Family photographs are often treasured possessions, but preserving and organising them can seem like a daunting prospect. Who better to turn to for advice than the conservation team here at The National Archives – their tips for caring for photographs offer simple guidance we can all follow:
Handle photographs with clean hands and wear gloves where possible
Unlike many other items in our collection, we recommend wearing gloves to handle photographs. This reduces the risk of damage, as fingerprints can leave oily stains on the emulsion. Read more about the importance of gloves in this blog post.
Store photo albums flat, preferably in an acid-free box
Not only will this prevent physical and environmental damage, it will also help to keep images organised.
Reduce exposure to light
If you think a photograph is likely to fade, having it professionally reproduced means that the original can be stored away from light and you can display the duplicate without needing to worry.
Store photographs and negatives in folders
It’s important to store photographs securely, ideally in chemically stable plastic or paper enclosures – free of sulphur, acids and peroxides. This protects the images from dust, mould and insects.
Store film-based negatives separately from other photographic materials
Film-based negatives – often single sheets or strips cut into lengths of four to six frames – can produce acidic gases as they age, so it’s best to separate them from other photographs. Again, we recommend acid-free enclosures to separate photographs.
Have food or drink around photographs
Spillages can cause irreparable damage, so we recommend against eating or drinking while sorting your photographs.
Use pens to mark photographs
If you wish to label photographs, writing lightly in an HB pencil will minimise damage.
Store photographs in an attic, basement or along outside walls of a building
Environmental conditions in these areas are prone to extremes and fluctuations in temperature, as well as damp and condensation.
Clean photographs with erasers, water or solvent-based cleaners
Although tempting, using these materials to clean photographs can alter the image surface and cause irreparable damage.
Repair tears with self-adhesive tapes
The adhesive will chemically change the photograph, staining the image and making the paper very brittle. Refer to a conservator for specialist advice on how to repair your photograph.
If you’d like further guidance download our caring for photographs guide (PDF, 0.3MB).