Original prints are extremely sensitive to temperature, humidity, light and touch. Fortunately, with modern photo organizing methods we no longer have to worry about losing our images, since CDs are less sensitive than prints. However, if you still have prints around, perhaps some as old as 100 years, preservation practices can greatly extend the life of your historically or sentimentally priceless pictures.

Historians, librarians and archivists through the years have developed some good preservation practices including storage and handling guidelines.

Proper storage conditions are essential for photograph preservation.

Suggested Conditions   A relative humidly of 40 percent and a temperature between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with no exposure to light is the ideal atmosphere for long term storage.

Shelving   Metal shelves with a baked enamel finish are the best; avoid the use of cabinets or shelving made of wood, particleboard or pressboard.

Boxes or File Cabinets   Actively used collections should be stored in boxes rather than file cabinets. Movement of the drawers can cause surface abrasions on the photographic emulsions.

Enclosures: Paper vs. Plastic

  • Always wear latex or cotton gloves if you must handle the photos.
  • If images must be openly displayed, such as in a museum, do not expose to direct sunlight and never leave out for more than 3 months if possible.
  • Make copies, use the professional copies for study or display and put the originals away in a good storage place.
  • If you have to take a picture out of a frame and it is sticking to the glass, you may want to contact a professional conservator for advice.


  • Exposure to light
  • Fingerprints
  • Tape
  • Glue
  • Ink
  • Rubber bands
  • Paper clips
  • Airborne pollutants
  • Lamination

Things to Avoid

Digital archiving is a good back up practice, but keep in mind that technology changes. If you burn a back up CD in a certain format to be read by a specific program you may have to transfer the images to a new form from time to time. Also keep in mind that scanners and copiers can be extremely damaging to historic pictures, make sure that you make a good copy the first time. Consult your scanners user manual to find out which method will produce the best results and always make sure your copier or scanner is clean before you use it.

Many recommend that you save images at a minimum of 300 dpi resolution and in a JPEG and TIFF format. JPEG images can be viewed online with good results and are compressed so they download and email easily. TIFF format is good for printing and preserves the optimum amount of detail, color and flexibility.

The above guidelines are a summary of what archivists and historians suggest, however if you have historic photos that have been damaged, from a fire or flood, or are otherwise compromised, you may want to consult a professional before you begin handling the photos.

If you are concerned about the long term storage of your new photos, store the originals with the negatives in a safe place; keep a digital back up and use copies, online galleries or paper prints for sharing or scrapbooking.


Albright, G. (1999). Storage Enclosures for Photographic Materials. Retrieved Mar. 07, 2006, from http://www.nedcc.org/plam3/tleaf411.htm.

Hewlett Packard, (2006). Quick tips for scanning photos. Retrieved Mar. 07, 2006, from HP Digital Photography Web site: http://www.hp.com/united-states/consumer/dpc/organize_edit_archive/10_tips_scanning_photos.html.

The United Methodist Church, (1997). Handling and Care of Photographs. Retrieved Mar. 07, 2006, from The General Commission on Archives and History Web site: http://www.gcah.org/care.html.

University of North Carolina, (2006). Some basics of photograph preservation. Retrieved Mar. 07, 2006, from UNC University Libraries Web site: http://www.lib.unc.edu/ncc/pha/pres.html.

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