How to preserve your photographs - AmericaNowNews.com

How to preserve your photographs

Whether it's pictures of long-lost ancestors or memories of important moments in black and white or color, we often forget how to take good care of our important photos.

Preserving important photos for future generations doesn't mean placing them in an album and stuffing them in a closet.

America Now headed to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. to find out how curators keep historical photographs looking picture perfect.

To keep your family's moments in time lasting a lifetime, start by taking the time to research the proper technique for preserving them.

Throughout history, the tricks and tools of photography have changed dramatically from the type of paper photos are printed on, to the dyes used to make the pictures, and now, to the type of digital files used to electronically store them. 

A museum curator or photography expert can give you the specifics about your snapshots, and suggest the best method for making them last. 

David Haberstich is a curator of photography at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. For storing photos, he suggests you purchase acid-free boxes and paper.

Organize your photos with dividers that identify information about your picture without actually writing on them. If you write on your photos, over time, the ink will penetrate through the paper.

The next thing you need to do is keep your photos away from plastic. 

"I'd say no, never laminate," Haberstich says.

Never use inexpensive plastic sleeves or magnetic self-adhesive albums to store photos. 

Any heat or humidity will cause the plastic to stick to the photo and could potentially ruin your photos.

The optimal storage temperature for photos is 68 degrees. It is not a good idea to store your photos in a damp basement or the attic where temperatures can get really hot or cold. Your freezer is actually not a bad place to store photos.

Speciality kits available at photography shops are perfect for preserving negatives and fragile photos.  

Giving photos an icy incubation stops the chemical process. A color-coded button lets you know if there's too much humidity hanging out inside.

If you want to show off your snap shots, it's best to make a duplicate to frame and store the original.

If you inherited a framed photo, Haberstich recommends, "You need to get them apart and inspect them and make sure everything looks good."

That includes making sure the backing and matting is acid-free and the frame is metal, not wood, which can deteriorate the paper.

If your memories were made in the past decade and are digitally stored, Haberstich says you should "print them all out." 

That's because CDs break, computers crash, technology changes and online photo hosting websites go out of business.


 Additional Information: 

  • Write down the who/what/why/when with a 6B drawing pencil found in art supply stores, soft lead pencil. Do NOT use ink! Click to read more.
  • Store slides in boxes or on carousel trays with the lid on, don't use plastic because that could cause them to stick together. Click to read more. 
  • Use metal frames instead of wood, and don't use wood backing. Click to read more. 
  • Humidity, light, adhesives, acid and pests are the natural enemies of photos. Click to read more.  
  • Click here to read more information about caring for all kinds of treasures.
  • Avoid storing photographs in the attic, the basement, or along the outside walls of a building where environmental conditions are more prone to extremes and fluctuations and where condensation may occur. Click here to read more.
  • The optimal storage conditions for most photographs are a temperature of 68°F and relative humidity in the range of 30-40 percent. Film-based negatives and contemporary color photographs benefit from storage in cooler environments of 30-40°F and 30-40 percent relative humidity. Click to read more.
  • Plastic sleeves should be constructed of uncoated polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene. They should not be frosted. Click to read more.
  • Do not use magnetic or self-adhesive albums and make sure the paper is acid free. Click to read more.
  • Use un-buffered ragboard mats, and frame photographs with archive sound materials. Use ultraviolet-filtering Plexiglas to help protect the photographs during light exposure.
  • For precious photos, make a duplicate and display it while storing the original.
  • Do not clean photographs with erasers. Brush soiled photographs carefully with a clean, soft brush. Proceed from the center of the photograph outward toward the edges. Do not attempt to clean photographs with water- or solvent-based cleaners, such as window cleaner or film cleaner. Improper cleaning of photographic materials can cause serious and often irreversible damage, such as permanent staining, abrasion, alteration, or loss of binder and image.

Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.

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