Options for saving and backing up your valued photographs
By Heather L. Jones
February 2008

Two vintage photographs: men boxing, and 2 small children in a yard.

If you asked most people what material objects we would grab from our homes first in the event of evacuating for a fire or other disaster situation, one of the first items on that list would likely be our collections of photographs - of families and friends, of special events throughout our lives, of all those captured moments in time that mark some of the most cherished memories and people of our lives.

There are, however, options for backing up these photographs, as well as for preserving and archiving them to lessen any concern for their damage or loss.


1) Photo Scanner Scan photos. If you have access to a quality scanner, take some time to scan all of your printed photos. Yes, this is quite an undertaking, but unless you want to pay a company to scan them for you, this is your best option for backing up your prints. On the scanner's settings, make sure you choose to scan them at a resolution of at least 300 dpi (dots per inch), and select the "color photo," or "black & white photo" setting accordingly. If you want your photos to be scanned at a higher resolution, such a 600 dpi, keep in mind that the scan will show more imperfections on the surface of the image (such as lint, watermarks, or hair), but those can in many cases be removed in a good photo editing program like Photoshop. With some exceptions, scanning your photograph at a higher resolution will likely give you more options later as far as sizing and detail for prints. Just be sure not to scan your photos at web quality (72-100 dpi), because you will not then be able to print them out clearly later. The general rule is, you can go from big to small (you can make a high resolution image look good as a lower resolution image), but you don't want to try to go from small to big (if you try to start with an email or web quality photo, you are not generally going to be able to make a nice print out of it - it will be fuzzy and pixelated).

Portable & External Hard Drives2) Portable hard drives. There are numerous options nowadays for portable, and/or external hard drives - many of which are relatively inexpensive for the amount of data they hold. You can save your images, music, important files, and even digital movies on a drive that is lightweight and portable, and hooks up easily to a computer via a USB or firewire port. You can also keep your portable hard drive in a fire-proof and/or water-tight safe or box to keep your files safe.

3) Archival DisksArchival disks. Another option for backing up your cherished photos is archival disks. Regular CDs and DVDs can deteriorate and lose quality in as little as a few years. CDs or DVDs that are specifically made for archiving photos, such as Archival Gold disks, are tested to have a storage life of 100+ years. Once you save your photo files to one of these disks, they are another very portable and easily stored option for backing up your photographs. Just make sure after burning your disk that it burned properly with no errors. Open and view your files that have been burned onto each of disks before storing them - it would be devastating to find out years later that those files you thought were saved actually weren't. But disks are also a good option for making multiple copies of the same files that you can distribute to friends and family, and store in different safe places.


Archival Mist1) Archival sprays. For protecting photographs from age & wear, you can spray them with Archival Mist (by EK Success), which deposits a safe, non-toxic alkaline buffer into the structure of photo paper that continues to work over time. Archival mist makes all paper acid-free. Or, you can also to use Krylon's Make-It-Acid-Free Spray. It's also good to use these sprays on any paper product that your photographs are going to be displayed on (scrapbooks & albums) or stored in (boxes, envelopes).

2) ' Acid-free', 'lignin-free'. The acid content in a lot of paper can cause paper materials to deteriorate over time, making them brittle. This includes photo storage materials, such as photo boxes, and scrapbooking papers, or even the photographs themselves. Lignin is a chemical substance found in wood that makes paper stronger, but it eventually breaks down, turning paper brown and releasing acids. When storing your photographs, look for products that are acid and lignin-free (or make them acid-free with the archival spray detailed above).

3) 'Archival safe'. The term 'archival' indicates that a material has a life range estimated between 50 and 150 years. If something has been tested to be of "archival" quality, it is supposed to have been scientifically tested to be safe for photos and paper products.

4) What to avoid. It's important to photo preservation that your photos, as well as photo CDs or portable storage be kept from adverse or extreme temperatures, moisture, light, and pollution.

So, as you can see, some of the steps toward photo preservation and storage are small ones, and others are much more time consuming. But most of us would agree, aside from of course the people and pets we love, our photographs of those people, and the times we've shared with them are among those which we we prize and hold dear the most. It's certainly a common standard to have a course of safety and preservation planned out for the people and pets in our homes in the case of an emergency, so why not do the same for our most prized possessions?

Copyright © 2008

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