Organizing Pictures for Posterity: Photo Archiving Tips to Protect and Store Photos

Who doesn’t have hundreds of old pictures stuffed in shoeboxes or piled in plastic boxes around the house? But wait! The acid in cardboard boxes and the chemicals in plastic boxes can discolor and deteriorate photographs. It’s easy to start organizing pictures, and by using photo archiving techniques family photos will last a lot longer.

Organize Pictures and Decide on a Photo Archiving Method

Organizing photos is an entirely personal choice, but keep in mind how the family will want to access them. By year or by holiday? Perhaps the easiest way to organize pictures is to sort them chronologically by year. For older family photos where the year isn’t known, try organizing photos by holiday or season.

Once the organization is decided on, it’s time to pick a storage method. Boxes, envelopes or albums? Acid-free, archival photo storage supplies are available in all three, so decide which photos will be put into albums and which will be stored long-term in boxes or envelopes. Once the photos have been sorted, it’s easy to see how many albums, boxes, or envelopes will be needed.

Where to Buy Archival Photo Supplies and Photograph Storage Boxes

First and foremost, consider digitally scanning any old photos just in case something happens to the originals. Whether or not digital copies are made, the originals will need to be stored in archival storage boxes. So figure out how many will be needed.

There are several companies that specialize in archival storage supplies. Any of the following suppliers sell to the general public:

  • Gaylord Brothers: mainly a library supplier, but they also sell archival photo boxes
  • Light Impressions: offers a wide range of archival boxes and photo supplies, including portfolios and mat boards
  • Archival Methods: framing and photo archiving materials, plus an extensive glossary of “Archivery” terms on their website

This is just a small sampling of companies that sell photo supplies, even most craft stores carry at minimum archival photo albums. Supplies are easily found, so organizing pictures using acid free materials isn’t difficult.

Where to Store Photos?

The U.S. Library of Congress offers many tips for preserving and storing photographs on their website. While their tips are sometimes more appropriate for fine art and rare photographic prints, many of their tips will also protect family heirlooms. For example:

  • Store photographs in a place where humidity is below 60%. Too much humidity, such as in the basement, can cause pictures to deteriorate.
  • Keep photographs away from sunlight. The UV rays in sunlight discolor and “bleach” photos. If family heirloom photos are hanging in a sunny room, replace the frame’s glass with UV-filtering glass.
  • It’s okay to use archival photo storage albums with plastic sleeves as long as the album and pages are labeled “archival safe” or similar. Even still, the Library of Congress states photos may still stick to the plastic if the humidity gets above 80%.

Photo Archiving is Easy With the Right Supplies

Family photographs will last longer with the right methods of photo storage. By organizing pictures and storing them carefully, future generations will be able to access and enjoy pictures of their grandparents, great-grandparents, and beyond. Archival photo supplies are readily available so there’s no reason not to get started on a photo archiving project today.