Sunday, October 23, 2011

Are Your Prints in a Box?

So many people ask about how to organize photo prints and the process for many of my clients begins with what I call "herding".  Gather all your photos from the closet, the buffet, the shoe box in the basement,  and the envelop the friend sent you.  Then you can begin to organize and preserve them.  Don't forget to label so you will remember what year you took the pictures. - Melanie

My guest blogger, photographer and Creative Memories Consultant, Siobhan Shaffer explains more in this part 2 of our photo organizing series.                     

Are Your Prints in a Box?
                                 By Siobhan Wolf Shaffer

        All those prints and negatives from the film days along with prints from our digital images have to be stored somewhere.  Where are yours?  In a photo box from the craft store?  In a plastic bin?  In a cardboard box in storage?
        Once our images are printed, there is nothing that can stop them from degrading in quality eventually.  There are, however, a lot of things we do with our prints that accelerates the degradation process.
        Cardboard boxes, and many photo boxes, are filled with acid and lignin.  Acid, found in paper, and lignin, a component of the wood from which paper is made, are in all paper products unless they are specifically removed.  Acid will eat away at photos causing them to fade.  Lignin becomes dry, brittle and yellowed over time.  If you’ve seen old photos that are yellow and faded with cracks in them, then you’ve seen the effects of acid and lignin. 
        If your photo boxes are archival quality yet do not have a buffering agent added, even the envelopes from the photo developer placed into the box will introduce acid and lignin into your photo storage environment. 
        Most plastics are made with PVCs.  Unless your plastic bins are labeled PVC free, the PVCs in plastic will also negatively affect the quality of your photos over time.
        Temperature and light are two additional factors that affect photo preservation.  High temps and humidity speed up the chemical reactions that cause photos to degrade.  Direct sunlight does the same.  I’m sure you’ve seen what happens to a newspaper when it’s left sitting in the sun, even for a short period of time.  The same thing happens with our photos. 
        Given these factors, it is important to make wise choices when storing our photographic prints in order to slow down the aging process.  
        Choose storage boxes made from photo safe plastics (PVC free) that have compartments inside that allow you to remove the photos from the developer’s envelope.  The box should have a lid that sits down over the top of the box sealing it to keep light and dust out as well.   Prints should be stored standing upright which allows air to flow around them.  Laying prints on top of one another compresses them together and over time they may become adhered together.  
        Creative Memories’ Power Sort boxes are designed with these specifications on mind.  Each Power Sort box contains smaller, lidded compartments that allow for easy storing and organizing of your prints.
        Once you have chosen a safe storage box, you have many organizing options.  You can sort and store them chronologically or by event, location, or family member.  Storing vacation photos together allows you to locate those quickly and easily when you are ready to put them into albums.  If you are also storing digital images, carrying that organization system over to your physical prints is a great idea - then whether you are looking for prints or digital files, you will know exactly where to find them.        
        Once your prints are safely stored and organized, what should you do with the storage boxes?  I have found photos in attics, garages, and basements.  None of these are good choices.  Attics become ovens, baking your prints and speeding up the aging process by adding extreme heat.  Garages are subject to wide temperature swings, increased moisture levels, and are also vulnerable to rodents and insects.  Basements, unless they are finished and have a dehumidifier running, are too damp.  Your living space is the best temperature and humidity for storing your photo boxes.  Think of it this way - if you and your family are comfortable, your photographic prints will be, too. 
        Organizing and storing your print may seem overwhelming, but if you put a system into place and start with your most recent photos, working your way backward to your oldest prints, you will be doing yourself a huge favor.  Each time you develop prints, add them into your storage system right away.  This way you’ll never get behind in safely storing your photos again. 
        Wondering what to do with all those prints once their organized?  Stay tuned.  

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