Looking at how photography has become a part of everyday life, the idea of physical prints and film may seem obsolete. However, there’s something nostalgic and tangible about that time. Framing a shot. Waiting expectantly to see if it turned out. Holding memories in your hands.
Some things are better left kept and stored in a safe place than donated or forgotten. Here are some practical tips for storing and caring for vintage images, cameras, and equipment.
Make Copies of Images
Take the time to digitize your vintage images. You don’t need to share or use them, but they’ll act as a security backup if something happens to the originals. You can also use digital copies to make custom posters and prints as gifts and display art.
Protecting original prints from sunlight is integral, which can cause the image to fade and crumble. Print a copy for display purposes instead, and keep the original tucked away.
Invest in Dust Bags
Dust bags are typically used for shoes and accessories to keep them clean and free of dirt and grime while in storage. They’re also effective for protecting the inner workings of your vintage cameras and gear. As vintage cameras have many moving parts compared to digital cameras, keeping dust out is paramount to get the maximum possible lifespan and functionality.
Look for natural fabrics like cotton or a cotton blend for proper ventilation. Microfiber also helps prevent scratches and damage to the equipment.
Prioritize Temperature Consistency
Avoid storing your photos and gear in an area prone to temperature or moisture fluctuations. Attics, garages, and basements are the worst places to store your vintage cameras and images.
If possible, keep them in a closet on the main level of your house. Avoid placing them on the ground where they could get crushed, and be sure there aren’t any vents nearby.
Set an Alarm to Check Semi-Annually
Old cameras and photography equipment are like cars: they don’t do well if left sitting for too long. It’s important to take your gear out, turn it on, and inspect it every few months.
Set an alarm or reminder to pull out your equipment semi-annually to run through the motions, confirm the integrity of the storage container, and make sure everything is fine.
Use Silica Packs
Silica packs are the small packages you often find in shoes or medicine bottles to help absorb moisture and protect the contents. If you live in a humid area or don’t have a temperature-consistent place to store your photos and equipment, add a few of these to each storage container.
Silica packs are designed to last for a few months. Plan to swap these out at least twice per year. You can do this when you check your equipment.
Use Archival-Quality Materials
Archival quality materials — such as markers, labels, and paper — are built to stand the test of time. Furthermore, these high-quality materials won’t degrade and cause damage to your photos or gear.
If you have photos stored in old picture albums, take them out. The vintage peel-and-stick albums are not archival quality and could permanently damage your photo memories. Use unscented dental floss to gently lift them from the page if stuck and transfer them to a photo-friendly box.