Photographs include traditional black-and-white and colour prints and negatives,
colour transparencies and historic photographic images captured with a range
of processes on glass, paper, plastic, leather and metal. Photographs also include
images that are captured and printed digitally.
Photographs are prone to various types of deterioration that can affect both the image
and support layers. The main causes of deterioration in photographic materials are
poor processing, atmospheric pollutants, physical fragility and chemical instability.
While we cannot stop inherent deterioration, good storage practices, suitable
packaging and stable environments can at least slow its progression.
• Generally, photographic materials should be
held carefully by the edges. Handle items with
clean dry hands or with nitrile or latex gloves.
• Photograph details can be recorded on a separate
piece of archival quality paper and retained with
the collection or within a photo album.
• Avoid writing on the backs of original
photographs, especially with inks or ballpoint
pens. If necessary, a soft lead pencil of ‘HB’ or
‘B’ grade may be used with care on the back.
• Label negatives with permanent pigment ink on
the outside edge of the negative. Slides may be
labeled on the edge of the white border mount
also with a pigment ink pen.
• Framing objects provides protection against
dust, dirt, pollution and environmental
changes. Archival quality framing materials are
recommended to ensure long-term preservation
of photographs. Use ultraviolet-filtering acrylic
as glazing to reduce the impact of light damage.
See our fact sheet on the ‘Benefits of Mounting and
Framing Artworks’ for more details.
• Ensure the surface of the photograph never
touches the glazing of a frame. Heat and
humidity can cause the photograph to become
irreversibly stuck to the glazing.
• Display photographs in cool, dry environments,
with stable conditions of humidity and
temperature. Avoid contact with bathroom,
kitchen, laundry and external walls as humidity
in these areas fluctuates greatly and can cause
physical distortions. High humidity causes mould
growth, so keep display areas well ventilated.
Keep photographs away from heaters, fireplaces
and other sources of heat.
• Avoid strong light sources and direct sunlight as
these will accelerate deterioration and fading.
Use low ultraviolet-emitting light tubes. Certain
types of colour photographs and some digital
prints are more vulnerable and prone to fading.
• Consider displaying copies rather than
originals; this applies especially to some historic
photographic processes that are extremely light
sensitive. Please see our fact sheet on ‘Creating
Copies’ for more information.
• Dry mounting (use of a pressure sensitive or heat
release adhesive on a flat backing sheet) is not a
preservation mounting technique and should be
avoided for your valuable photographs.
• Do not laminate photographic prints as this can
permanently damage the emulsion layer
• Photographs should be stored in cool, dark
and dry conditions with stable humidity and
temperature. Locations where environmental
conditions fluctuate such as sheds, garages, roof
spaces and basements are unsuitable.
• There are a variety of suitable storage enclosures
that can be used for long-term storage of
photographs. Use of a multi-layered system
i.e. sleeve, box, cabinet will provide increased
• When choosing enclosures look for materials
or products that have passed the Photographic
Activity Test. This certifies that the material
is safe for use with photographs. Prints and
negatives are best packaged individually but if
packaging in groups is unavoidable, the photos
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Produced by the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation for the War Heritage Roadshow 2017.
Contact or (03) 9348 5700
should be interleaved with acid-free paper or
• Photographs can be stored in plastic sleeves in
archival ring binders. Polyester is the most stable
plastic for photographic storage. Polypropylene
(PP) is a low cost and readily available alternative.
Avoid the use of plastic that has a hazy film on
the surface as this indicates that the plastic film is
coated or heavily plasticized. Never use polyvinyl
chloride (PVC) sleeves and folders.
• Archival quality acid free paper envelopes are
suitable for storing prints and deteriorated
negatives. It is generally recommended that
the paper be unbuffered as some photographic
processes react adversely to buffered papers.
Seamless envelopes are preferred.
• Never use metal pins, staples, paper clips, rubber
bands or adhesive tape to secure photographic
materials. Do not try to remove tapes and labels
adhered to photographic materials without
conservation advice. Only remove rubber bands
and metal fasteners when it can be done without
• Negatives should be stored in archival quality
sleeves. Ideally, both nitrate and acetate negatives
should be kept isolated from other collection
material because of the damaging vapours
they produce. Nitrate negatives are also highly
flammable and further consultation should
be sought regarding the safe storage of these
• Colour photographic slides can be stored in their
original plastic boxes. Otherwise, they can be
stored in archival quality slide storage pages that
have passed the Photographic Activity Test.
• Store cased photographs (daguerreotypes,
ambrotypes, etc.) in their cases. Wrap the case in
archival material such as acid-free paper to create
a dust cover.
• Stacking digital prints may cause the ink to offset
onto adjacent material. Ensure your prints have
dried fully before storing to avoid smudging and
• When choosing storage albums or boxes, be
sure to use inert, pH neutral paper materials
and plastics (e.g. polyethylene, polypropylene).
Use archival quality photo-corners to adhere
photographs to pages in non-adhesive albums.
• Do not use ‘magnetic’ photograph albums where
the photographs are kept in place with a slightly
tacky adhesive. In time, this adhesive may turn
brown and cause staining and the photographs
can be difficult to remove safely. Avoid any
products that contain PVC plastics.
• Enamelled steel filing cabinets are suitable
for storage of prints and negatives. Wooden
cabinets and enclosures must be coated with
paint, lacquer or wax to prevent the discharge of
vapours that are harmful to the silver content of
prints and negatives.
More information
For more information on care of photographic materials, please see the following resources:
CCI Notes:
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Produced by the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation for the War Heritage Roadshow 2017.
Contact or (03) 9348 5700
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