10 Tips to Take Care of Your Family Photographs

October is American Archives Month. Here are 10 tips to care for your family photographs from (former) Photograph Curator Karen Keehr

  1. Store your photographs and negatives in rooms where temperature can be controlled. Avoid attics, basements, and garages where temperature and humidity fluctuate.
  2. Protect your photographs from exposure to light. Fading is permanent and cannot be repaired.
  3. Whenever possible, display copies of old photographs instead of originals.
  4. Tears are often best left unmended. Don’t use tape, glue, rubber cement, or staples to “repair” photographs. Place torn photographs into clear polyethene or Mylar envelops.
  5. Do not attempt to clean or repair photographs yourself or allow someone not trained in photographic conservation to “restore” your historic photographs.
  6. Identify people, places and dates on the back of the photograph with a soft pencil. Be careful not to press too hard and leave an impression in the emulsion. Don’t use ink pens or markers of any kind. They tend to bleed through the paper over time.
  7. Handle you photographs carefully. Never hold them by the corners.
  8. Don’t leave fingerprints. Wash your hands thoroughly before touching your photographs or wear white cotton gloves or powder-free nitrile gloves (like those used in first aid or medical exams).
  9. Choose Acid-Free material to store your photographs. Look for items that have passed the PAT or Photographic Activity Test. Never store photographs in “magnetic” or “no stick” albums.
  10. Storage materials should provide support to your photograph and protect them from contamination, dirt, and pollution. Proper storage can also aide in disaster recovery and improve organization.


(Updated October 12, 2023)

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