There are many reasons to store photos. For most, it’s because they have memories or heirlooms they want to remember. Wedding, family portraits, or old images passed down through generations are all pictures you may want to save. Another reason is because you have important documents in picture form that need protecting.
It’s a good practice to both save digitally and to print important photos you want to keep. If one is lost or destroyed, you’ll always have a backup of the backup.
Here’s the ultimate guide to storing your photos long-term either digitally or in print.
What to avoid when storing photos
There are a few things to avoid when storing photos either digitally or in print. Check them out below.
Refrain from piling them all together in one folder. You want to be able to find them immediately and not search hundreds or even thousands of photos. Don’t put them on a device that can be easily lost, broken, or become outdated. (More on this later.)
Storing printed photos can be a challenge, but remember to use photo-safe, acid-, lignin-, and PVC-free binders, albums, or scrapbooks. A simple plastic container will do the trick (more in the next point).
Avoid materials that will destroy your photos. Here are a few other things to avoid:
- Oils. Oils from skin or lotions can cause damage to picture when stored for a long time. It’s best to wash and dry your hands very well when holding photos.
- Acid. High acidic solutions or coverings on folders and ruin photos. If you are storing them in containers, make sure it is acid-free.
- Adhesives or tape. Refrain from sticky adhesives because it may nor come off, and worse yet, leave a large rip mark when you try to remove it.
- Glue. In the same way as adhesives, glue can stick to and ruin photos.
- Magnets. Stay away from magnetic photo albums because it could hinder printed picture quality, especially polaroid pictures.
- Rubberbands or clips. These could leave permanent indents that will alter the photo.
DO use photo mounting stickers like the one shown to put photos on a page of a scrapbook.
Types of storage to use when storing photos
Whether storing digitally or in print, there are best practices for both. You need something safe, secure, dependable, and easily accessible. Things that will break, mold, or become outdated are not good avenues for storage.
There are a few ways you can store photos digitally that will last a long time and, generally speaking, will not become outdated. As long as you stay up-to-date on technology over the years, you won’t have any issues storing photos digitally. Here are a few methods to consider:
- In a cloud. This is the best method for storing photos in our opinion. You will not have to worry about it outdating, getting lost, or becoming destroyed. A few cloud services to consider are Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive. As long as you remember your password, you will always have access to your photos. And, as an added plus, you can easily add to albums without having to insert a device into your computer.
- On a hard drive. If you go this route, we recommend an SSD (Solid State Drive) because there are no moving parts that can break over time. A thumb drive is an SSD and a good option for storing photos. We do not recommend an HHD (Hybrid Hard Drive) because a disk could break or become warped.
- On a disk. This is a last resort option. Yes, it works, but with transforming technology, it would be wise to stay away from this option. If you have already stored photos on a disk (CD-R or DVD), consider transferring them to a hard drive or into the cloud before it becomes obsolete.
Keeping printed pictures is a little more tricky because you do not want to ruin them. Here are a few ways you can safely store photos:
- Plastic bins. This is the simplest, cheapest, and quickest way to do it. We recommend individual squares or rectangles. Choose bins that fit your photos. Also, find bins that completely close to protect them from outside elements. Even better, put photos in a closing bin then put those in a closing bin (like this one). Stack them by laying them flat on top of each other. Another layer of protection is to put acid-free paper in between the pictures.
- Scrapbooks. This is a way to see your photos in an organized and desirable manner. This method is a little more tricky because you need to take proper care of your photos as not to harm them over time. Use corner mounting squares to mount them to the pages. That way you are not directly sticking them to the page which could harm the photos after a few years. Be sure to put the scrapbooks in a protective case for longterm storage. A box with crumpled newspaper around the edge is a good way to store it.
Ways to organize your photos
Whether it be digital or printed photos, you want to be able to access them quickly and easily. Here are a few best practices:
Create folders to house your digital photos. Maybe name the folders by a date to tell which is which. If that’s too much work, maybe label by vacation or timely events you want to remember. Consider using “tags” to better organize them in categories if you’re using a cloud service.
Label photos and containers, but don’t write on photos directly. You may use a special pen (shown) to write on photos, but don’t press too hard. A normal pen may bleed through or leave and indentation.
As said earlier, you can use plastic bins to organize. You could also label the outside of the boxes using a label-maker. Either label by date, event, or both. Just remember to use the proper storing method.
Safeguarding your photos
There are many ways your photos could be lost, destroyed, or damaged. Here are a few ways to protect your photos both digitally and in print:
If your photos are in the cloud, make sure you don’t forget your username or password. This is the main reason you would not be able to access your photos. Another reason is that you deleted your photos by accident. Take special care when navigating a browser to not accidentally delete a folder. Some cloud services allow you to access a “recently deleted” folder so you can find them if you do.
If you use a hard drive or disk, you’re at a greater risk of losing or damaging them. Whichever the storing method, keep the digital devices stored in protective, waterproof cases. Ensure you have all the required equipment to access your photos later.
There are a few important safeguarding methods to remember when storing printed photos. Here are the most important:
- Ventilation. Make sure the place of storage has good ventilation. Otherwise, the images may become stuffy, damp, or at worst, moldy.
- Humidity. The humidity should be at 15-65% at best. Too dry will cause them to dry and become brittle. Too wet and they’ll become soggy and perhaps moldy.
- Temperature. Cooler temperatures are better. Below 75 degrees Fahrenheit is best.
- Light. Low to no light is optimal. Exposure to UV or fluorescent light can cause images to fade over time.
- Varmin: Protect with a hard casing. Know the environment where you’re placing your photos.
- Chemicals. Safeguard your prints from harmful chemicals such as oils, acid, polyvinyl, chlorine, or lignin which can taint the images.