Photo preservation

Protecting and preserving old photographs.

  • Photographs should not be stored in Attics or garages. Variation in temperature results in cracks in the emulsion.
  • Keep photographs out of direct sunlight. All photographs will fade in time if exposed to sunlight.
  • It is important not to touch photographs on the emulsion side as oils and acids on the fingers can damage the photographic emulsion.
  • Copy/ scan photographs to preserve the image. If the original is lost, at least there is the copy.
  • Do not put sticky tape on old photographs. It can be impossible to remove without damage and the glue can also affect the emulsion.
  • Avoid laminating old photographs.
  • Do not attempt to clean photographs by wiping with a wet sponge. This can cause the emulsion to swell and come away from it’s base.


Preserving family history.


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Old family albums often have photographs pasted in, making them difficult to remove without damage.  A good solution is to scan each page as a whole. These can be kept as digital files or printed out as a new album. It is important to identify people in the photographs.


Mould and water damage.

Framed photographs can get moisture or water under the frame. This can cause the photograph to stick to the glass and be impossible to remove. The only answer is to then copy the photo and make a new restored print. Never put photographs in direct contact with glass,  always have a mat around to give separation. Mould is also a serious issue as it destroys the emulsion. The best protection is to store photgraphs is a dry place, not in garages or areas of high humidity.

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Mould damaged photograph. Note also cracked glass.


Colour Print Fading.

It is worth noting that since the 1980’s technology for colour print stability has greatly improved. Prior to this the chemical reactions in colour photographs cause fading within a few decades. A common effect is for photos to get a strong red cast as can be seen from the example below. This can often be digitally retouched and reproduced back to an acceptable condition. The main proviso is loss of detail if the fading has gone too far. With modern archival inkjet prints, colour prints should last a lifetime and longer if stored in cool, dry conditions. Original faded colour photographs cannot be successfully restored, only reproduced and restored. Colour transparencies (slides) made before the 1980’s, will fade even if kept in the dark. However they are much less susceptible to fading than prints.

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Otherwise known as oxidative-reductive deterioration, this is similar to tarnishing on silverware and is a complex chemical reaction. It can be exacerbated by heat and excessive humidity. Surface cleaning can reduce the effect but you must be very careful!

The best result is obtained by copying with a camera using a polarising filter to reduce flare. This technique cannot be achieved with a scanner.

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Historical Images

The state library of victoria has a large collection of historical images that can be downloaded from its website,

These are important as we are rapidly losing much of our architechtural heritage to modern development. Also they provide an important reference for how previous generations lived.

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View of Southbank early 1900’s. Very different today.

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