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How To Properly Store Photos & Pictures

Family photos and non-photographic pictures created before the days of digital imaging are gradually disappearing. That’s a shame, because those old photos and pictures tell us a lot about ourselves. They speak of family histories, community events and who we are as a people. Preserving them is of paramount importance. This post is about how to approach picture storage properly.

This post was written with the intent of helping readers learn key strategies for storage and transport. It is possible to preserve old photos and pictures so that future generations can enjoy them. Perhaps they can also learn from them.

Storing Paper Photos and Pictures

Our starting point is understanding that we are talking about photos and pictures printed on paper. As useful as paper is, it breaks down over time. Paper is an organic product made from trees. As such, it won’t last forever. It takes a concerted effort to preserve paper and the images on it so as to guarantee it lasts as long as possible.

Paper photos and pictures have a few natural enemies: light, moisture and high temperatures. All three affect paper and ink in different ways. Needless to say that proper photo and picture storage accounts for these three enemies as much as possible.

Where light is concerned, keeping old photos and pictures away from it is a good idea. Light is harmful because it causes ink to fade. That’s why photos and pictures printed on paper begin to look dull over time. They lose their brilliance and luster because light is causing the ink to gradually fade away.

Moisture is a problem because it affects both ink and paper. Moisture can discolor paper, turning it a yellowish brown color that easily interferes with the image printed on it. If there’s enough moisture to contend with, it can even break down the fibers of the paper so that it falls apart. Moisture also breaks down ink and washes it away.

Finally, high temperatures can alter the chemicals used to process printed photos and pictures. This can lead to discoloration. As such, it is generally recommended that old photos and pictures be stored someplace where temperatures are not likely to exceed 75°F for an extended amount of time.

Good Ventilation

It never hurts to consider picture storage in areas with good ventilation. As you may know, poor ventilation invites moisture accumulation and mold growth. Understanding that paper has a certain amount of moisture in it, you don’t want to give mold any opportunity to grow. Good ventilation is a step in that direction.

Good ventilation allows for air circulation throughout the space. It prevents mold growth and reduces the likelihood that additional moisture will accumulate in the space. That’s good for old photos and pictures. The less moisture they have to contend with, the longer they will last.

Photo and Picture Storage at Home

Many people choose to store their old photos and pictures at home in order to guarantee their safety and have them on hand for easy access. Storing at home is fine as long as some basic principles are applied. First and foremost, old photos and pictures should never be stored in locations subject to the previously mentioned enemies. That means not storing them in basements, garages, or attics.

All three environments are subject to temperature extremes and moisture. Basements and garages are also notorious for being affected by weather. Temperature extremes in the garage and flooding in the basement ruin in old photos and pictures faster than just about anything else.

So, where should you store your photos and pictures? The best option is a closet shelf. Being up on a shelf limits the risks of damage should your home suffer minor flooding. Also, because closets are generally part of a home’s living space, temperatures remain fairly constant. Of course, there is no concern about excess light in a dark closet.

In the absence of available closet space, you might consider storing photos and pictures in a cabinet or under a bed. You get the same benefits of climate control and protection against light exposure.

Offsite Photo and Picture Storage

There are times when it’s necessary to store your old photos and pictures in a location other than your home. Self storage immediately comes to mind. This is a fine option as long as you remember the same principles that apply to storing the items at home.

If you must utilize self storage, make sure the unit you choose is climate controlled. It should have heat during the winter months and air-conditioning during the summer. Being able to adjust the temperature in your own unit would be optimal, but sometimes that is not possible. Sometimes temperatures are maintained by the property owner. In such a case, ensure that temperatures are never allowed to exceed 75°F.

Another thing to remember about self storage is to store all items up and off the floor. Use wooden pallets, shelves or wire racks. The reasoning here is simple: there is always a risk of flood. Depending on where the self storage unit is located, there is also the risk of critters. Keeping your storage containers off the ground is the best way to keep them safe from both.

Also be sure to use plastic storage containers with tight lids. Again, you never know. Unless you visit your storage unit every day, you’ll have no way of knowing for sure that there are no moisture or temperature issues. A solid plastic container with a tight lid offers maximum protection.

Flat and Chemical Free

You may choose to store your photos and pictures in albums. That is a good choice. However, be sure to look for albums made with materials that are acid-free. Good material choices include polypropylene and polyester. Never use albums offering pages with pre-applied adhesive. Adhesives can damage pictures over time.

In the absence of albums, you can store old photos and pictures in plastic boxes. Remember that the goal here is to keep the pictures as flat as possible and free of all chemicals. If you are not going to use albums, make sure to stack your pictures together by size. Don’t just throw them in the storage container randomly. To do so is to defeat the purpose.

Transporting Your Photos and Pictures

The photos and pictures you are trying so desperately to preserve are at their best when they are being enjoyed by others. As such, you undoubtedly want to take them to family gatherings and other events. Again, that’s fine. Just be careful about how you transport your prized possessions.

Keeping photos and pictures as flat as possible is key. This is why albums are so helpful. Whether you use albums or not, be careful not to expose your photos and pictures to moisture or sunlight during transport. Keep them dry and dark. Don’t transport them in the trunk, either. The trunk is an open invitation to everything from moisture to heat to dirt.

Preserve the photos and pictures in albums. You and family members, friends can enjoy them with very little concern for their immediate safety. Items shared loosely are a different matter. As stuffy as it sounds, old photos and pictures not viewed in albums should be handled with gloved hands. Otherwise, oil and debris from the skin can contribute to paper and ink breaking down.

Creating Digital Backups

We will close this post by discussing the idea of creating digital backups. While preserving old photos and pictures, especially paper prints, is a wonderful idea, there are never any guarantees of long-term success. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that your best efforts will preserve paper documents forever. Do yourself and your posterity a favor by making digital copies.

There are many ways to do this without spending a fortune. If you have a digital scanner for your computer, you’ll find making digital copies fairly easy. Just place as many photos as you can on the scanner and scan away. Save the images to your computer first, then to separate storage later.

You can use a digital camera or your smart phone if you don’t have a scanner. This is a bit more cumbersome, but it can be done. The secret is to lay the pictures flat and use something to hold the camera steady. A tripod works very well for this purpose. You simply take pictures of each picture and save the images to external storage.

Picture Storage
Picture Storage

Who doesn’t love looking at old photos and pictures? They remind us of days gone by; they speak of the promises of the future. Thus, preserving our old photos and pictures is important. Hopefully the tips offered here have answered any questions you have about photo and picture storage.

Box-n-Go Can Help Any of Your Storage Needs

When it comes to any kind of storage Box-n-Go is here to help. Our storage units are breathable. This means that the environment inside the unit equalizes with that on the outside. The result? No moisture build up. No mildew. Our storage service also allows you to load/unload only once. Less wear and tear on you and your belongings. Just call us at 1-877-269-6461 and we will be happy to help you with any of your storage and moving needs.