How to care for your photograph collection at home

Katharine Whitman shown lecturing at a photograph conservation school in France.

Katharine Whitman shown lecturing at a photograph conservation program in France.

In caring for your own photography collection, it’s vital that you make the right choices.  There is a lot of false information floating around the internet.  Follow these recommendations to ensure that your photos will last.  When you’re unsure what to do, contact Katharine for a consultation.


Store your photographs in acid-free, PAT (Photographic Activity Tested) materials.  The PAT test logo should be on the packaging of the material if it has been approved.

Keep your photographs in areas that have controlled temperature and stable humidity, like your living room or library.

Framed or otherwise displayed photographs should be kept out of direct sunlight and behind UV coated Plexiglas.  They should also be backed with acid free materials, not cardboard.

Photographs should only be held by the edges to avoid fingerprints forming in the image.

Handle photographs with cotton gloves whenever possible to prevent fingerprints from forming.

Store your negatives in a separate place from your photographs – if something happens to your photographs, you want your negatives available to make more copies.

If you are shooting exclusively digital photographs, make sure you back up you collection regularly to an external drive, and store that drive in a separate place from your computer.


Don’t keep your photographs in an uninsulated attic or basement.  The fluctuations in temperature and humidity are very detrimental to the photographs.

Keep any framed photographs from direct contact with the glass to avoid sticking, use a mat board edge to create a space within the frame.

Do not use clear tape to repair tears in a photograph – only use PAT approved tapes that can be found in many art supply stores.

Do not store photographs in old “magnetic”, clear plastic and glued paged albums – these will cause your photos to yellow over time and the photos will permanently adhere to the pages.

Do not store photographs in albums that use adhesives to keep them in place.

Do not use ink on the photographs, use pencils gently instead.

Do not use rubber bands, staples or paper-clips on photographs – these will permanently damage them.

Don’t display particularly precious original photographs – have copies made of them and display the copies instead.