Choose wisely when storing your important photographs

After a library talk recently about “The ABCs of Photo Organizing,” a woman asked me why I was using that album, pointing to my 12-by-12 Creative Memories scrapbook album of my stepson’s photos.

“Honestly,” I said, “I know this album will last longer than the photographs.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I worked for Creative Memories years ago. And my desk was next to the desks of Creative Memories scientists — real scientists with white coats and Ph.D.s who wrote scientific papers and mingled with other science types at conferences with names like “International Organization for Standardization.” These guys took their work seriously, and I, as a member of the marketing department, was often the recipient of their scientific reports praising or quashing some new product idea.

So I happen to know Creative Memories albums will last something on the lines of 400 years, longer than most photographs.

The woman at the library said, “But they cost more.”

“That’s true,” I said, “But you get what you pay for.”

If you’re saving a picture of your dog because she’s so darn cute, and you’re just looking for a vehicle to inspire an occasional jolt of happiness, put the image on your computer screen saver. Images like that don’t need to last even 2 years so when your computer crashes, you won’t care if the image is gone.

But images of your wedding, your babies, your dead grandmother and the graduation ceremony you worked 5 years to earn might deserve a little bit more care in their handling.

Even the best album won’t last 400 years if you store it underneath a leaky pipe in the basement. As in real estate, location is important in storing photos. A good photo album is a start, but here are a few more tips for storing your printed photos:

  • Choose temperatures like Goldilocks — not too hot, not too cold, but just right. The rate of chemical deterioration doubles with every 10-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature, says Erik Carlson, director of operations for Film Transfer in Northbrook, Ill. Strive for cooler than 70 degrees but not freezing.
  • Moderate humidity, too. The perfect atmosphere for long photo life is 30-70% humidity.
  • Air pollution is a no-no. Prevent dust and particles from settling on your photos. In many cases, that means closed, upright photo albums and boxes with covers.
  • Light is like kryptonite to your photos. Any light is damaging, but direct sunlight is most damaging, Carlson says. Display copies of important photos on your bookshelves and walls, not the originals. And close your albums when you’re done viewing them.
  • Limit how much you touch your photos. Unless your photos are as important as the Declaration of Independence, you probably don’t have to go as far as wearing white gloves but you could. Be aware that even the cleanest of hands transfer fingerprints and oils to photographs. And, Carlson reminds, careless handling can cause physical damage, abrasion, tears and breakage. Consider wiping photos with a cotton cloth and use page protectors or plastic sleeves for images.

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