How to Preserve Your Old Photos Part 2

Last week's blog talked about organizing your photo collections and how to store your slides properly. This week we'll discuss storing your printed pictures and negatives, as well as some additional storage issues.

Storing Photo Prints Properly
Photo prints should be stored in the dark at low temperature and low humidity. The general rule for long-term storage is to keep them at a consistent non-freezing temperature of 40o or below, however most photos can store well for years at temperatures between 40-75o degrees as long as the humidity is kept low and the both temperature and humidity are consistent. Relative humidity should be kept between 30-40%. Temperature and humidity changes will cause colors to fade faster as well as causing the prints to warp and crack.

You should also ensure that your photos are never stored with newspaper clippings, or that newspaper clippings are fully-laminated in a PVC-free plastic. The acid in newspaper will damage your photos.

You should never mark photos directly, not even on the back. Each photo should be separated from the next with acid-free paper or tissue paper in order to prevent them from sticking to one another, and photos of different sizes should be separated from one another by a rigid separator to prevent bending and warping.

Photo albums are a good way to store your photos, however you should always look for albums that use polyester (mylar) and acid-free, lignin-free paper. You should be able to find photo albums that pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT) at photography supply stores or online.

Your photo albums or other storage solution should then be stored in an opaque plastic or thick, sturdy, acid-free cardboard box. Once again, you are best off finding a PAT-certified container. You should also put a packet of silica gel in your storage container to ensure that any excess moisture that might get into the container is absorbed.

Storing Negatives Properly
Photo negatives should be stored similarly to slides in a cool, dry, dark environment. In general, the relative humidity should stay within the range of 30-40%. Slides should be stored at a low (non-freezing) temperature of 40o or below. It is most important to keep them at a consistent temperature. You can store slides at temperatures up to 70o so long as the temperature and humidity remain consistent.

It is best to store your negatives in a separate location from your slides or prints so that if a flood, fire or other disaster damages one, you will have backup with the other.

It is best to preserve negatives in negative sleeves made of polyester or polypropylene. These sleeves can then be mounted in a binder or hanging file box. These should be stored in an opaque plastic or sturdy, acid-free cardboard box.

Other Storage Issues
I'll go over some other tips on how to restore old photos that have been warped, or otherwise damaged in a different blog. Below, however, you will find some common advice for storing pictures that I have not included above.

Freezing - A common method of storing prints, slides and negatives is freezing. While storing your photos in freezing temperatures does slow down their natural chemical decay process, freezing should not be attempted unless you are a professional or take immaculate care in the freezing and thawing process. The biggest problem you will have with freezing is frost. Moisture introduced when opening a freezer will cause frost crystals to form inside the freezer. If it has a defrosting cycle, this will introduce unwanted moisture into your storage environment, damaging your pictures. You will also have a greater possibility of power outages, condenser failures and other problems that could cause improper thawing and unwanted temperature changes. It is more likely that your photos will be damaged by improper freezing techniques than by proper storage at non-freezing temperatures.

Photos Deteriorate - No matter how good your storage solution is, your photos will deteriorate over time based upon your method of preservation and the storage medium. Under proper conditions, some high-quality slide films and negatives will last for up to 50 years without severe deterioration. However, it is always best to get them copied to a digital format as soon as possible so they can be preserved forever without breaking down.

Off-site Archiving - You should always have an off-site backup of your photos, no matter if they are slides, prints, negatives or digital. This will help prevent them from being lost due to a disaster. Your copies should never be stored together. This is made easy with digital storage, because you can use an online backup solution or other similar method of protecting your photos. 29k Productions automatically backs up your scanned digital photos to a protected redundant archive that helps prevent your photos from being lost due to hard drive failure. Additionally, we keep an off-site backup in a secure, climate-controlled vault so that in the unlikely event something happens to the on-site archive, your photos continue to be preserved. That way, in addition to the copies you have, we will always have your photos available for you.

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