Skip to Main Content

Collecting and Managing Your Personal and Family Records: Photographs

Rare and Distinctive Collections


Classroom: Norlin N345

Reading Room: Norlin M350B

Image credit: Scrapbook page (1929), Dwight G. Lavender collection, University of Colorado Boulder Libraries' Archives
Black and white photograph of man holding fish, with lake and mountain in the background. Photograph pasted into scrapbook page, with hand written caption "Mountain trout caught in the lake. Dwight Lavendar in person."

The photographer Ralph Hattersley once said, "We make photographs to understand what our lives mean to us." In our personal and family archives, photographs are often are best way to capture memories, elict feelings of the past, and make our histories come alive. 

The sources below may help you to keep the photographic materials, slides, negatives, albums, and scrapbooks in good condition to share with future generations. For information on environmental conditions like temperature, humidity, and pest prevention, see the "Papers" tab to the left. 


As always, one of the most important steps to insuring your personal and family history lasts through the ages is to identify, date, and clearly label material as you create and use it, including the people, places, and events depicted.

Preservation and care

  • Handle photographs and negatives by the edges only
  • Handle photographs and negatives with clean, dry hands or, preferably, with lint-free cotton or nitrile gloves
  • Do not mend photographs or negatives with common household tapes or glues
  • Store loose photographs and negatives in acid-free, lignen-free paper envelopes or in polyethelene or polypropylene plastic sleeves. Do not use plastic sleeves made of PVC. 
  • Store photographs together according to size. Choose boxes that match the size of the photographs and pack boxes comfortably, to prevent photos from bending, curling, or shifting
  • Store negatives and small photographs (5x7" or smaller) vertically, rather than stacked. Larger prints, in archival paper or plastic envelopes or folders, can be stored horizontally to prevent bending, with the smallest items on the top of the stack
  • Store negatives separately from prints in case of fire or water damage. 
  • Consider cold storage (properly packed and frozen boxes) for older, deterioriating, or valuable negatives. See the resources below for cold storage instructions
  • Protect displayed photographs from excessive light exposure: 
    • Create copies of valuable photographs for display, while maintaining originals in archival enclosures
    • Rotate which photographs you display over time to limit the period of light exposure
    • Avoid direct sunlight or use UV-filtering glass in picture frames
Photo Slides
  • Do not remove 35mm photographs from their cardboard or plastic slide mounts
  • If possible, store photo slides vertically in their carousels or boxes to prevent damage from light or dust
  • If stored in plastic sleeves, use polyester, polyethylene, or polypropylene, not PVC
  • Clean slides with a gentle puff of air or lightly with a very soft brush
Albums and scrapbooks
  • Mount photographs with photo corners, not with glues or tapes
  • Use thick acid-free papers or non-PVC-plastic sleeves
  • Store fragile books horizontally in protective archival boxes, not vertically on a book shelf

Content adapted from "Saving Your Stuff," American Library Association; "Preserve Your Family Treasures," Minnesota Historical Society; and "Caring for Your Treasures: Photographs," American Institute for Conservation

Suggested resources