For more than a century, people have been capturing special moments with photographs. In order to make sure that your children and grandchildren will someday enjoy the photos you take today, it is important to take care of your photos and protect them from the effects of age.
What is a Photograph Made of?
Photographs are made up of several layers. The top layer (or emulsion layer) contains the image suspended in gelatin and is coated onto a layer of photographic paper or film. A middle layer of adhesive is used to make the emulsion stick to the base.
The materials used to create the image vary depending on the type of photograph. A black and white image is made up of light-sensitive silver salts called silver halides. Color photographs and slides are made up of dyes. With proper care you can expect your color prints to last for decades, but in general, they do not preserve as well as black and white images.
Causes of Deterioration
Often a combination of factors lead to deterioration of photographs. The following are some of the most destructive influences.
High Temperature and Relative Humidity
Because a photograph's emulsion layer is composed of organic materials (gelatin), heat and high humidity promote the growth of mold and fungi. These elements also cause base materials to deteriorate quickly. Cold temperatures (refrigeration) are preferable, especially for color photos, but only if humidity can also be controlled. Standard refrigerators have a high relative humidity and are not a good place to store photographs. Air-conditioning in combination with a dehumidifier will help control the effects of temperature and humidity when refrigeration is not an option.
Proper Storage Methods and Material
Using specialized storage methods and materials will help prolong the life of your family photographs. Since prints and negatives can stick together, it is best to store them in separate envelopes or plastic sleeves. When storing mounted prints, be sure to place a sheet of paper or plastic between them. Within these enclosures, your prints and negatives can be stored in acid-free storage boxes on a shelf or in steel file cabinets.
Photo albums are convenient and popular ways to store (and share) your memories. When choosing your album, make sure the album pages are acid fee. When shopping for albums, be sure the album is "archival" and that "PVC" was used in the manufacturing process.
Finally, consider making copies of your family photos or storing them electronically. You can do this by scanning photos or by taking negatives to a photo processor and having them put them in electronic format for you.
As you can see, there are several relatively simple things you can do to help your photographs last longer. By carefully choosing the mounting materials, storage materials, and storage location for your photographs, you can preserve memories for generations to enjoy.
About the Author
This article was written by Genealogy.com staff.