Many families have boxes of celluloid and paper dating back several decades (if not longer), and these reels of film and printed photographs preserve the history and memories of generations of ancestors, from dear old Mom and Dad to great-great-great-great-great Uncle Josephus, who fought alongside Lincoln at the Battle of Gettysburg. Even more than documents like birth, death, and marriage certificates, these pictorial representations of family members that we’ve known and loved, or those who were gone long before we were born, but nonetheless bear a striking resemblance to us, are reminders of a history of single threads that make up the fabric of a family. And if you want to pass them on one day to your children, grandchildren, and countless future generations, you need to take the appropriate steps to preserve them. Here are just a few tips to help ensure that your family photos and home movies are safe from the ravages of time.
1. Store in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Two things that can damage paper and celluloid more than anything else are heat and humidity, so you need to make sure you store them in a place where both can be monitored and controlled. Celluloid, unfortunately, will not hold up forever, no matter how ideal the conditions, although there are still movies made a hundred years ago sitting in archives in Hollywood. Of course, they have the facilities and know-how to store these reels for optimum preservation. In any case, this step will help you to preserve original copies.
2. Keep away from direct sunlight. Whether you store boxes in an attic or basement or you have photos on display in your home, you need to keep your film and photos away from direct sunlight. Unless you want film that is spotty and photos that are yellowed and faded, it’s important to understand the damage that sunlight can do and take appropriate measures to combat it.
3. Use protective measures. There are a couple of steps you can take to protect photos, in particular, especially those you have on display. For one thing, you should always use UV-protective glass for photos and artwork that you don’t want to fade. But you also need to make sure that any paper touching your photos is acid- and lignin-free. Both of these elements are commonly found in paper and they cause deterioration over time, so you want to find backing papers, mats, and so on that are pH neutral for the best chance at preserving your family photos, old and new.
4. Convert home movies. No matter how diligent you are about preserving old movies, the format simply isn’t designed to hold up indefinitely. Luckily, there are now many avenues to explore when it comes to converting reel-to-reel, Betamax, VHS, and just about any other kind of film or tape to a digital format for continued storage. In some cases, you can find the hardware and software you need to do it at home, but you might not want to spend the money on such products unless you have a room full of movies to convert. Instead, you could use sites like Just8mm.com that convert specific formats. All you have to do is mail in your home movies and let the pros do the heavy lifting for you. If restoration is required, this might be your best bet anyway.
5. Create backup storage. The worst thing that could happen would be to convert your entire library of photos and movies to digital only to have your computer crash or your hard drive go kaput. So make sure you have backups on another storage drive or burned to disc, just in case.