Mother Nature has been throwing some pretty serious weather our way this Spring. At the Gym we often hear sad stories of photos and videos lost to disaster. With all the flooding and tornadoes in our area, we thought this was a good time to offer some suggestions for getting prepared when you know foul weather is coming your way and dealing with the damage to your collection when you didn’t see it coming.
Preparing for disaster
If you get enough warning, the very best thing you can do is scan your photos and convert your videos to digital. That will allow you to make the recommended three digital copies of your collection. One copy should be stored in the Cloud (or at least given to someone who is in a different geographic location than you and the flood or tornado). Think Amazon Prime Photos, Smugmug, Dropbox or Backblaze – they all offer excellent services that also preserve your rights to ownership of your photos and retain the original quality.
If you don’t have time to scan everything, select the most precious and digitize them. Even if all you have time to do is take a photo with your phone, it will be better than nothing if your collection is lost.
When there is no time to scan at all, protect the prints as best you can. We recommend a water-tight plastic storage box. Store it high in a closet, if possible. The confines of the closet will keep the container from floating away. Basements and attics are not the best choice because roofs are often blown away in tornadoes and basements are often the first thing to flood.
With digital media, you must do all you can to protect it from water. Electronics do not mix well with liquid! If you can’t take your media with you, seal it in a Ziploc bag and put it in the water-tight storage box also high on a shelf inside a closet. Don’t forget cameras, SD cards, DVDs, old computers and phones.
Caring for Damaged Photos
With natural disasters, it’s not uncommon to have to grab and run to protect ourselves and our families. If this has happened to you and you’ve come home to find your memories damaged by water or other elements, here are some tips we think will be helpful.
Take care of yourself first
Under certain conditions, photos are a breeding ground for mold spores. The emulsion layer, combined with humidity and/or moisture, can quickly become unsafe to handle. Particularly with flood waters, which can contain all sorts of contaminants, exercise caution when cleaning and restoring your photos. Wear protective gear such as goggles, face masks, latex or nitrile gloves and clothing covering the areas of your body that will come in contact with the media you’re handling.
Evaluate what’s damaged
If you can access the damaged items elsewhere, consider duplicating them instead of trying to recover the image from a damaged print. You will get a better result and avoid the time and risk of handling photos that could make you sick.
Contain the damage
If you have glossy photos, the Library of Congress recommends you freeze them immediately. They have very good tips and suggestions for caring for water-damaged photos using common household items on their website. This is their advice:
- Prioritize drying prints before films
- Do not allow prints or films to partially dry before setting up to air-dry; if necessary, keep waiting items in clean, cold water
- Separate prints from frames, storage enclosures, or each other and lay out emulsion* side up; avoid touching emulsion
- Remove films from storage enclosures and clip (along edges) to drying lines
- If items are stuck to glass or to each other, freeze
- If items are soiled with wet mud, gently rinse in clean, cold water, before setting up to air-dry or freeze
- Items will curl upon drying; leave flattening to a conservator
- *On negatives and color slides, the emulsion side is usually less glossy.
- Note: Some photographic materials (e.g., wet collodion, ambrotypes, tintypes) are very sensitive to water damage and may not be recoverable.
When to seek professional help
It’s critical that photos aren’t allowed to dry without removing excess water. If you don’t have time or space to properly dry them, there are many professionals who can help. Let us know if you have any questions or need advice or assistance!