Preparing Photos for Storage

Selfies may be all the rage, but long before the smartphone camera, people took pictures using actual film. They collected boxes and albums full of important memories.  Even with digital photos, people still print copies to frame or preserve in scrapbooks and photo albums.  While most photos are meant to be seen and shared, preparing photos for storage will eventually be a likely necessity. This can be done either temporarily or for a longer term. That is when you need to know some important things about photo storage in order to assure that your memories are properly preserved.

Choosing Storage

The key to protecting photos is having appropriate storage.  A hot attic with lots of windows may lead to cracks and faded photos and may even melt negatives.  A basement may be cool and dark, but it is also likely to be humid or even susceptible to flooding which leads to mildew and water stains.

The ideal storage space for photos will be cool, dark, and dry.  If you are renting a storage unit and have a lot of photos to store, make sure you get an air conditioned unit to ensure temperature control. Less dust accumulates in an interior unit. One above ground level will be less likely to experience ground seepage or actual flooding.

Photo Preparation

Once you’ve secured a storage space, it is time to prepare your photos.  Here are some important points to keep in mind

  • Choose photo albums that pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT).  This virtually eliminates the chance that your photos will fade or stain.
  • Photo sleeves should be made of uncoated plastic, either polypropylene, pure polyethylene, or polyester to keep your photos from sticking.  Avoid all PVC plastics.
  • Store loose photos flat between pieces of cardboard.  Tape the cardboard together, keeping the tape from touching the actual photos, or simply stack layers of photos and cardboard in an airtight tub or box.
  • Do not use rubber bands to bind loose photos in batches as the chemical in the rubber will cause photos to deteriorate. Likewise avoid paperclips as they can leave scratches and punctures. Other things to avoid include newspaper (the ink has acids that erode and damage photos) and envelopes.
  • Store negatives separately, as a backup to your photos.  They are especially sensitive to dust, light, and heat so pack and store them appropriately.
  • Digitally copy all your photos and negative, is possible.  If you don’t have a scanner, there are companies that will do the work for you, returning all your originals as well as a CD or DVD with all the scanned images.
  • If you choose to store photos in their frames, be sure to use bubble wrap or specially designed storage boxes for artwork and mirrors.  Clearly mark these items “fragile” to help prevent accidents. A broken glass frame will likely scratch or even rip the photo it holds.
  • Do not store irreplaceable photos. Photos and negatives take up very little space. Try to keep these items with you.
  • Mirrors and Pictures: Store mirrors and pictures inside similarly sized knocked down boxes. This affords them protection from scratches and dust.
  • Breakable Items: Wrap breakable items inside bubble wrap and store with linens.

One last thing to keep in mind: if you have any truly irreplaceable and invaluable photos, consider keeping them with you rather than placing them in storage.

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