Photo preservation

Whether it is a 19th century carte de viste, left by a great uncle, or a more recent school formal photo, a question many people ask is “how do I preserve and keep my photos from deteriorating or fading?”  The main preservation risks to photographic prints are mould, sunlight and insects (silverfish).  Photos should be stored in an acid-free folder (Mylar is best), or archival photo album, in an environment that has a stable temperature. (storing photos in an attic or garage can be risky because of extreme temperature fluctuation. Photographic emulsions swell in the heat and contract in cold temperatures, causing cracking or splitting).

Mould is a serious issue when storing photos as it can dissolve photographic emulsions and make recovery next to impossible. This applies equally to water damage where water can liquify emulsion. Interestingly black and white photos seem to survive better in this regard than colour. The best way of dealing with water damage is to act as soon as possible to dry the photos as the longer it is left, the less can be salvaged.  Never attempt to wipe a wet photo as this will destroy the emulsion. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.

The best preservation technique can be simply to have photos framed. This provides an airtight barrier (which protects from silverfish) and moisture. Provided archival materials are used, there is no reason why framed prints should not last for many years. In fact, many framed photos brought in to us for copying are over 100 years old and when removed from the frame, are in excellent condition for their age. Of course photos mounted in the early years of photography did not use acid-free mount board and consequently “foxing” or mould sometimes affects the emulsion.

Finally light, or more particularly sunlight can fade photographs. Framed prints left in full sunlight will often fade quickly. Modern materials such as inkjet paper/ink, while much better in this regard than photographic emulsions, will eventually fade. It is a good idea to occasionally remove photos from display and keep them in a more shaded area. Individual photos should be stored in albums or archival boxes. These can be purchased from archival material suppliers such as

An excellent reference for storage and preservation of photographs can be found at

Archival materials for the safe storage of photographs can be found at