Everything You Need To Know About Storing Old Photographs

In the age of digital photography, we’ve become curators of vast digital image libraries. But many of us vaguely remember the days when film canisters were taken to a lab, and you returned later to be handed an exciting, weighty envelope full of prints. You probably put the best in an album. Do you remember peeling the film back on a blank page and positioning your prints on the tacky surface below?

Unfortunately, the methods of photo storage many of us have used, including old photograph albums, shoeboxes and drawers, are damaging to prints. Displaying your most prized photographs in frames can even cause deterioration if not done properly.

This article will explain how to store your photographs for the future, discussing six important steps you should take:

  • Make sure your photograph storage is acid-free.
  • Never fix or mount a photograph with glue or tape.
  • Keep your photograph albums in a temperature-controlled, pest-free, and well-ventilated area.
  • Make high-quality copies for display, and mount or frame photographs professionally with non-acidic materials and Tru Vue Museum Glass.
  • Back up your best digital photos in more than one place.
  • If a special print has already suffered damage, ask for expert help from The Photo Restoration Center.

Let’s go through how to store old photographs in more detail:

Choose acid-free storage solutions

Most people are aware that photos should not be kept in direct sunlight, but did you know that fading can still occur between the pages of an album or in a dark drawer? There is one primary cause for this: acid.

Acid is present in glue, sticky tape, certain papers, and paper dyes. Many old albums, including those with the peel back film and the sticky surface underneath, contain acid. Contact with acid disturbs the molecules in your photographs through absorption, and the images will gradually be broken down.

If your prints are kept in a box or drawer, acid-containing papers and paper dyes, varnish, wood stain, or various furniture coatings could pose a risk for your collection. Without a lid on your storage, photographs will also be exposed to dust and pollution, both of which can also cause fading.

You can find out more about the science behind photographs fading in this article.

To keep your photograph collection safe, use only acid-free albums or archival boxes marked as ‘acid-free’. If you layer photographs, make sure they are divided using acid-free paper or inserted in acid-free photo sleeves, and don’t use glue or tape.

Store in a cool, dry place

Much like your chocolate, it’s best to keep your photographs in a cool, dry place, away from pests that will take a nibble.

Your image is made up of layers, one forming the image, and several more surrounding and protecting it. The molecules in these layers can change when exposed to abrupt changes in temperature. They prefer a stable, cooler climate.

Opt for as dry a place as possible to store your photos. Humidity and damp both cause photos to quickly deteriorate.

Finally, make sure your storage space isn’t being shared with any pests that will snack on your collection. Silverfish, for example, are notorious for feasting on photographs.

Display photographs behind Museum Glass®

The risk when displaying photographs is that UV rays in sunlight cause significant damage to poorly framed and badly situated prints.

Framed photographs should always be mounted on acid-free papers, without the use of adhesives. Choosing Tru Vue Museum Glass®, which contains two layers of optical coating and one layer of conservation-grade UV coating, will let you hang your photograph where it will be most admired, without worrying about it slowly fading from light exposure. Museum Glass will also eliminate reflections, so nothing will get in the way of your enjoyment of your photograph.

If you have a very special, one-of-a-kind photograph, to maintain its beauty and prolong its survival it’s best not to put it in a frame. Instead, The Photo Restoration Center can create a faithful copy to the highest standards, allowing you to display the image without risking damage to the original.

Backup digital images

There are vulnerabilities no matter how we choose to store our photos, but the place that you are most likely to lose images is actually on a modern device. A print, cared for correctly, can be handed down for many generations, but modern technology usually breaks or becomes defunct in one generation, often much less.

If you leave digital images on a hard drive, a laptop, a phone or a computer, always make a backup. Online digital storage is your best course of action.  If your hardware is stolen or broken, your photos will be safe, not lost with it. It’s still wise to upload images to more than one platform, because companies offering online storage can appear and disappear with little warning.

It’s a good idea to get into the habit of curating your digital collection and keeping only the most successful shots. Delete the other fifty you have of the same view! Consider printing the most spectacular shots. In the long run, prints are more likely to survive and get handed down to your ancestors.

Rescuing damaged prints

If you discover that some of your precious collection has been damaged already, take expert advice and don’t try to rescue photographs yourself. Things to avoid include:

  • Peeling photographs from anything they have been adhered to, including photograph albums, mounts, or glass.
  • Using chemicals or any other substances to loosen photographs.
  • Putting photographs in the freezer.
  • Wiping photographs to remove mold or stains.

Sometimes, the damage done trying to save an old, treasured photo is more serious than the original deterioration. An enquiry costs nothing, so if you’re desperate to restore a special photograph, please contact The Photo Restoration Center and let us assist you.