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Preserving the Past: 6 Tips for Restoring and Protecting Vintage Photos
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Preserving the Past: 6 Tips for Restoring and Protecting Vintage Photos

Why Restoration and Preservation of Vintage Photographs is Important

Vintage photographs offer unique glimpses of the past. These can be regular every moment, or they can be historic and hold significance. Over time we have made significant improvements with photographic techniques and printing materials that allow our photographs to last much longer without damage and fading. Unfortunately, that has not always been the case, and many vintage photographs show significant wear and tear accumulated over the years. Restoring and preserving these images allows them to continue to live on and give us perspectives of the past. 

A vintage ford coupe parked in front of the spite house in Alexandria

Preserving History

Restoring and preserving vintage photographs allows us to perverse history in a way. Countless photographs have been taken during historic moments and at historically important landmarks and locations. These photographs allow us to learn about the past, and if they are damaged beyond repair we will lose those moments and learning opportunities. 

Tips for Physical Restoration of Vintage Photographs

Physical restoration can be extremely difficult, so it’s important to have an idea of what’s possible and how best to handle each individual photograph. You’ll always want to work with an expert conservator who specializes in the type of restoration you need. If you need to restore a print of a photograph, for example, you’ll want to find a conservator who specializes in photograph and paper restoration. 

Understand the Limits of Physical Restoration 

There are limitations with physical restoration, which a conservator will be able to explain to you when you show them your photograph. The most important work they can do is often to stabilize the photograph, especially when the photograph in question is a print on paper. These prints can wear down over time, with tears and creases damaging the paper. A conservator can often stabilize the photograph by mounting it securely to another surface to ensure that it does not continue to tear or fall apart. 

Larger damage, however, such as entirely missing pieces and scratches that have removed details, cannot always be repaired. If a piece of the photograph is missing, there is simply do way to get that back on your physical photograph. Smaller scratches can sometimes be repaired, but larger areas of damage may not be able to be seamlessly fixed. 

A color photograph of women working on the interior of a B-17

Prepare Your Restoration Budget

Physical restoration of photographs is a highly specialized process, and as such it is not cheap. Expert to pay high rates for the skills and expertise of conservation professionals. You’ll always be able to get a quote before moving forward with restoration, so we would recommend starting there and deciding what steps you want to take to work within your budget. 

Tips for Digitally Restoring Your Vintage Photographs

If physical restoration is out of your budget, or if the damage to your photograph is too extreme to be repaired physically, digital restoration is a great option for you. With this process, a digital image will be created from your photograph and the restoration work will be done digitally. 

There is far less that cannot be fixed with digital restoration, though it does sometimes require some creative work that may deviate from perfect historical accuracy. For example, if there is significant damage to highly detailed areas such as faces, digital restoration experts will have to get creative. That can often mean pulling details from other areas and overlaying them on the damaged area to recreate missing details. This means that that damaged area will no longer be completely accurate to the original image, but great pains are often taken to be as accurate as possible when digitally restoring photographs. As with physical restoration, a digital restoration specialist will be able to tell you what is and isn’t possible with your photograph. 

Digitize at the Highest Possible Quality 

A vintage photograph of Summit Lake, with trees and a mountain reflected in the water

One of the most important aspects of digital restoration is getting a high-quality digital image of the photograph. If the digital file is small and low resolution, it will be difficult to see enough detail to restore accurately and with good quality, and it will also be difficult to then create a high-quality print. When we digitize photographs for our clients, we make sure to generate a high-resolution image that is larger than the original, to allow for enlargement if that is desired. 

Reproduce with Archival Materials

After going through the process of digital restoration it’s important to make sure your reproduction prints are made using archival materials. You don’t want to go through the entire process only to print on low-quality materials that will fade and discolor, causing you to start the process all over again. We use fully archival materials, all rated to last over 100 years without fading, to help preserve your photographs for another lifetime. 

Tips for Protecting Vintage Photographs

Whether you have original vintage photographs or reproductions, there are steps to can take to ensure they last as long as possible. It will require a little more extra investment and a bit of time, but we believe that it’s more than worth it in order to perverse your vintage photograph collection. 

A framed photograph of people on a Ferris Wheel, haning on a white wall above two small tables with decorations

Frame Using Archival Materials

When framing your vintage photographs or reproductions, it’s important to make sure you are using archival materials. Nonarchival materials will cause damage over time, most commonly the yellowing of the paper. Depending on the quality of the materials, this can happen quite slowly or very rapidly. If you are unsure of what the best options are for archival framing, make sure to work with a professional framer who can help guide you through the process. 

Store Photographs with Archival Storage Items

If you plan to store your vintage photographs rather than display them, you’ll want to invest in some high-quality archival storage items. Print sleeves are the perfect way to keep your prints free of dust and dirt buildup, and you’ll still be able to view the photograph inside the sleeve. Additionally, archival storage boxes are the perfect way to make sure your prints remain undamaged, as they will prevent them from getting dents and dings from being shuffled around in your storage space. 

Organized, archival storage is the best way to maintain and preserve your vintage photograph collection. We often recommend having your original vintage/antique photographs digitally restored and reproduced, and displaying the reproductions while keeping the originals safely stored away from harm. You can always print a new reproduction if something happens to it, but you can’t replace the original if it is damaged beyond repair. 

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