Dusting off the ol’ Box of Photos

Everyone has them, a box or two of old photos needing attention. Many may even need mending. Here’s a few tips to get those photos out of the box, handled safely, and introduced into the family tree.

SORTING (organizing and notating)
Set aside a day of the week or month with a dedicated table to organize your photos. Unsorted photos can be challenging. So decide which may be best for you to tackle the chore:

  • by person
  • by family grouping
  • chronologically by decade or time period

You’ll need a few supplies: archival photo boxes, a soft lint-free cloth, a soft leaded pencil, a scanner, and photo sleeves.

Copyright 2011 LaDonna Garner

Notate along the front/back margins.


There are two options to notating the photographs: on the photograph or on the protector the photograph will be housed. Notation on the photographs should be done with a photo pencil of soft lead often found in art supply stores. Never use ink pens. Mark photographs in the margins along the front or along the margins on the back using light pressure on a hard, clean surface.

Scanning photos will aid the longevity of your families images and enable you to share them. It’s also a great way to protect photos, damaged or not, leaving the originals clear of wear and tear through repeated handling.

Saving the images in file names that are short in description (less than 10 characters without spacing) will enable you to relocate easier for future use. Save them in tif and jpg format. Tif will allow for less degradation of the digital images and jpg will make for shareable use in emails, online groups, and other programs. Make backup copies and share with family members and put one away in a safe deposit box.

Setting the scanner properties to 300 dpi and true color (or similar settings) is a good overall choice for limited storage size and quality.

Separate out the damaged photos so they can be handled with care. Also separate out photos that contain tape, glue residue, or need to be specially removed from album pages or glass. These will need special attention to not destroy additional photos in your collection. These should also be scanned or photographed prior to having them restored as a precaution.

You may feel the urge to tape up the fraying edges of photos or glue together photos that have been torn apart. I suggest you purchase archival photo sleeves such as these at Gaylord. Clear sleeves offer a static cling effect to keep the photo in the sleeve and allow for viewing without repeated removal lessening additional damage. Choose a size that offers the photo room to slip into and remove easily. Lightly clean away dust and fingerprints with a soft, lint free cloth. Then tuck them into a photo box for organizing and safe keeping. Photos needing to see a specialist for severe damage or tape & glue removal can especially make use of the sleeves for protection.

Copyright 2011 LaDonna Garner

use archival sleeves & soft-lead pencils

Negatives deserve just as much special attention as the photos. You can find negative archival sleeves in varying sizes in photo shops or online. Many have 3-ring holes to keep them safely bound in a binder. Many home scanners today are equipped to scan negatives so do not throw these out. These negatives are still worthy of their purpose as an archival backup, especially if the original photos have been damaged, faded, or lost.

Store your photos and negatives in a room that has stable heating and cooling, low indirect lighting, and away from chemicals such as cigarette smoke.

Use digital photo software to edit photos you’ve scanned using touch up tools to restore damaged areas or color fade issues. You can also add the names of the individuals in the photos on the front margins then print and share at the family reunions.

For more fun with your pictures, host a photo organizing scanning night with friends or family. Be sure to make duplicates of photos you think others may wish to have. It could make for a great photo swapping evening!

Leaf’n through the memories,


This entry was posted in Historic Preservation, Organization, Photographs, Photography and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dusting off the ol’ Box of Photos

  1. Claudia says:

    Thank you very much for your photo information. A few days ago I was going through my fathers box of treasures and what did I find but envelopes filled with negatives from 1943. I wanted to scan them and I needed someplace to keep them and I think with the Gaylord company I might have the answer.

    Is there any special negtive scanner that you use?

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