It’s been hot and humid here. I put the air conditioner in the window and cranked it up. I like moderate temperatures and fairly low humidity. Your photos are the same! All too often when I go to meet with clients, they have pulled old printed photos out of either the basement or attic. Although the basement usually doesn’t have the fluctuations in temperature that an attic can, the photos may get musty smelling and you sometimes see mold or mildew on the prints. The paper absorbs the moisture from the air, not just from standing or dripping water.
You don’t get the water damage problems in the attic as much (unless you have a leaky roof), but temperatures can soar in the summer and plummet in the winter, which is also hard on prints, negatives and slides. Just as you wouldn’t want to live in the extremes, your photos do best and last the longest in consistent, moderate temperatures with low humidity. A closet in your home is usually a good place for the photos you don’t have out on your walls or the albums/books you have out for people to look at.
Heat can also affect photo books. You get a book printed of your digital vacation photos or do a graduation book for your child and they want to show it off to all their friends. The book gets left in the car and the pages can stick together due to heat. I’ve seen this even with prints that get too hot. It’s not just the old printed photos you need to be aware of! The new digital printing options need a similar environment.
Light is the other enemy of photos. We had a client who had two photos on her office wall. She changed offices and didn’t realize how much more sun the new office had. The emulsion started peeling off the paper! I had never seen such a bad case before. You could tell that the light had faded the photo, but the cracking and peeling had almost destroyed the photos beyond repair. This is one reason not to have the only copy of a treasured photo framed on your wall. Especially if the sun comes pouring into that room. Have a second print in safe keeping, away from the light.
This is one of those tricky paradoxes. You want to see your pictures in your home. You hang them on the walls, you put them into albums or books to look at and share when people come over. But having them visible and available puts the prints at risk. So when you put photos on your walls, or have prints framed or turned into canvas prints, you should also have the original or the digital image safely stored away. I also have page protectors on my photo albums so that when my son pulls out his album to show his friends while they are eating cake and ice cream, I’m not as worried about sticky fingers ruining the photos. Even your clean hands have oils that can damage older photographs. Handling prints by the edges and wearing gloves helps keep that to a minimum.
Your photos do like to live in the same environment that you do. So help keep them safe and preserved for many years to come by controlling the light, humidity and temperature. Where are your printed photos?