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Thread: Archiving of old photos & documents

  1. #1

    Default Archiving of old photos & documents

    Hi all,

    I have a batch a old family photos and documents from the 1920's to the early eighties. The photos are a motley bunch of odd sizes from 2inx1.5in to 5inx7in. Some are studio shots with very typical poses of the times. My current task is to document them and make them available to all my siblings.

    I have no experience doing this and just have a vague idea of what I want to do. Broadly, my initial task is to make sense of them first. So I will need to consolidate them from all the sources comprising various types of albums, envelopes, odd pieces here and there and etc. Then to catalogue and label,identifying who's who, where's where and date them, (tough,tough and tough).

    Then comes the scanning and retouching which I plan to do over a few months with a stack per day. I also plan to choose the good and significant ones and have them digitally printed in albums.

    The questions I have, which I hope, brothers and sisters out there, who have experience in photo archiving can help me with are :

    a) How do I keep the photos in good condition? I heard there are good archival quality clear poly bags (eg www.clearbags.com) but I have not seen any available locally. It's quite costly to ship them in. I'm trying to find local sources first.

    b) What other archival accessories do I need? Acid-free boxes? Any local sources?

    c) What's the best way of cataloguing such photos, or is there really a best way? Can someone share his/her experience?

    d) What's the "best" resolution for scanning?

    e) How do I keep and preserve old documents? Some are quite fragile and I'm trying to learn the best way of handling them.

    For software, I'm using CS3 with Nik Color Efex 3.0 for color and contrast correction of the old photos. I use Lightroom for organising the digital photos.

    Would appreciate all the help I can get. Thanks!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Archiving of old photos & documents

    I have gone through this whole lot of shenanigans so I will let you know what I did.

    A. Saving the original photographs is, unfortunately, always going to be a losing battle. Particularly here in Singapore. The humidity plays absolute hell with the paper and mould is an ever-present problem. I have a dry cabinet at home that is dedicated to all the old, archived photos. I have photo albums with non-stick covers where the photos "slip" into the lined slots. The albums were pretty damn expensive, but it was worth it. They pictures have kept well. I keep the folders in the dry cabinet (80L with the shelves properly adjusted). If you plan to do this you need to follow the instructions for keeping paper in that cabinet. The optimal humidity levels for electronics and paper are different.

    B. If you aren't going to keep them in a dry cabinet at least try and keep them with a dessicant source that you change regularly. There is no point in carefully labeling and archiving all those memories only to have them consumed by mould.

    C. Cataloguing photographs is a HUGE undertaking. I know how much work it can be, and the worst part is that there is no win-win way of doing it. All my albums are organised by dates. I have set up a nice spread sheet in Excel that then lets me search for occasions, locations, people, whatever. All the albums and individual photos have their own sequential number so it makes it very easy to go from the database to the actual photo. This is the only effective way that I have ever used...

    D. The "best resolution" really depends on your scanner. There is no real point in cranking up the resolution above what your scanner can actually output. There is also the trade-off of time vs quality. A huge resolution take ages to scan, and when you have thousands of pics to go through that can really make the process painful. I scanned my pics at between 400 - 600 dpi and do all my post-processing (spot removal, colour, sharpness, contrast) in LightRoom 1.4 and PhotoShop CS3. Given the MASSIVE ammounts of data this can produce I back up all images on two separate external 500GB Maxtor one-touch drives to give some redundancy. Again, the pictures here are all arranged in individual Year folders by date in the following format YYYYMMDD. That way they are all in perfect order and match up to the Excel spreadsheet for the originals and I have ready access to both of them.

    E. Handling old documents can be tricky. I always work with them in an airconditioned room and, for really old photos, use cotton gloves to prevent damaging them further. I wipe down the scanner glass with 70% ethanol before use to make sure that mould spores and bacteria are reduced and to make sure the glass is nice and clean to minimize spots in the photos. Above all, I always put the pictures back in their slots as soon as I finish with them! There is nothing worse than having to reorganise everything again because you forgot where everything goes!

    Anyway, I hope this helps. This is just the way I did it, and it is probably over-kill, but it has worked out well! Good luck with your archiving!
    Last edited by Churchwolf; 23rd May 2008 at 11:24 AM.
    Cameras: Rollei 35, Rolleiflex-T, FinePix F700, Nikon D60, D300
    Pics: Churchwolf's Album.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Archiving of old photos & documents

    Quote Originally Posted by Churchwolf View Post
    I have gone through this whole lot of shenanigans so I will let you know what I did.

    A. Saving the original photographs is, unfortunately, always going to be a losing battle. Particularly here in Singapore. The humidity plays absolute hell with the paper and mould is an ever-present problem. I have a dry cabinet at home that is dedicated to all the old, archived photos. I have photo albums with non-stick covers where the photos "slip" into the lined slots. The albums were pretty damn expensive, but it was worth it. They pictures have kept well. I keep the folders in the dry cabinet (80L with the shelves properly adjusted). If you plan to do this you need to follow the instructions for keeping paper in that cabinet. The optimal humidity levels for electronics and paper are different.

    B. If you aren't going to keep them in a dry cabinet at least try and keep them with a dessicant source that you change regularly. There is no point in carefully labeling and archiving all those memories only to have them consumed by mould.

    C. Cataloguing photographs is a HUGE undertaking. I know how much work it can be, and the worst part is that there is no win-win way of doing it. All my albums are organised by dates. I have set up a nice spread sheet in Excel that then lets me search for occasions, locations, people, whatever. All the albums and individual photos have their own sequential number so it makes it very easy to go from the database to the actual photo. This is the only effective way that I have ever used...

    D. The "best resolution" really depends on your scanner. There is no real point in cranking up the resolution above what your scanner can actually output. There is also the trade-off of time vs quality. A huge resolution take ages to scan, and when you have thousands of pics to go through that can really make the process painful. I scanned my pics at between 400 - 600 dpi and do all my post-processing (spot removal, colour, sharpness, contrast) in LightRoom 1.4 and PhotoShop CS3. Given the MASSIVE ammounts of data this can produce I back up all images on two separate external 500GB Maxtor one-touch drives to give some redundancy. Again, the pictures here are all arranged in individual Year folders by date in the following format YYYYMMDD. That way they are all in perfect order and match up to the Excel spreadsheet for the originals and I have ready access to both of them.

    E. Handling old documents can be tricky. I always work with them in an airconditioned room and, for really old photos, use cotton gloves to prevent damaging them further. I wipe down the scanner glass with 70% ethanol before use to make sure that mould spores and bacteria are reduced and to make sure the glass is nice and clean to minimize spots in the photos. Above all, I always put the pictures back in their slots as soon as I finish with them! There is nothing worse than having to reorganise everything again because you forgot where everything goes!

    Anyway, I hope this helps. This is just the way I did it, and it is probably over-kill, but it has worked out well! Good luck with your archiving!
    Hi Churchwolf,

    Thanks for that very useful and comprehensive reply. You certainly had gone thru' a lot to preserve your photos. I intend to keep the photos in a dry room where I also kept my books(basically a room with a dehumidifier). I note your point on keeping the right humidity. What is your advice in the RH to maintain for photos?

    I like your way of cataloguing. Keeping cross-tracks across actual photos, computer folders and spreadsheet. I will probably adopt this approach. Besides ordering by date, I may want to track by subject matter or at least by families. I will track via metadata.

    I have thought of getting a separate hard-disk for this project and your response just confirms it for me . I have not thought of wiping down the scanner glass but I think its a good practice to follow. Thks for the tip.

    BTW, where did you get your source of archival materials? Albums, etc...thks again.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Archiving of old photos & documents

    I keep the humidity for my pics between 30 - 35%. Like all dry-cabinet stuff there seems to be a lot of conflicting information online about this, so it really comes down to subjective use. I haven't had any problems with this yet, though you may find that if you keep thinks like stamps at this kind of low humidity the "glue" on that attaches them to paper will dry out and fail. But for photos this seems to work well. I must stress that polariod images cannot be saved in the long run. All polaroid images will eventually fade out and vanish.

    For the cataloguing I basically allocate cells to each piece of information. It doesn't matter which way you organise them since you can always do a "text search" for a particular name/place/date/number by pressing CTRL+F in Excel. The only thing I must stress is numbering the pictures. You dont need to write on the photo, I just write a small number (in permanent marker) on the plastic of each pocket in a sequential order. That way I always know which folder + which slot I am looking for.

    Similarly it is absolutely vital (I don't know how to make this more important) that you have more than one hard drive. Two is a minimum, get three if you are paranoid. You don't want months of hard work going down the pisser because you have a disc failure! This problem is compounded because of the useless nature of DVDs as a storage medium. DVDs are very unreliable and will frequently corrode or not be able to be read in a different computer. Not to mention that their storage capacity is far too low for the effective storage of your high-res copies of your photos.

    As for the actual albums, I can't really help much there since I purchased them from a posh local photo shop back in Australia. I am sure you can find some here without having to resort to importing anything. The things that I would look for here are first of all a matte non-sticky plastic cover for each photo-slot with space for annotation. All annotation must be done in ink, not in pencil (as this will fade over the next 10 years or so). Essentially, if the price looks too good to be true then it probably is. Go for some good quality books that look and feel like they will stand the test of time. You could also elect to use Photo books that have the little cuts in the paper to slot your photos in. If you choose to use these then ONLY get ones that have pieces of grease-proof paper (that slightly translucent paper you see between the pages in stamp albums) in between each page. If you don't do this the facing photos will, over time regardless of humidity, stick to eachother like glue and you will be tearing your hair out as your pictures rip to shreds when you open the book. If the books you have don't have this, you can just go and buy some of this paper from the grocery/craft shop and cut pieces for each page.

    Anyways, I hope this helps! Happy archiving!
    Last edited by Churchwolf; 23rd May 2008 at 02:43 PM.
    Cameras: Rollei 35, Rolleiflex-T, FinePix F700, Nikon D60, D300
    Pics: Churchwolf's Album.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Archiving of old photos & documents

    A lot of your questions are discussed in detail in a book by Ctein on digital restoration of photographs. Available at various branches of the National Library.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Archiving of old photos & documents

    Quote Originally Posted by LittleWolf View Post
    A lot of your questions are discussed in detail in a book by Ctein on digital restoration of photographs. Available at various branches of the National Library.
    Thks LittleWolf.I will check it out.
    Seems like I'm getting a lot of help from the "wolfs". Is it coincidence or what?

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Archiving of old photos & documents

    Just that they come in packs! :P
    Cameras: Rollei 35, Rolleiflex-T, FinePix F700, Nikon D60, D300
    Pics: Churchwolf's Album.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Archiving of old photos & documents

    Quote Originally Posted by Churchwolf View Post
    I keep the humidity for my pics between 30 - 35%...
    Thks Churchwolf. These are very useful pointers.

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