How to Care for Color Photographs

If you’re like me, you have priceless color pictures: formally-posed images of loved ones at a special occasion, Polaroids from silly or classic moments or snapshots that remind you of times and places you want to always remember.

Unfortunately, color photography is an unstable medium. The life span of a typical color image is estimated at only 25 years. A Polaroid will probably last for only five to ten years.

Without proper care and storage, these precious images will fade, even within your lifetime. Follow these guidelines on how to care for color photographs so the images will last as long as possible:

  1. Make a digital copy. Digital photography has its own preservation issues, but make a digital copy anyway. This gives you a back-up image in case the original is lost and it captures the image before it deteriorates any further. A digital image is easy to share and the more widely you share it, the more fun and the more likely the image will endure.
  2. Keep the original images away from sunlight. If you want to display a photograph, make a copy from the original negative or your digital image and use that. Sunlight accelerates deterioration by attacking the dyes in the color film.
  3. Keep the negatives. Since prints will become discolored over time, it is important to retain the negatives so that new prints can be made.

Learn more about the hand-colored and color photographs in your family album in Chapter 5 of my book, Family Photo Detective.