Collaborating With Your Photographer, 201: Conservation of Your Wedding Photographs

06 | 23 | 2010

antique wedding photos

I come from a family where photographs are prized possessions.  My grandmother was always afraid that someone would break into her house and steal her family photographs. Now there’s certainly a breakdown of reason (people steal things because they are valuable, not because they are valuable to you), but I think the sentiment is priceless. Her photographs of all of us were the one thing she didn’t want taken away from her.  Of course, she didn’t preserve them properly.  Many were in the magnetic photo albums from the 80s, and framed prints were stacked one behind another, ad infinitum, partly out of convenience and partly to hide them from would-be robbers.

My grandmother was right: photographs are great treasures, to us, to our families, to our histories, and to our cultures.  And so, the photographic prints themselves—and their conservation—are essential, but often overlooked, aspects of your investment in wedding photography and in any photography period.

I.  Keep Photographs Out of Direct Bright Light

Sunlight damages prints, even high-quality archival ones.  Don’t hang framed prints where they’ll get direct sunlight (or even really bright indirect light).  You don’t want to look like The Munsters in twenty years.

II. Keep Your Photographs Out of Extreme Conditions (No extreme heat, cold, high humidity, or dryness).

Humidity can cause mold; extreme dryness can make prints brittle.  Heat and cold are just as bad.  And alternating among any of those conditions is even worse.  Keep your prints, if at all possible, in stable room-temp normal humidity conditions.

III.  Use Archival Presentation and Preservation Materials

This is one area where your photographer probably can help you quite a bit, since many of us work with our clients to create archival presentations of the photographs.  Framed prints should be matted first, so that they don’t stick to the glass.  The matting should be archival quality, with acid free archival adhesives, corners, mat paper, etc.  UV-filtering glass can help framed prints, too.  Albums and other presentations should be completely archival.

IV.  Don’t Handle The Prints With Your Fingers.

If there was one thing Grammy was militant about with her photographs, it was this.  But it’s true: the oil from your fingers damages the print’s emulsion.

Naturally, if we wanted our photographs to last forever and ever, we’d leave them in airtight archival boxes at room temperature and never let them see the light of day.  But that would be absurd, as the joy of a photograph is, of course, taking it in.  So I’m offering some basic guidelines today.   Then we’ll discuss each of these aspects of conservation in more detail in the coming months because the burden and responsibility of conservation of prints ultimately falls on the clients.  In other words, no matter how careful your photographer is to create archival prints for you; if they are handled carelessly later, they’ll still be ruined.  If at any point you aren’t sure about how to preserve your photographs, just ask your photographer!

iPhone photo: Gia Canali

* The photographs in the picture above are from my tiny collection of vintage wedding photographs. I always feel sad that photos like this have been separated from their people …
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