​How to Look after your Family Photographs

Many family historians have family photographs and documents in their homes. Perhaps your collection only includes one portrait of Great Great Uncle George — as a soldier or in his wedding suit or the letters your great-father Henry sent to your great-grand mother Mary whilst fighting in the First World War — but even if it’s just one or a few, you probably want to treat them well...

Save Your Photographs!

Simple Things You Can Do to Extend the Life of Your Heirloom Photographs:

  1. Handle your photos carefully and safely.

Photographs degrade with time, so it is important to store them correctly, so that they can be enjoyed and understood by present and future generations. Have you ever wondered why Archivists wear white gloves? This is to make sure any sweat or dirt from your hands do not transfer onto the photographs. Human hands contain oils and salts that can damage photographs, and cotton gloves are an easy barrier to protect photographs.

If you don't want to wear gloves, just ensure that you have clean hands when you handle them and always handle them from the corners. A few more tips:

  • Ensure you have a clean and clear work area
  • Remove any rings or other jewellery that may catch or snag
  • Use only pencil for note-taking near unprotected photographs
  • Use a 2b pencil to write a description on the back or a chinagraph pencil if glossy
  • No food or drink should be consumed or placed near unprotected photographs
  • Store all original photographs in a cool dark place if possible
  • Do you have original photographs in frames? If yes, remove the original carefully and have a good scan made and replace the copy within the frame.

2. Photograph storage.

Electronic storage:
Photographs can easily last over a 100 years if stored correctly!

For long term preservation, you may wish to scan all your photographs and print a good copy; alternatively, scan and print the oldest or the most vulnerable.

  • ​Keep the images on external media, such as a USB flash drive or an external hard drive. Multiple copies are wise
  • ​Don't rely only on a photo-sharing service online. You will also need to plan for future upgrades with your hardware and software to make sure you can still access the images
  • Use no less than 600 ppi to yield a minimum of 6,000 pixels along the long axis, which is the best practice in many archives.
  • For example, images more than 10 inches in length should have the resolution set to 600 ppi
  • Colour should ideally be saved as 24-bit TIFF and grayscale saved as 8-bit TIFF.
  • TIFF is a lossless format, while JPEG uses lossy compression, meaning a loss in quality when edited
  • These TIFFs will create large files and depending on your needs, a minimum of 300 ppi could work
  • Documents can be saved as PDF/A (A for Archival) or PDF. 300 ppi should result in a good quality file.

Physical Storage:
Photographs are best be stored in polypropylene sleeves, stiffened with acid-free cardboard, and placed in acid free paper envelopes.

Polypropylene sleeves, acid free paper, cardboard and envelopes can be purchased from good genealogical suppliers such as

There are also suppliers who supply professional archives, and are reasonably priced:

All the above suppliers should also be able to provide acid free boxes, envelopes and folders in which to store your photographs, once you have inserted them into polypropylene sleeves.

​What Next?

Do you have a brick wall in your family tree? Not sure how to continue your journey? We can help you break through!

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