Things You Must Know About Preserving Your Photos

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6 Things You Must Know About Preserving Your Photos

Organize, digitize, preserve and share your family pictures.


1. Prepare to share.

Family members may want their own copies of Grandma’s wedding album. You can scan and digitize prints and slides at home (a photo scanner starts at about $200), but if you have a lot of pics, send them to a serv­ice such as FotoBridge or ScanCafe. Ask for 600 dpi (dots per inch) resolution for prints and at least 3,000 dpi for slides so that recipients can enlarge the images later. You’ll pay 22 to 33 cents each for files saved in JPEG format, which is good enough to post, say, on Facebook. But for archival purposes, ask for files saved as uncompressed TIFFs (which include all the image’s original data); at ScanCafe, you’ll pay an extra 24 cents apiece.

See Also: Best Ways to Share and Store Your Photos Online

2. Back everything up.

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To preserve your photos, you can’t beat redundancy. Save negatives and slides in their original packaging. Save digital shots not only to your hard drive but also to an external hard drive and an online site, such as Flickr. Have your most important images printed using professional-grade processes and materials.

3. Shoeboxes are for shoes.


Prints deteriorate when exposed to excess light and extremes of temperature and humidity. Look for sheets or envelopes that will protect them and won’t cause fading or staining, and store them in special binders or albums. Such archival-quality products are typically made of acid- and lignin-free paper or inert polyethylene and polyester. Good sources include Gaylord, Hollinger Metal Edge, Light Impressions and University Products .

4. Restore when necessary.

Scanning services will include touch-up and color correction of your images. But what if an important family photo is torn, stained or faded? A skilled conservator can repair and restore it, but you’ll pay $125 to $250 an hour. So if you just want to remember Uncle Frank’s face, a corrected scan may be sufficient. If you think the photo might be a rare example of a 19th- or 20th-century photographic process, have it assessed by an appraiser (find one at or a conservator ( to learn whether restoration is worthwhile.

5. Add an ID.


Preserving photos for the future is pointless if they’re unidentified, says professional photo conservator Tom Edmondson. Label prints on an edge of the back in pencil or with a felt-tip marking pen with pigmented ink that won’t fade or discolor over time. Instead of organizing photos chronologically, sort them into large and meaningful categories, such as “The Seventies,” “Holidays” and “Vacations.” And be selective. Weed out duplicates and fuzzy shots.

6. Get expert advice.

For prints, go to the National Archives’ Web site. You’ll learn how to display photographs, care for vintage albums, deal with photos stuck to “magnetic” pages, and more. For digital images, go to the Library of Congress.