Old photographs and videos serve as the timeline of our lives. From long-ago shots of our grandparents’ wedding day, to our beaming parents standing by us as we graduate from college, to the never-ending parade of pictures of our children doing everything—and nothing, our photographs are the history of us! From physical prints to digital downloads to cloud services, here are the best ways to preserve and protect your precious memories.
It seems only natural that we would want to make sure to save our photos, but most of us don’t do it properly. We all have ancient photo albums gathering dust in a basement, attic, or some forgotten bookshelf. Or giant storage buckets or shoe boxes full of disorganized, and eventually damaged photographs.
Your photos can be damaged in a lot of different ways. But environmental factors are the most prevalent reason for the deterioration. Temperature, humidity, and light, especially sunlight, are the most common enemies of your old photos. Dust and dirt along with oils are also responsible for the degradation.
Cycles of high temperature with excess humidity and cold temperature with dry weather cause the emulsions (images) to separate from the bases (paper). When people store their family photos in basements and attics, those alternating conditions will result in just this type of damage.
Choosing the right storage is essential to protecting prints, Polaroids, or any other types of physical photographs gathered over the years. Here are a few tips to remember when you decide to organize your memories:
A well-ventilated area with circulating air combats mold growth on photos and prevents other organic substances from causing any damage.
Generally, it’s best to store physical photos in a cool room with a stable temperature. Storage temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit can interfere with the chemicals used to process photos, which causes discoloration.
Especially if you’re considering storing old photos in your basement or attic, be aware of any possible moisture that could reach the space. From potential flooding to humidity levels in the air, it’s best to keep photos away from any and all moisture if possible.
Light, specifically sunlight, can cause photographs to fade. If you can’t enclose your prints completely, be sure that you are storing them in a dark place.
Storage Do’s and Don’ts
As far as the actual storage, here are a few do’s and don’ts:
DO: Store photos in closets, cabinets, or under the bed. As part of your living space, these locations are likely more climate-controlled than other areas of the home.
DON’T: Store photos in a basement, attic, or garage where temperatures and humidity constantly fluctuate with the change of seasons.
DO: Store photos off the ground when possible. Even if they’re stored in a plastic bin or tucked inside storage compartments, keeping your photos off the floor prevents potential damage from flooding.
DON’T: Store photos near a heating or cooling vent. The temperature will fluctuate as your air conditioning or heat turns on and off, which could warp photos and cause long-term damage.
Storing Digital Photos
If you have a collection of old physical photos that you want to digitize, you have several options. The simplest is a scanner. Scanning photos is typically the best way to preserve their resolution, but if you’re in a pinch, you can take a photo of the physical photo with your phone. From there, you can edit and back it up as you choose. The drawback of this makeshift method is that sometimes, depending on the lighting, you’ll get a reflection of your phone on the photo, and light glares while trying to keep the photo flat.
Digital Storage Services
Here are a couple of apps and services that can help you preserve your old physical photos, if you don’t have a scanner on hand or you have a lot of photos and don’t want to spend the time scanning them individually.
Google’s free PhotoScan app lets you scan printed photos using your phone’s camera and backs the scans up to the Google Photos app. The app is available for iOS and Android.
If using an app isn’t your cup of tea, you can turn to a professional service. ScanMyPhotos offers physical photo scanning, negative scanning, and slide scanning. You can mail the company a box of old photos to restore, or the website can transfer VHS media and 8mm film to DVD to save old home movies. Depending on your photo-scanning needs, the site has different options to get the job done.
Cloud Photo Services
A digital backup is the best way to safeguard your memories. Even if your computer is lost, you can still access a cloud-based account with your photos attached. Here are a few apps and services you can try for little to no cost.
Google Photos is a great resource for both organizing and editing photos that requires little to no work on your part. The Google Photos app, available on iOS and Android, can back up your photos to your Gmail account. You can conveniently manage your Google Photos library from your phone or desktop.
Apple’s cloud-based photo services are part of the company’s larger iCloud storage system and are compatible with iPhones and Macs. To find the service, you’ll need the Photos app on Mac or iOS. On PCs, you can manage your photos and videos from iCloud.com in your browser, or with the Windows iCloud app.
Flickr lets you save up to 1,000 photos for free on its platform. The app has more of a social media feel, as you can be a part of a Flickr photographer community. You can download it for iOS and Android.
Whichever way you choose to preserve and protect your much-loved photographs, we can all agree it’s essential to do it. From low-tech to high-tech, your options are out there. Decide what method suits you best and just do it! You’ll be happy you did for years to come.