Caring for your Photographs

Treasures from the Past

A photograph is a wonderful, complex, and interesting object. They are often glimpses into someone’s life; usually a joyful event that is captured forever.

Because there is such an abundance of photos now (it seems everyone has at least one camera) we tend to forget how valuable, special, and unique they are. As these are such priceless images, we need to remember to take proper care of them, so that these photographs last for generations to come.

Protect your Keepsakes – Proper Storage for Photographs

Your photos need to be stored somewhere that is well-ventilated, cool and most importantly dry. Humidity and a high temperature increase the rate of deterioration of photographs. Environmental conditions such as these also encourage the growth of mold and mildew, which can cause all sorts of damage.

To keep such damage to a minimum, you should avoid storing your photos in the attic. Try to avoid storing these precious pieces of the past along the outside walls of a building – environmental conditions are liable to be more extreme here. In addition, condensation can be a problem.  The basement is not a proper place to store photos, either, as this area is often cold and damp.

In some storage areas, you may need a dehumidifier or fan to keep your photographs in optimal condition.

You want:

  • Temperature: 68°F
  • Relative Humidity: 30–40 percent
    • Film-based negatives and contemporary color photographs: 30–40°F and 30–40 percent relative humidity

The storage container you use is very important, as well. Protecting them from light and dust, a plastic or cardboard box (without any sulfur, acids, or peroxides) is ideal. A binder with plastic sleeves in which to put your photos in is a great choice, as well. Just make sure the sleeves are unfrosted and made of uncoated polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene. Do not use magnetic or self-adhesive albums to store your photos, as this can easily damage your images.

Keep Your Storage Area Clean!

This is an often overlooked part of caring for your photograph collection. Keeping the area where your photographs are handled and stored clean and pest-free is required. Did you know that some of the materials in photos are a (attractive) food source for both insects and rodents?

Food and beverages should not be allowed anywhere near the area, either. Along with the very real possibility of attracting pests, accidental spills can irreversibly damage most photographs.

Handling Your Photographs

Poor handling is the most common cause of damage to photos. Because of this, proper storage is an absolute necessity The well-organized and properly stored collection encourages people to respect and properly care for the photographs. When an image can be found easily and quickly, there is less possibility of physical damage due to handling. Below are 6 additional tips on how to handle photographs.

  1. Establish and maintain strict handling procedures
  2. View photographs in a clean area, and use clean hands
  3. Wear clean white cotton gloves so as to lessen the possibility of leaving fingerprints and smudges
  4. Support photographs carefully! Hold them with both hands in order to avoid causing any damage
  5. Keep your photos covered when they are not being viewed
  6. If it is necessary to mark a photograph, don’t use an ink pen! Instead, use a soft lead pencil on the back of the photo

Display Your Photographs

Permanent display of your images is not recommended, due to exposure to lighting. Ideally, you want to only display them for a limited amount of time, and control your photo’s amount of exposure. Use unbuffered ragboard mats, if possible. Also, frame your photographs with archival-quality material; use ultraviolet-filtering plexiglass to help protect the photographs during exposure to light sources.

If you can, reproduce vulnerable or unique images and store the originals. This  way, you can display the duplicate photograph. The original photograph can be properly stored, preserved for generations to come!


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