In many families, the homes of the elderly tend to become repositories for generations of family history. But when grandparents head south to Florida or other popular retirement destinations, taking their old photos and other irreplaceable family documents with them, they face the possibility of losing these mementos to inclement weather such as hurricanes or flooding.
In many cases, it’s possible to restore wet photographs, particularly if you practice good archival techniques to prevent or minimize damage. If you have grandparents living in the hurricane belt, or any other location where weather poses a threat to personal property, here are some measures you can take to help them protect and preserve precious family memories:
Digitize old photos
Digital images are no replacement for your original photos and documents, but in the event of a disaster, having backups of your water damaged pictures can be invaluable.
One way to digitize your old photos is through the use of a scanner. This can be a time-consuming process and, depending Hon the quality of the scanner, the size and quality of your digital images could prove unsatisfactory. Try to use a scanner with at least a 32-bit color depth and the highest resolution you can manage, preferably at least 1200 dpi if you want to be able to reprint your photos without diminished quality.
Another option is to use a digital camera to take pictures of your photos. This can be a much faster method if you’re digitizing a large volume of documents.
When using a camera, it’s important to consider the type of zoom your camera has. A standard or optical zoom is acceptable, but a digital zoom will alter the image and reduce the photo quality.
Use muted, natural light – the light from a window on a cloudy day, for example – and avoid artificial lighting such as lamps or flashes. Lay the camera on a level surface and hold the camera exactly perpendicular to the photo. Make sure neither the camera nor the photo is tilted or skewed. A tripod can help tremendously to achieve the perfect, steady shot.
As you capture your digital images, examine each one and compare it to the original. It may take some trial and error to get the right system down.
Getting the images onto a computer to perform any necessary cropping or retouching is the next step, but it’s not the final destination. To prevent losing your archives to computer failure, it’s important to back up the files on CD, DVD, or an external hard drive.
Ensure proper photo storage
Once you have digital backups of your family photos, make sure the originals are stored in such a way as to prevent further deterioration. Light, heat, humidity, and the acids present in papers, plastics, and adhesives are the major threats you’ll need to inhibit. The best way to preserve old photos and documents is to store them in an acid-free, humidity-controlled environment.
Acid-free boxes, folders, archival albums, and plastic sheets are some of the most popular photo storage methods. If you choose to store your photos in plastic, make sure it doesn’t contain PVC, which is often found in store-bought binders and emits damaging hydrochloric acid. Archive-safe plastics include polyester, polypropylene, and polyethylene.
Any paper that comes in contact with your photos should be acid-free and lignin-free. It’s ok to store multiple photos in one folder or plastic enclosure, but make sure they’re separated by sheets of acid-free paper.
If you wish to keep family photographs in albums, make sure the album is made from archive-quality materials. Never use magnetic or “no-stick” albums, as they can cause rapid deterioration. Negatives should be stored separately from prints in acid-free boxes.
Do not store photos and documents in an attic or basement. Rather, keep them in stable, climate-controlled room of the home.
Restore water damaged photos
If the worst does happen and your family photographs are damaged in a hurricane or flood, it’s possible to have them professionally restored, but you’ll need to act quickly.
It’s important not to let flood damaged photos dry out, as they will stick to each other and become damaged in the attempt to pry them apart. Keep them in a container of clean, cold tap water, and change the water daily until you can get them into the hands of a photo recovery professional.
~Nicole Krueger, 2009
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