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10 Enemies of Your Photographs and How to Beat Them

Why should you keep your photos safe?

If you plan to keep your photos for only a year or so then it doesn’t really matter how you store them. But if you consider the time, effort and cost you have incurred in amassing your collection of pictorial memories then you may not wish to have them fade or become disfigured. It costs no more to do it right. Remember that all photos will fade eventually but given a little care they will last for ages. Colour photos are generally more vulnerable to loss of image than black and white.


The 10 enemies of your photographs

1. Light

Photographs, slides and negatives which are exposed to light for long periods will fade. The stronger the light the faster the fading. Direct sunlight is the worst offender. Photos left near a window can lose colour very quickly. The best rule to follow to preserve your photos is therefore to keep them in “photo- safe” albums or boxes away from daylight.


2. Fingers

Of course you will want to show your photos to friends but be sure they do not touch the photo surface. Everyone has some natural oils on their skin and of course some, like children, have lots of other things as well. The answer is to avoid contact with the surface of your photos, or alternatively cover your photos in clear plastic – but be sure it is the right type of plastic. Some materials like PVC contain chemicals that are released as the plastic ages. These chemicals will actively destroy your photographs. The best rule to follow is to be sure that the manufacturer brands the pages as being safe for photos.

3. Temperature

Heat can accelerate the degradation of all photographic materials. You may not intentionally subject your albums to heat regularly but beware, for instance, of leaving your albums uncovered on the seat of your car in summer. An album left on a coffee table that is exposed to direct sunlight can also be seriously affected. The solution is obvious – store your photos in a reasonably cool place that is not exposed to direct sunlight.


4. Insects, Silverfish and Vermin

The danger with these pests is not only the pests themselves but also the sprays and the chemicals you may use to kill them. Be careful to avoid spraying your albums when you see an insect on one of them. You may do more harm than destroying the insect. Some album covers and boxes are made of polypropylene which is a substance not normally attacked by vermin, rodents or even mildew. This makes polypropylene naturally superior to cardboard for photographic storage.


5. Dust and Crushing

These two dangers often come together when photos are left in a heap on a table. The dust settles on the surfaces of the photos and then becomes abrasive during handling. It is surprising how much dust and grease can accumulate on a polished surface in even the best managed homes. The rule is to avoid leaving unprotected photos lying around. Put them in a photo- safe album as soon as possible and even then do not overload it as crushing can still occur.

6. The Wrong Type of Album or Storage Box

The rules of good storage include using acid free materials, photo- safe plastic and filing the photos back-to-back. This last point is often over- looked. The faces of the photos are of a different acidity level to the backs. By filing back-to-back the possibility of a chemical reaction is avoided. As mentioned earlier, it is very important to use the correct materials. The most renowned archives use plastic (usually polyester or polypropylene) so don’t avoid the advantages which plastic can bring. Just be sure that you don’t use PVC or an unknown type in your albums. If your albums have paper pages or if you wrap your photos in paper or tissue be sure that it is acid free.


7. Glue and Adhesive Tape

Most glues are bad for your photos. Care should even be taken when using “photo-safe” products because undue wetting can penetrate to the photo side. It is best to use a slip-in pocket system if you can. Never use “sticky tapes” as they become gluey and tacky as they age and can ruin photos.


8. Writing on the Back of Photos

Apart from indenting the surface, inks and pencil can react with the photo paper. Of course it is desirable to have a record of the photo details but this is better kept separately. Some of the better albums provide for recording photo details next to the photos.


9. Metal Fittings – Staples and Paper Clips

Over time, metal fittings – such as ring systems or rivets will rust or tarnish. It is best if these chemical reactions are kept away from your photographs. Choose a photo album that does not use metal rings or rivets for binding. Avoid the use of staples or metal paper clips.


10. Poor Photo Processing

Not all photo laboratories, mini-labs and photo shops are good. Most are of course responsible and caring but some are not. Bad processing and poor drying can spoil your photos before you get them and can create problems in your album. Choose your film lab carefully. The cheapest are not always a good investment.


How to beat them

How to find an album that is photo-safe

Until recently this has been difficult. Most of the cheap and nasty albums with “sticky” and “magnetic” PVC pages are imported and all of them are a threat to your photos. There are some older style albums that have paperboard pages and tissue interleaves. These are safer than the cheaper models but to mount the photos it is usually necessary to use glue or photo corners. Glue is not good for your photos and mounting with corners is very tedious.

So what can you do?

There would be no point in providing you with all the above information if we did not also provide a solution. Our Albox Photo-Safe Albums have the following features:

  • acid free pages
  • solid polypropylene album covers and crush-proof slipcovers
  • tabs for recording photo details separately
  • all pages are slip-in style pockets of photo-safe polypropylene
  • no metal fittings and no adhesives used or need to be used
  • low cost: 300 6″ x 4″ photos can be filed safely for under $40.00
  • pages are available for negatives and larger photos
  • there are also pages and pockets for letters, certificates and documents.

Albox albums are now being used by libraries, museums and archives throughout Australia. You can trust them. When you are selecting albums look for the manufacturer’s “photo-safe” label. If the albums are photo-safe the manufacturer will be proud to tell you. If there is no photo-safe label, beware!

Albox albums and pages are available for purchase here



  1. Ian Webb

    This list omits on of the most important hazards for storing photos: Humidity. Humidity, especially in wet environments, such as the Cairns area, often results in mould growth especially on slides and negatives. This has very serious long term consequences for photo quality. The most economical solution is to store photographic originals in air-tight containers with dry silica gel and check/re-dry the silica gel regularly. Suitable silica gel has an indicator which turns from blue (dry) to pink (when it has absorbed the maximum amount of moisture).

  2. Tony Aldous

    I suggest that photographs be digitally scanned in a tiff format using minimum of 600dpi. A separate digital record (word or excel is fine) should be established to record the following metadata information.
    Digital image number and format; Black & white, colour, sepia etc: Original size of photograph Condition: Negative exist: Description of photograph (include event title, identified people and date) Date scanned: Name of person scanning the image. The digital images and digital record be backed up to two reputable separate Hard Drives, not USB sticks as they tend to be unreliable. You can scan them to the Cloud but I am personally not in favour of this back up format. The original photographs should be stored as suggested in the original article above.

  3. Wendy Baker

    Above is helpful. Another tip – digitise your old 35mm colour slides asap to “stop the rot” of chemical deterioration in the celluloid. I have been able to do this with my late father’s 1500 slides (and about 3,000 of mine) and so have precious family memories preserved digitally. With some, the colour preservation was surprisingly good. A lot depends on the quality of the original film batch before exposure.Where deterioration had occurred (even though preserved since 1950’s,60’s & 70’s in Kodaslide storage boxes) I used the option of changing them to black and white with results quite good enough for my purpose. It’s a bit of a tedious process to digitise slides but well worth it, otherwise those images will disappear completely.


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Albox Australia

Albox Australia

Albox Australia is a leading Australian owned and operated company specialising in the design of office, archival and photographic products. While they were founded in 1989, their parent company, Preview Industries Australia was first established as A.R. Patrick in 1923 making metal buttons and other promotional products. The Patrick Brothers then changed its name to Preview Plastics, and today they make many different products using polypropylene and PVC. Visit their website.