Although many people have moved to using digital photos almost exclusively, many of people still have hundreds or even thousands of traditional photographs that need to be cared for. Follow these instructions to properly store your old photos so that they may be enjoyed for years to come.
1. Make sure you have some kind of back-up (e.g., negatives, photocopy) before storing your photos.
2. Store your photographs at low temperatures and low humidity.Generally speaking (for color photos), the warmer the temperature, the faster the colors will fade.Most photos will store well in your house between 50 and 75 degrees F.If you’re looking to store your photographs for decades to come, keep them in a proper storage container and put them in a room with low humidity and a temperature below 35F.The general rule for both humidity and temperature is “the lower, the better”.
3. Find a cool, dry room in your house to put the pictures in that doesn’t get a lot of light and doesn’t fluctuate a lot in temperature or humidity. The basement is too humid for storing photographs (and prone to flooding), and the attic is too dry.Temperature and humidity fluctuations will cause your prints to curl, warp and crack.Exposure to light will quickly fade them (especially sunlight!).
4. Don’t store photographs with newspaper clippings, as the acid in the paper will damage them.If you want to pair a photo with a newspaper clipping, it’s best to photocopy the clipping onto acid-free paper.If you need to write on your photos, write directly on them with a pencil.Do not use pen or marker, and do not use any kind of adhesive label (the chemicals in the adhesive will cause problems).Avoid paper clips and rubber-bands, which can easily damage your photos.
Negatives and backup
1. Have some form of back up (negatives or photocopies) in case your photos are destroyed.
Negatives should be handled very carefully.Avoid getting your fingerprints on them and follow the same storage rules as for photos—keep away from light, heat and humidity.
Consider photocopying your photos or scanning them into a computer, if you don’t have the negatives.Be aware that excessive photocopying or scanning can damage photos, as the process involves both light and heat.
2. Store your negatives or other backups separately from the originals so that they aren't likely to be damaged by the same event.
1. Make sure that the matting of the frame is acid-free (it should be labeled as such), if you choose to keep your pictures in a frame.Any type of glue or adhesive will contain chemicals that can damage a photo, so don’t tape or glue it inside the frame.A properly made frame will “sit” your photo on the matting without any adhesives.
2. Consider getting a frame that uses special glass to filter out the most damaging kinds of light, since any type of light can damage a photo.Never let sunshine hit your photo directly, even when your frame uses filtered glass.
3. Display picture frames in a room where the temperature and humidity doesn’t fluctuate a lot.When hanging on a wall, try to avoid the outer walls of your house.The outer walls are subject to more temperature variation.Avoid placing frames near air ducts, vents or radiators.Photos placed near the kitchen can be damaged by smoke and odors.
1. Avoid using envelopes for long term storage. When you get your prints back from the store, they typically arrive in an envelope.While many of these envelopes can be fine for short-term storage, they are less than ideal for longer-term storage.Looking through stacks of photos can damage them as they scrape against one another.Also, the oils from your fingers can deteriorate the images.
2. Get your photos into a different storage device if you really care about preserving them.
1. Avoid using cheap photo albums. Inexpensive photo albums can often do your photos more harm than good.Many contain plastics that can damage your photos.Look for photo albums that use polypropylene or polyester (AKA Mylar).Polyethylene is not good for long-term storage, and vinyl of any type should be avoided like it’s the plague.If the album uses paper, make sure the paper is both acid-free and lignin-free (it should be labeled as such).Department stores typically sell cheap albums.If you really want to protect your photos, go to a photography store.
2. Look for photo albums or storage boxes that pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT).The PAT is a national standard that ensures none of the materials in the product will damage your photos.The label should clearly state that it passes the PAT.
1. Do not store your photos in ordinary cardboard boxes.Cardboard, wood, and many plastics give off gases that will damage your photographs.Visit your local photography store to find a container that passes the PAT.