Archive for September, 2012

Protecting Your Photos from Disaster


The tornadoes and downpours of this spring and last month’s Hurricane Issac have gotten me thinking about disaster planning.  In this part of the country we don’t have the luxury of the advance warnings that usually come with hurricanes and wildfires.  Our disasters tend to happen quickly – tornadoes, house fires and floods.  After confirming the safety of our loved ones, the next thing that most people think about is the loss of important personal items including photos and movies.

Water damaged photos can be salvaged, but one needs to work quickly.  If the photos are allowed to dry or grow mold, the damage is probably irreparable.  Traditional photographic prints should be cleaned by dunking them into tanks of clean water (rather than running water) and placed on something absorbent to air dry (plain paper towels are fine, just blot any excess water away first).  They will curl but can be flattened out later. Photos should be removed from albums while still wet to prevent them from sticking to the plastic cover.  In the case of heirloom photo albums, take apart the album and clean and dry each page following the same steps listed above.

While this is the ideal method, you may not have the time, space or desire to clean and dry everything immediately.  In this case, you’ll want to freeze your photos in a Ziploc bag.  Be sure to place a piece of waxed paper between the photos in stacks so they don’t adhere to each other.  Removing prints from albums and then freezing them is better, but you can freeze a whole album if you need to.  Remove the photos from the bag to thaw them and follow the above steps.

As they say – the best defense is a good offense.  A salvaged photo will never look as good as it once did and in the case of fire, may be missing parts.  A qualified photo restorer can do wonders, but it’s easier and cheaper to have a digital copy to begin with.  All of your digital photos and movies should be backed up on an external hard drive and stored off-site or in a fireproof box bolted to the basement floor.  Analog items (traditional prints, films and VHS) should be digitized and stored.  Yes, it is a time consuming and often pricey solution; professional scanning costs but it saves you time and energy.  For a faster alternative to scanning, take a digital photo of the print.  For best results, don’t use the flash and make sure the print and your camera are level.  It won’t be as good as a scan from a quality scanner, but at least it’s something.