Family photos are priceless. Like a memory, a photograph is a frozen moment, stolen from the grasp of time. A collection of photos is a visual history of your family, your friends, your life.
Most of us cherish our photos. That's why we keep them safely stored in the attic, the basement, under our beds or in a drawer. If we're really ambitious, we put our favorites on display, either on the wall or in photo albums or scrapbooks. But are they really safe?
If you read the previous article, "What You Don't Know CAN Hurt Your Photos," you know some of a photograph's natural enemies. Read on to find out where and how to store your photos.
Keep These Valuables in a Cool, Dry Place
Uninsulated attics and basements are the wrong answer. The extreme temperature and humidity swings in an attic will make your photographic paper crack, and the moisture of a basement is often off the relative humidity scale. In case of disaster, the basement is the first place that gets flooded, and the attic is bound to go up in smoke.
The key is to find a cool, dry area of your home that is protected from violent changes of temperature. The ideal climate for photos is below about 68° Fahrenheit and under 50% relative humidity.
If that sounds a bit like a safe-deposit box at your bank, you may be right. Especially for one-of-a-kind photos, there is no safer place. But it's not a practical choice. Your photos will be safe if you store them in a cool, dry area of your home.
Showing Them Off
Most of us love to share our photos. We use them to decorate our homes, offices and cars, or we put them in scrapbooks and photo albums that are easy to show off. But we need to be careful.
Before you hang that photo on the wall, make sure it's safe from the sun. Direct exposure to sunlight can cause your photographs to fade in just a few years. If there's no other option, you can either buy a special filter to protect the image, or just hang a copy on the wall and keep the original safely stored.
If you're into scrapbooking, be highly selective. Most photo albums should be
avoided like the plague. Even some materials marketed as "archival" contain
acids, adhesives, rubbers or other materials that will eventually destroy your
If preservation is more important than presentation, consider storing your photographs in special envelopes, safe plastic sleeves or an enameled-steel storage cabinet. Those treasures are worth the effort and the expense.
Save it Forever with Digital
The best way to save your valuable photos may be by eliminating the paper altogether. Consider making digital images of all your photos. Unlike emulsion-based prints, digital images don't fade, erode or crack. In theory, they'll last forever - or at least as long as we have access to the right technology. If you choose this route, you should consider storing a backup copy off-site. Several options are available on the web.
It's a lot easier to wipe off a CD or download your backup than it is to repair a pile of images damaged in a flood or fire...