Protecting Your Pictures

by Caroline Cohoon | January 19, 2008

Storage ideas to organize your digital and print images and negatives so they will last a lifetime.

Since digital photography has only become popular within the last decade, you probably have boxes of old prints and negatives shoved in the back of a closet somewhere. You also may have a lot of camera equipment if you are a hobby photographer, and maybe you have even started collecting some antique or unique cameras and photo gear.

We've talked before about photo organization, as it pertains to organizing your digital files on the computer. Now that it is the beginning of a new year, let's talk about organizing the rest of your life as it pertains to photography.

First, we can discuss digital media storage. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a backup of your digital files. Have you ever had a hard drive crash? Chances are you have, and it only takes once to make you understand how much it hurts to lose all those precious photos and important files.

You can copy files to an external hard drive, but those are usually a less permanent option. Unless you have an extra storage room to start packing full hard drives in, you may want to look into other options. Burning the data to a CD or DVD is a great idea, they are easy to access on any computer and are compact to store wherever needed. There is one problem with this digital media, it is not necessarily long lasting.

Gold DVDs and CDs have become available now, which is a much more stable material. These new "archival gold" discs are advertised as lasting for as long as 100 years, even up to 300 years. The typical, cheap DVD-R or CD-R usually has a silver or aluminum base, which oxidizes over time. Gold is much less susceptible to this problem, so it is considered the best archival material. This does mean they cost a little more, so you don't want to use these for every day burning to send to a lab for printing. However you may want to bundle as much as you can on one disc and make one permanent archive. These discs may then be best placed in a fire safe or even safety deposit box, just to be sure you are protected. One more thing, don't spend all your money on an archival disc to throw it in cardboard case. Get acid-free CD sleeves or jewel cases to store them in.

Next, what are your choices for prints and negatives (or slides) storage? Number one, these need to be separated. Black & white and color prints should be stored separately, the same go for negatives, slides, etc. All these different types do release chemicals over time, and they will damage other medias. You can find nice, archival storage boxes and sleeves for negatives and slides. When going through your boxes and piles of old materials, be sure to label the edge or top of the sleeve. A ball-park date, and subject title are best. That way when you come across the prints for those you will be able to find the negatives.

For prints, the shoebox method works great, but don't use real shoeboxes. You can get acid-free, archival print boxes from craft stores or online shops. These often come with dividers or envelopes for you to organize the photos within a box. Labeling and sorting boxes by year is an easy way of keeping track of where everything is.

All the camera equipment scattered around your house needs to go somewhere. You need a good bag that has ample storage for all your equipment. Choose one that is as active as you are. If carrying heavy things or traveling often, consider a good backpack or wheeled suitcase made for camera equipment (some brands to explore are LowePro, Pelica, Tamrac). Even when you are at home and not using it, keep everything in place in the bag. This way when you need to grab a camera quick for the crazy thing your kid/ pet/ spouse just did - you will know right where to find it. Put everything back in place and store the bag in a closet or corner out of the way. Even for little cameras, a bag that can hold the camera, extra batteries, battery charger, extra memory cards, USB cable and more will help keep everything together. Designate a specific area to store this bag in such as a section of a bookshelf, and be dedicated about using it all the time.

If you collect camera and photo memorabilia, you should do something with it, not hide it. You may have a variety of types of cameras, antique lenses and other exciting things. Use these fun and interesting items to decorate your house. Since you probably never actually USE these things, maybe a high ledge or shelf would be a great display place. Mix them up on a bookcase or shelf system for a neat decor style.

As you go through your old pictures you may find some fun and special memories that have slipped your mind. Now is the best time to take those out to be framed or printed. If you come across old family heirloom photos and antique pictures be sure to put them in a special place. You may also want to have them restored to repair damage currently done, or digitally archived for the future. Canvas Press can help you with all of these projects.

Key things to remember in organizing and archiving your photos:

  • Always buy acid-free materials
  • Store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. It should be environmentally controlled (A/C, etc)
  • Keep extreme valuables or final archived discs in a secure place in case of emergency (i.e. Fire Safe, Safety Deposit Box)

The stores listed below may be helpful in looking for storage solutions, archival materials, bags and more.

Print File - Archival Storage Solutions

Canvas Press - The Photo to Canvas Experts

Photography, fine art printing and decorating news and advice

Tips-n-Tricks #315

The closer a light source is to your subject will result in more contrast and shadow in your photo. The further the light source is from your subject the more even the light gets distributed.


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