Preserving Heritage and Vintage Photographs

8/14/2014 1 Comments A+ a-

Hey Kid

One of my first big jobs as a kid was to assist an elegant elderly woman with any tasks she wanted done around her home. I ran errands, and I helped her sort and clean. One day she pulled out her photo albums.

She told me names and stories about the young people in the photographs, and I felt almost like I was there. She then furrowed her brow, stated that no one else alive knew any of these people, that there was no point in keeping the photographs, so it was now my job to take the albums apart and throw the photographs away.

If I knew then what I know now….

If I hadn’t been a shy kid who was afraid to show anything but respect for my elders, I would have patiently disagreed with her, tried to convince her how beautiful and precious these images were, and pleaded that they should be kept. “Someone someday will want to see these.” “I will keep them.” I should have said. But I didn’t. Each photograph that fell into the plastic lined bin made my little-kid heart ache.

These Old Things?

Keep these old photos? Who cares? I do. And so do a huge-and-growing amount of people who love history and ancestry. It doesn’t matter if these people are even related to me, whether they served some important role in their community, or if many people knew them. Their stories are the stories of humanity. Their stories are our stories, and these stories need to be preserved and shared.

Rose Colored Glasses

History is written by victors. It is what they want to be known. It is their perspective. It’s what they remember. It is not the whole story. Perhaps I have a vein of investigative reporter in me because I don’t want a partial story from one side. As Tom Cruise in an oldie-but-goodie-movie yells, “I want the truth!” I want information from all sides. I want to read it in hand-written accounts. I want to see it in precious old images. That is where we come in as photographers- yes photographers.

A Tiny Corner of History

Paper is fragile and will naturally deteriorate. So are the metals and tins that a few early images are recorded onto. Digital form provides a method of capturing the images that will otherwise eventually disappear. Digital images are also easily shared with others instantaneously all over the world.

A Series of Posts

Let’s transfer these images to digital format. Let’s discuss all the ways we can make these images digital, and the best ways to do it. We can talk about how to restore distorted and damaged images once they are digital, answer the questions about preserving originals, archival printing, and some of the many ways to share these precious images. We can each do a small part in telling the real stories of real people and preserving history. Are you ready?

Next Post: Heritage Photographs: The Basics and Getting Ready

Future posts will include how to convert old photographs into digital images, taking pictures of keepsakes, how to best store photographs and keepsakes, sharing your digital images, stories & heritage, and a few other things as they come up.


Jennifer Apffel is a photographer with over a decade of experience in portrait, event, and product photography. She also does freelance graphic design and fine art. For more check out,, or look for her on


"You can't be an artist. Artists don't make any money," ... a trusted adviser told me. So I studied something else. And I worked at other jobs. But, given a moment and I'd find a paintbrush and canvas, or I'd make food into art. I found a camera, and light and composition became my medium. I found a computer, and I became a Photoshop fanatic and graphic designer, and I taught myself to build websites. Anything to be able to create.

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8/16/14, 5:49 PM delete

We need to preserve photos both digitally and as analogue. In a few years time the current digital formats will probably be no longer readable. This has already happened in the last couple of decades with many digital formats. Yes, analogue photos are fragile but if preserved correctly they can last several hundred years.