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Top Ten Photo Preservation Mistakes

Aug 27, 2008
Photo Preservation doesnt have to be an overwhelming, daunting task. Being careful to take simple steps to preserve your photos is the best way to ensure that your pictures will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, many people do not think much about these steps, and when they do, they scramble to try to undo the damage they have unwittingly caused. Here are the top ten mistakes that people make when handling and storing photos, and tips on how to prevent common damage.

Mistake #10: Writing on the back of a picture with the closest writing utensil at hand. Pencils, markers, and pens are a photographs nightmare. Most of these implements contain a substance that will erode the photo with time. Using a pen that contains India ink or carbon ink will prevent your photos from being eaten over the years.

Mistake #9: Not writing on the back of a picture at all. Most photos that are lucky enough to survive long term storage are found by those who have no clue who the people or places are in the picture. Photo preservation starts with making sure (with carbon or India ink) the subjects in the photo are identified so that they dont get tossed out as insignificant.

Mistake #8: Storing the photos in a cardboard (or even plastic) box. The problem with cardboard is that it allows dust, moisture, mold spores, and dirt to sneak in and feast on your photographs. Many plastic boxes are made of a material that causes corrosion to photos. To put your mind at ease about storage containers, make sure you invest in one that is marked for archival use. These are excellent at keeping the elements at bay, and wont harm your pictures in the process.

Mistake #7: Keeping pictures in the basement. People nowadays possess so many photographs that for many it is difficult and not ideal to keep them in storage boxes on their living room bookcase. Avoid the common mistake of storing them in basements and crawl spaces (or the garage floor, for that matter). Many basements are prone to mold, mildew, and dust, which love photographs, and many basements, especially older ones, are usually loaded with humid, stuffy, stale air. Instead, keep the pictures in a closet in a bedroom, family room, hallway, or above ground storage room on a shelf.

Mistake #6: Using self adhesive (magnetic) photo albums with the clear cover sheets. It is too bad that photo albums are the very things that destroy what they were meant to protect. The sticky adhesive on the pages of these albums contains acid that slowly chew through the paper backing of pictures. Instead, use albums and glue that are made of gelatin. This glue can be made at home or bought in art supply stores.

Mistake #5: Using glue, rubber cement, or adhesives that are general purpose products. Again, these things all contain acid that will slowly dissolve your pictures. There are now many specially designed papers, glue, adhesives, and even paper tape that are marked acid free. This is key to photo preservation, as many people stick pictures to things with anything they can find.

Mistake #4: Using corkboards to hold photo keepsakes. This mistake doesnt require too much elaboration, however, making a point to have acid free adhesive nearby and getting rid of thumbtacks will help your pictures avoid looking like they were hung in the middle of a dart board.

Mistake #3: Handing pictures to people with (or without) food smeared fingers. It is easy to see the immediate effects of fingers touching pictures: Prints all over the place. Many people opt for a matte finish as opposed to glossy to hide the prints, but fingers have acid on them, and even if you have matte photos, years down the road, youll see those fingerprints. To avoid this: HANDS OFF!

Mistake #2: Stacking pictures in piles, one on top of another. Pictures themselves have a self destructive property: The chemicals that are used to develop them actually play a part in photo destruction. Putting photos in stacks that are three feet tall puts pressure on the photos, speeding up the degeneration process. Keeping photos in a special box, in a horizontal lineup will prevent this from happening faster than it should.

And, the #1 Mistake when it comes to photo preservation is: Putting your framed photographs on the mantel in the sunroom for all the world to see. Pictures, of course, are made for people to look at. Everyone has pictures that are framed and proudly displayed in their home. Many of these same people have nice, big windows that let plenty of sunlight in. Sunlight will fade the colors of these pictures so rapidly the damage can be seen within weeks. Keep pictures out of sunlight, even if the light would only hit them for part of the day. No one wants their beautiful black hair looking grey in the family picture after a year in the sun.

Avoiding these ten mistakes and following the tips that follow them is just the beginning to ensure photo preservation. There are dozens of other things people unknowingly do with their photos that cause damage, but these guidelines will get you ahead of the game in the race against time.
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