Family photos are some of our most treasured possessions, and with good reason. These images tell the story of our lives. They show who we are and where we’ve been. If we’re lucky, we even have photos of generations past to give us a glimpse into what life was like at that time. And maybe one day, our current photos can offer that to the next generation.
With October being Family History Month, I wanted to share some tips on how to care for and preserve your photos, both old and new.
Step 1: Organize
There’s a good chance that somewhere in your home, you have boxes and bags of photos, many still in the envelope they came in from when you had the film developed. Your first step is going to be to go through these photos, and toss any that you might not want to keep forever (am I the only one who always got doubles?) If you still have the negatives, keep them! It’s much easier to have a reprint made from the negatives than it is to copy or enlarge a print. For newer photos you’ve taken with your digital camera, select your keepers, and have them printed through a great local shop, or a reputable online print lab - I recommend Nations Photo Lab. If you’ve recently have a professional photo session, order prints through your photographer to guarantee heirloom quality.
Once you physically have the photos you want to preserve, put them in some sort of order that makes sense to you - I like to do it chronologically. If you’d like to label the back of your photos with names and dates, make sure you use an archival pen that will not bleed through or fade over time.
Step 2: Protect & Store
For storing your physical photos, you need to make sure you’re choosing archival and acid free materials. If you’re going to be putting away your photos for a considerable amount of time, I like these clear storage boxes. Each set holds 600 4x6 photos. I’d also recommend keeping the corresponding negatives in the case. The outside of the cases can be labeled without damaging the photos.
Another option, if you’d like to be able to pull the photos out to look at from time to time, is a 3 ring photo album. The advantage to the 3 ring system is that the pages will lay flat, making it easier to add and remove photos. You also have the option to add additional photo safe pages. Make sure they are acid, lignin and PVC free. When it comes to professional sessions, be sure to choose a photographer that offers high quality albums and books that are meant to stand the test of time.
Now that you’ve got your photos properly protected, where to store them? You want to keep them away from the enemies of photographs - extreme temperatures, extreme humidity, and bright light. The National Archives & Records Administration suggests keeping photos in an area with somewhere between 15% and 65% relative humidity. Very low humidity can cause the photos to become brittle and break, and very high humidity can cause ink pigments to run and fade, as well as create a welcoming environment for mold growth and pests. They also recommend an area lower than 75 degrees, and away from direct light, especially UV and fluorescent lights.
So what does this mean? Keep your photos out of basements, attics, and garages, and you should be good to go.
Step 3: Back Them Up
It’s always a good idea to have a backup of your photos in a safe place. Old photos can be scanned and digitized, allowing you to essentially create a virtual copy. You can do this on your own with a scanner, or through a company such as Legacy Box. Legacy Box will send you an empty box, which you can fill with your photos and mail to them, and they will send it back to you as a USB or DVD. You can even send them very old photos that may not be in the best shape, and they will professionally restore them. (Tip: They often run promotions or groupon deals, so be sure to look for those before you purchase!)
You have a few options for storing digital backups. This first is an online cloud storage system. I personally use Google Drive, which offers 15GB of storage for free (that’s roughly between 2,500 and 5,000 photos, depending on size.) You can upgrade to 100GB for $1.99 per month. Another option is Amazon Prime, which includes unlimited photo storage as part of their membership. Amazon Prime is $99 per year.
You can also purchase an external hard drive to store your photos, however you may not need that much space, and all hard drives will ultimately fail, causing you to need a backup to your backup - not very efficient. Alternatively, you could upload your photos onto one or several USBs, and keep them in a waterproof and fireproof safe. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that technology is always changing, and while this system will work for now, you may have to adapt to a newer technology later. I recommend reassessing your storage options every five years.
If all of this information seems daunting, take it one step at a time! Rome wasn’t built in a day. Being the family photo keeper isn’t an easy job, but the people you love will thank you for it later. And if you have any questions, I’m always here to help! You can email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.