Protecting your precious photographic memories

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You may have noticed that when you look at those old photographs, there are some faces that you just can’t quite put a name to. Record as many details as possible about your photograph while you still can remember them!

Dates, places and names are the minimum details you should record. If you are writing on the back of the photograph, use pencil only please. Over time, ink can damage the print. A 2B pencil is perfect. If you must use a pen to write on the back, try to write on the edge, rather than in the middle.


Store your photographs in something. Photographic emulsion is easily scratched, and light does fade the pigments eventually. Even your fingerprints can damage the emulsion over time!

Photographic albums are available everywhere, even at your local pharmacist, but not many are of archival quality. Don’t buy ‘self adhesive’ or magnetic photograph albums.

If you are going to look at the photographs regularly, a clear plastic enclosure is probably best. Polyvinylchloride (PVC) is the worst plastic to use! Polyester is great and polypropylene is fine, too. Otherwise, you might want to consider paper.

If you can afford it, purchase albums from a reputable archival supplier.

Keep your photographs cool but dry. Humidity and heat are enemies of your photographs, as are dust, insects and mould.


Copy your precious photographs. Almost all photographs will eventually degrade. This is because the chemistry inherent in their make-up is unstable.

Black and white photographs will keep longer than colour prints if they have been processed correctly, so if you can’t afford the time or cost of copying all of your photographs, consider a staged approach. Start with your colour prints, especially the ones from the ’60s and ’70s!

It’s also a good idea to store the copies in a different location.

You could also scan your photographs. However, there are quite a few associated technical considerations, so before you embark upon a major scanning project, do your research. You might find that poorly scanned images will not be an adequate substitute for your precious originals in fifty years time!


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