see the damage right away, improper handling can wreak havoc on your photos over time.
Keep them out of the basement or attic
Both of these areas are prone to extreme temperatures and conditions. A musty basement can cause water damage to your photos and even make them a breeding ground for mold. Meanwhile, a stuffy attic could set off chemical reactions under certain temperatures that will cause serious damage or fading.
Instead, store the photos in a closet within the home where the environment is much more stable.
Avoid light exposure
Prolonged direct light of any kind—but especially sunlight—will cause photos to fade and discolor. Your best bet is to store photos somewhere with dark or low lighting to prevent any light damage.
Archiving and storing photos properly
Again, it’s time to ditch the cardboard box of photos—unless you’re using it to store neatly organized albums or archive-safe photo containers.
If you’re using an album to store your photos, never use one with the sticky adhesive. The chemicals from the glue can seep into your photos and/or can create tears when you try to remove them from the album. Use archival quality photo albums that have high quality, non-acidic, and lignin-free paper. Any plastic within the album that’s touching the photos should be made from uncoated pure polyethylene, polypropylene or polyester. Note that PVC is extremely damaging to photos—avoid it like the plague!
If you’re using any other type of storage system for your pictures, then look for materials that pass the ANSI IT9.16 Photographic Activity Test (PAT). PAT was developed by the American National Standards Institute; it is a test that determines whether or not a storage material will cause fading or staining in photos. Companies whose envelopes, folders, sleeves, and boxes pass the test advertise them as such, so be sure to look for this information when choosing storage materials.
Do not use tape, paper clips, rubber bands, glue or staples to keep your photos together. These items can destroy the shape and distort the color of your photos over time.
Catalog people, places, and events
Writing information directly onto a photo should be avoided. If possible, write the names of people, places, and events on the folder or case the photo is stored in.
If you must write on the back of the photo, use pencil rather than a pen—the pencil will allow you to make the notes without indenting the print.
Make digital copies
While all the above methods will help you keep your original prints safe and sound, we highly recommend having a digital backup. You never know when a flood or fire might strike, and having digital copies of your photos will ensure you never lose the memories even if the originals are long gone.
Send us your boxes of photos to be scanned today, and start your preservation project once you know all the pictures have been backed up.