top of page

How to Protect and Preserve old Negatives and Photographs

If you have daguerreotypes, ambrotypes or tintypes (described in my previous post) they should be kept in their original case. If they are out of the case, you may be able to find an empty one online. Sites like Ebay sell them. Or keep it safely protected, wrapped in tissue paper and stored in a dry place.

If you have plate glass negatives in your posession, the best way to keep them is in protective sleeves in boxes or envelopes as they are very fragile.

Pictures that have been developed from glass plate negatives will come in various sizes and will be printed on a thick paper or board, or as a postcard. One type of early printed photograph is the carte de visite. The size is 2.5" x 4" and will be an image adhered to a board.

The cabinet card photograph was usually 4.25" x 6.5" or larger, mounted on boards.

Postcard size prints were printed on thick paper and could be mailed to friends and family.

A digital photo of the original, owned by the Springwater-Webster Crossing Historical Society.

These photographs, unlike their negatives (glass plates), are durable and generally can last when properly cared for. Often they will appear in old albums with paper slots or corners to hold them.

Keep albums or photographs flat and in boxes or containers that will protect against moisture and dust. Light and heat can also damage these photographs. So areas like a hot attic, musty damp basement or shed or on an end table by the light of a window are not a good choice. A safe cabinet, shelf or storage chest in a closet are better choices for your priceless photographs.

Film photography was stored in magnetic photo albums in the latter half of the twentieth century. These albums are not safe for pictures due to the acidic adhesive strips. Although plastic covers protects from dust and albums keep images flat, if you have photographs in these old albums (with the tell-tale magnetic strips) get the pictures out! Hopefully, you can just lift them off the page. However, if they don't remove easily, check out this site for some tips. (I agree with the suggestions listed except for blow drier. Heat is not a good choice!)

Image accessed at

Scrapbooks have been popular for over a hundred years. Usually bits of memorabilia, along with photographs and journaling, give embellishment and captions to pictures. A creative way to display pictures, a scrapbook tells us so much more than the images themselves. It reveals something about the scrapbook's creator and their life at that time. You may want to preserve the scrapbooks of your ancestors if you have them in your possession. Scan entire pages and then crop to gain a digital image of the photographs. To store the scrapbook, keep it in a box and wrapped in tissue paper. Understand that with the type of adhesion, and the paper and any ink that was used, the scrapbook may continue to age and deteriorate. Having a scanned image preserves not only a digital image of each page of the scrapbook itself but the photographs it holds.

Image accessed on

In the late twentieth and into the twenty-first century, scrapbooks took on a new look. One good change in how photographs were displayed and stored was that scrapbooking suppliers in the 1990's created photo safe paper, pens and adhesive. However, this adhesive was usually permanent. Like scrapbooks of old, it might be best to leave the photographs in the scrapbook, as it will be hard to remove the photograph without damage. Scrapbooks offer more memories with writing and embellishments that are meaningful.

If you want digital copies of the photos, and you can't lift your photographs from the album without damage, try scanning the page with a high res scanner. Also, when storing your family scrapbook made after 1990, make sure that your scrapbook pages are all in plastic sleeves that serve as protective page covers. The most common sizes of 12x12 and 8x8 are still available in many craft stores.

For loose photographs, there are photo boxes that do a pretty good job of storing pictures, but a better option is a non adhesive album. You can place photographs in albums with plastic sleeves or protective paper slots. Be sure to keep it in a cool, dry and dark place.

Make digital copies (scans or high quality photographs) of your printed images if they weren't taken with a digital camera. Most computers have scheduled back ups that further protect these priceless family treasures from being forever lost should their be a flood or fire.

If you grew up before 2000, you may remember going to the drug store to pick up prints of your photographs and receiving negatives in the envelope the photos came in. If possible, keep the negatives in that envelope (may have a description and date written on it). So many advances have been made that who knows what a developed image may look like from those negatives years from now.

The best advice for storing your negatives apply to printed photographs as well. So to recap - here are the most important tips for storing your photos and negatives:

1. Keep them away from light.

Light can fade and damage your negatives and family pictures.

2. Keep them dry.

Moisure can ruin your images with moisture and humidity. Moisture can also encourage mold and mildew that will harm negatives and photographs.

3. Keep them at room temperature.

Photographs and negatives last longer in temperate environments. Extreme temperatures can warp and damage negatives and photographs.

4. Keep them contained.

Photographs and negatives are best kept in plastic tote boxes where moisture, dust, or living creatures can't get to them.

For more tips and advice on storing your memories, go here.

Here's to preserving our family histories!

40 views0 comments


bottom of page