Capturing Memories: How to Store Photos

Jon Fesmire | Feb 20, 2017 @ 03:00 PM

Do you have a collection of photographs that you’d like to keep in good shape? Printed photos are sadly susceptible to aging and physical damage, so it’s important to learn how to store them safely. Proper storage prevents fading, wrinkling, crumpling and other forms of deterioration.

Where to Store Photos

You can store your photographs at home or in a self storage unit. Whichever route you go, always remember that photos should be stored between 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot weather is especially bad for photos, as it can cause them to fade. This is especially noticeable in color images.

You also want low humidity. If it’s comfortable for you, it should be fine for your photographs. If the humidity is too high, the excess water in the air can damage the paper and ink, and if it is too low, photos can become dry and brittle. If you plan to store photos at home, you’ll want to keep them out of the basement, as this part of the house is often more humid than the rest of the home. Avoid storing photos in the attic, which can be too dry. If you’re keeping them in a self storage unit, get one with climate control if possible.

Wherever you keep them, remember that light, especially sunlight, will prematurely fade the colors. Aside from framed pictures on your walls, avoid exposing your photographs to sunlight.

Negatives

Consider negatives your back-ups. Of course, this only goes for photographs taken with traditional film. Photos taken with a digital camera will have their digital counterparts that you should store with a cloud service, like Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive.

If you do have negatives that you want to keep as image back-ups, store them in a separate location from the photographs. If an unexpected event ruins the photos, the negatives should be safe elsewhere, and vice versa.

Use the Right Storage Materials

Don’t use just any boxes, photo albums, or separators for your photographs. Also, don’t store them with newspaper clippings or other acidic paper. Paperclips & rubber bands can physically damage photos with grooves and bends. Tape, even applied to the back of a photograph, can cause damage. Don’t write on the back of a photo in pen. Instead, write lightly in pencil only.

To help you with choosing storage materials for photos, the photography industry has developed a national standard called the Photographic Activity Test (PAT). Check the label of boxes or albums you’re interested in to see if they have passed the PAT. If not, then the item likely contains chemicals that will damage your photographs over time.

One excellent way to store your photographs is in archival boxes that pass the PAT, which you can find at photography shops. Also purchase acid-free envelopes of the correct size, or photo-safe mylar sleeves. For pictures that are 4” x 6” and under, use 4” x 6” photo envelopes and boxes. For larger images, up to 8” x 10”, use 8” x 10” photo envelopes and boxes. In light pencil, you can write something about each photograph on its envelope. With this sizing system, stacking the boxes will be easy.

Digitizing Pictures

If you have photographs that you want to digitize, and you’re missing the negatives, this should help. Scan each at a high resolution to store as much detail as possible. PNG, TGA, TIFF, and BMP images save large, but without loss of detail. If you save your images as JPEGs, save them at the highest quality possible.

Also, try to not scan each image more than once or twice. Scanning involves both bright light and heat, which can damage the photographs. As suggested above, store your digitized images with a cloud service. These days, those cost little to nothing, and are a great way to ensure that, should your own computer suffer data loss, you’ll still have your pictures.

It’s common to assume that photographs will be fine in any envelope, album, or box. This simply isn’t true. While it may take years for photographs to fade or become brittle, it is still worth keeping your most treasured pictures as well-preserved as possible.