Almost all photographers today work with digital cameras, from the most casual snapshot-shooter to successful, professional photographers. Many photos taken today are archived in digital form and never printed. However, many individuals have large film photo collections, perhaps stretching back for decades, that pre-date the digital era and need to be managed and preserved.
Modern photographers also continue to print photos for a variety of reasons. In some cases, prints are easier to view and share, and some people simply prefer to look at prints rather than digital photos on screens. Prints are also the best way to formally or permanently display photos. No matter whether photos are freshly printed or years old, proper storage and organization will keep them safe and preserve them in the best condition for future viewing.
The best storage options for photographs depend on a number of factors, including how frequently it will be viewed and whether it is part of a larger collection that must be organized. No matter what type of storage you choose for your photos, investing in quality is important. A cheap photo album or storage box will be more likely to contain materials or chemicals that can damage photos over time. In order to preserve important photographs, the National Archive recommends using plastic or paper materials that pass the ANSI IT9.16 Photographic Activity Test, or PAT. Materials that qualify under PAT have been shown not to cause staining, fading or discoloration of photos.
Albums vs. Boxes
Photo albums and photo storage boxes are two common and effective ways of archiving photos. The best choice for your photos depends on your needs. Photos that are going to be viewed frequently benefit from being stored in high-quality photo albums. Albums are designed to allow easy viewing without having to touch the photos themselves. Albums are also great for photos that benefit from accompanying notes to explain who is in the photos, when or where they were taken or to provide further information. Notes can be inserted in separate pages or sections so they can be viewed along with the photos. This is beneficial because they still won’t touch the photos, so if there is any acid in the notepaper, it will not harm the photo. It also means notes can be kept with photos without writing on the back of the photo itself, avoiding problems with the ink damaging the photo over time.
Where photo albums are great for viewing photos, they also take up a lot of space relative to the number of photos they can store. Some collections are better suited for photo storage boxes. A box may take up less space than an album but can hold more photos. Boxes are good for photos that need to be preserved but are looked at less frequently as well as photos that are self-explanatory or don’t require extra notes. Archival photo storage boxes are the best way to preserve a large collection of photos, along with associated negatives if they have been kept, while taking up the least amount of space.
Organizing Your Photos
Just as important as preserving your photos is organizing them. Without some system of organization, a large photo collection becomes difficult, if not impossible, to manage. Disorganized photos are less likely to be viewed and enjoyed because of the difficulty of locating a particular photo or set of photos when wanted.
Organizing can be a very personal thing. The best way to organize personal photos is the way that makes sense to the person who owns them. But photos that have interest for a larger group of people, such as extended family photos, benefit from a clear organization system that is easily understood by all.
Basic categories for organizing photos can include the time when they were taken, where they were taken, and who is in them. Photos can be organized around events or around groups of people. Consistency is key to staying organized, no matter what system is chosen. Also, clear labeling of photo albums or boxes, or of the photos themselves, can help to identify a set of photos more quickly. If boxes or albums are labeled with the time the photos were taken, the associated event, and the group of people who are in them (such as “family,” “kids,” “work team,” or so on), then it will be much easier to pick out the right group of photos later.
Another option is to go digital!
Digitally Archiving Your Photos