Not long ago a photographer and antique camera collector came across a very old camera that he bought to add to his collection. To his surprise, the camera contained undeveloped film inside that was almost 100 years old. The collector carefully developed the photos from the camera and discovered, to his delight (and amazement) that there were several pictures that were still in good condition. It turned out that the pictures documented the final days of World War One. This story gathered international attention soon after it happened for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that the photos somehow survived when they should have been ruined long ago. While this batch of pictures miraculously endured the years of neglect, most photos are not that fortunate. Most of the time, photos are ruined if proper storage is not planned for and implemented. There is no reason to play Russian roulette with your valuable photos, however. If properly stored, photos can be preserved for many lifetimes. Here are some tips to help ensure your precious photos are around for future generations to enjoy.
The first step in preserving a photograph is identifying the subject. To help you identify and remember the details of a photo, write as much as much description as necessary on the back. Be sure to include details such as who is in the picture, dates and ages of the people in the picture, where it was taken, etc. Always use a pencil or permanent marker to write details about the photo on the back. Never use a ballpoint pen, which could easily damage the photo.
Handle with Care
You should handle photos as little as possible. Oils left behind by your fingers can cause dirt to collect or possibly lead to mold growth. When you must handle your photos, try to avoid touching the image side to limit damage. Older photos should be handled with special care as they can be prone to breaking.
Keep Your Photos in a Safe Place
Much like art, antiques, or wine, temperature, humidity, and light are the greatest enemies of long term preservation. When it comes to photos, however, this is especially true. Photographs must be stored in a safe place that has mild temperature, moderate humidity, and little light to protect them from warping, cracking, or fading. This pretty much rules out basements, attics, and garages with their extreme variations in temperature and humidity. Experts recommend a climate controlled location with temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and moderate humidity. Excessive moisture should be avoided at all costs as it could lead to photos sticking together, curling, or mold growth. Interior closets and climate controlled self-storage facilities are ideal for storing photos.
Choose the Right Storage Device
There are a number of photo storage devices on the market, from simple photo albums to custom matting. The decision on what to store your photos in depends a lot on personal preference as well as how often the pictures will be accessed. All materials used to store photographs should be non-acidic and pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT). Checking for fading, staining, and general longevity, this test evaluates how well materials will hold up for photo storage and archival purposes. Storage materials that meet these standards are widely available and easy to find.
You should make sure that all your photos have a backup copy (negatives or another copy) stored in a safe place separate from the originals in case they are damaged. You can also put your photos onto a computer using a scanner. There are companies that will do this for you as well, if you have a lot of photos to scan.
With a majority of photos taken with digital cameras these days, there is a wide variety of online photo sharing and storage locations to save and keep track of digital photo files. Many of these photo sharing sites also offer printing services so you can create books, cards, and other media to show off your pictures. Some of these sites will even print your pictures onto canvas that you can display as art in your home.