Photo Preservation Tips

Photo Preservation Tips

We all have photographs that we want to preserve and display for future generations. But how de we go about that? Follow the tips below to begin preserving your photographs.

How to Handle Photographs and Negatives

When handling old (and new) photographs, make sure your work space is clean and spacious so that you have enough area to work. Do not eat, drink or smoke around these photographs. Food grease on your hands my not show right away on photographs, but it will over time. Make sure your hands are clean and use gloves when handling photographs and negatives. Fingerprints may cause permanent stains and damage on photographs.

How to Store Photographs and Negatives

The best way to store your photograph collection is in a cool temperature area. Warm storage areas are a great breeding ground for insect activity and chemical decay. Ideal temperature can range from 65-73 degrees Fahrenheit. The humidity level in your storage area should be below 65% to prevent mold and insect activity. However, do not store your photographs in an area with less than 15% humidity as it can cause brittleness in the photographs.

Some of the worst places to store your photographs are in garages, basements, and attics. These areas are very hard to control temperature and humidity. Store archival materials containing your photographs away from areas that can cause water damage (these areas include under pipes, windows, and areas where the roof has leaked previously). Store items on shelves. Shelves should not be wooden as wood can be an invitation to termites. Metal that does not rust will be an ideal shelf choice. It is best to keep your photograph collection off the floor. Keep food and drinks away from your storage area to prevent rodent and insect activity.

Photo storage box

When storing your photographs, use a box with folders that fit inside of it without folding, rolling, or bending. A great option is a document box that has spacers inside. Do not overstuff your box and make sure the folders and box are lignin-free and acid-free to prevent chemical damage from occurring overtime.

Photo storage sleeve

If you are working with photographs that are damaged, placing them in polyester sleeves slightly larger than the document you are working is the best option for preservation. However, place only one item per sleeve.

When storing old photographs, avoid any and all adhesives (glue, tape, rubber cement,) and avoid rubber bands and non-stainless-steel paper clips and staples. These items have been known to cause chemical damage.

How to Display Old Photographs

Exposure to light, both visible and ultraviolet, can and will cause changes to your photographs. It is best to display copies of the original and keep the original in storage. 

If you wish to display your original photographs, the list below will help prevent many damages that can occur.

  • Display your photographs with a frame that has UV ray filtering glass or acrylic.
  • Avoid displaying your photographs where the sunlight or fluorescent light hits it directly.
  • Ultraviolet light is more damaging than visible light. It is best to limit how much light and how intense the light is around your photographs.
  • If you wish to mat your photographs, use acid-free materials.

For more information about preserving photographs, click here to see best practices from the National Archives.

Below are links to some of the boxes best used for preservation of photographs, postcards, and other paper artifacts. These are similar to what Osceola History uses in our Spence Research Center and archives. 

Archival Photo Storage Box

Archival Photo Binder Box

Information compiled by Osceola History Curator Michelle Finnegan.