For many people, photos are more than just an image.
They provide a gateway into the past – a way to re-live cherished memories from a bygone era. We keep them to remind ourselves of all the people, places, and experiences that we never want to forget.
Photographs are important, which is why we generally want to keep them safe. It’s true that the smartphone era has ensured most of our modern photos can be safely stored online. However, many people still keep and enjoy physical pictures. Today we’re going to look at the best way to store photos and keep them safe for years to come.
At the end of the day, photos are still just pieces of paper. They’re fragile and must be handled with care to ensure their longevity. Let’s go over some of the things we can do to keep our photos in good condition.
Before we actually get to physically storing your photos, we have to make sure that you have a system for keeping track of what every photo is exactly. Sure, it might be easy for you to tell that the child spilling his food in the photo was your youngest kid during his second birthday, but it might not be so clear for future generations.
Your pictures are moments immortalized on paper, so the context of the story is just as important as the picture itself. An easy way to archive this knowledge is to include a separate index card or slip of paper in the same container as the photos. Write down the date, the location, and subjects of the photo. This way, any future family member going through your box of memories will know exactly what’s going on.
You might be tempted to write on the back of the photographs themselves. We highly discourage doing this. The ink used might fade or even interact with the photograph paper over time and mess with the quality of the pictures. The act of writing on the back of the photo itself might also introduce some force that might damage or crease the paper.
If writing on the back of your pictures is unavoidable, then we suggest using a No. 2 pencil. The pencil lead won’t interact with the photo ink. It can also last much longer without fading. As much as possible, write along the edges of the photo to prevent any damage to the subjects in the middle.
The amount of light, temperature, and humidity of your possible storage space are all factors that you need to take note of before settling on your final location. These conditions may affect the quality of your pictures down the road, so it’s best to take note of them as early as possible.
Light, especially direct sunlight, can be harmful to photos. Ultraviolet light breaks down the chemical bonds in the dyes and pigments used to print or develop photos. Over time, this causes your photos to change their colors or even fade. This is why we encourage you to store your photos in a dark place that has no direct sunlight at all.
But what if you have a favorite photograph that needs to be displayed in a bright room? For photos like these, get a picture frame with UV-light protection. Alternatively, you can turn any picture frame into a UV-protected one by replacing the frame’s original glass cover with acrylic sheets that provide UV-light filtration. Make sure that they are set up on a wall or desktop away from any direct sunlight or fluorescent light.
Or better yet, just have it copied. Keep the original photo safe and display the copy however you want.
The best place to store photos is one that generally maintains a cool temperature (below 75 F). Extremely hot temperatures will speed up the photos’ degradation process. Highly fluctuating temperature is also bad for photos because it might cause condensation and moisture to form on your photographs.
Keep your photos somewhere with a stable temperature that is neither too cold nor too hot. Avoid places in your home with no temperature control or insulation (such as the garage or attic).
Humidity refers to the amount of moisture in the air in a given location. Generally speaking, the best place to store your photos humidity-wise is somewhere that is neither too humid nor too dry.
Places that are really humid and damp may encourage mold growth in your storage boxes, or even on the pictures themselves. The moisture may also cause your photos to stick together, which could lead to the ink running and fading. High humidity areas are also prone to insect infestations, which could damage your photos.
On the other hand, really dry places may cause your photos to dry up and turn brittle. Finding the right balance is key. The National Archives and Records Administration recommends that photos are stored somewhere with between 15-65% relative humidity, preferably in the range of 30-40%.
Proper handling of photos is another really important factor that most people overlook. Careless handling, especially with older pictures, can lead to long term damage that might ruin otherwise pristine photos. Always keep the following things in mind when handling your photos:
Properly storing your photos will take some time and effort. That said, it’s definitely a worthwhile investment to ensure that you and your family members can enjoy revisiting the memories you all hold dear. Let’s go through some of our storage options and ideas to help get you started.
Photo albums are great for those who will frequently handle or show off their photo collections. If you choose to use photo albums, we recommend skipping the cheap dollar-store options and going straight for the good stuff. Try your best to look for archival quality photo albums – preferably ones that are acid and lignin-free. Having these two qualities will ensure that your photos do not yellow over time.
Try to stay away from low-quality “magnetic albums”. These albums were really popular way back when so you’re sure to encounter them. They don’t actually contain any magnets but instead have an adhesive coating applied that keeps photos stuck to its pages. This adhesive yellows over time and can stain or damage your photos. Steer clear of them.
If you want to store photos in bulk, and you don’t really plan on frequently going through them, then a nice photo box can get the job done. Photo boxes come in many different designs and sizes so you’re sure to find one that fits your needs. Just make sure that you’re getting acid-free, lignin-free, archival quality photo boxes to ensure that your photos are going to be safe inside them for the long run.
Archival quality photo boxes are great if you have lots of loose pictures that you don’t really want in an album. You have the freedom to easily categorize them however you want and they’re easily protected from any damaging effects of light. This is a great option for long term bulk photo storage.
You’ll surely encounter some negatives while going through your older pictures. For those unfamiliar with what these are, they are essentially the old film reels that contain the original image taken with the camera. They are usually kept as back ups even after getting developed so that you can reprint any of the images.
The key to properly storing your negatives is to have them lay flat to prevent curling. This can be done in any storage box or safe. You can even go the extra mile and use archival quality storage sheets. Just make sure to keep them somewhere separate from your photos to ensure that they’re safe even if something were to happen to the printed and developed pictures.
Converting your older physical pictures or negatives into digital photos is a great way to keep them safe for years. You can easily store them on a hard drive or an online storage provider and have instant access to them without having to worry about flipping through boxes. You can also easily upload them anywhere and share links to your online albums with loved ones anywhere in the world!
There’s a million and one ways to properly store pictures. Understanding the right way to do it for your specific living situation will take some effort, but it’s well worth it. Following this guide and properly storing your pictures will ensure that your loved ones can still enjoy them decades from now.
However, we do admit that sometimes things don’t go your way. Accidents can happen and your pictures are still just pieces of paper. Don’t worry! If this ever happens, then just reach out to us over at the Image Restoration Center. We provide the best photo restoration services in the country and you won’t even have to leave your home! Check out our website to see what we can do for you.