Looking after photographs

Storage

Keeping your photographs stored in the right environment will prevent them from getting damaged and discoloured. A cool, stable and dry place that avoids light, dust, pollutants, insects and animals will be the best environment for photographs.

Static shelving is a good option to avoid the risk of movement – particularly stainless steel or stove-enamelled metal, rather than wood. These storage solutions should be able to take the weight of photo collections and minimise movement.

If you’re storing photographs on glass plates, always place them vertically on their longest edge, wrapping them in photographic quality storage paper. Never stack them on top of one another as this can cause breakage.

Avoid using acidic and plastic, polythene or PVC packaging materials. Try not to use rubber bands, glue, Sellotape, paperclips, staples and drawing pins when packaging your photographs as these can damage them.

Do not keep any cellulose nitrate-based film (all 35mm film and all photo negatives made before c1952) in storage. It’s very unstable, and – in extreme cases – can self-ignite. Contact your local record office for copying or advice.

Handling and upkeep

Consider wearing cotton gloves when handling photographic materials. If you don’t have any, ensure your hands are clean before touching photographs and always hold them gently and at their edges.

Don’t use cleaning products on your photo collection and avoid polishing any smears from the surface of negatives, transparencies or glass plates.

Regularly check for signs of acetic acid decay (otherwise known as ‘vinegar syndrome’) and mould growth. Not only can these damage photographs, but they also present a health hazard when inhaled. Seek specialist help if you notice mould or a strong vinegar smell on your photographs.

Don’t try and repair damaged photographs yourself. If stuck together, never try to force two photographs apart as this can cause damage. Seek the advice of a skilled archive conservator by getting in touch with your local record office.