[MSN] Saving Flood-Damaged Photographs

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Fri Sep 30 05:40:05 CEST 2005

Saving Flood-Damaged Photographs
By Jason Schneider
September 2005

After the devastation caused in the Gulf Region by hurricanes Katrina and
Rita many people at all levels of the photographic industry have been
besieged by questions on how to save flood-damaged negatives, slides, and
prints, how to restore damaged images, and how to protect them in the
future. To answer these questions succinctly, we contacted two genuine
experts Gary Albright, and Mike Hager, and asked them some of the questions
we've received and some others we felt would be relevant. We believe their
answers will provide excellent advice for anyone with flood-damaged pictures
as well as some useful suggestions on protecting your precious memories.
Many thanks to Henry Posner at B&H Photo for suggesting this article and
urging us to publish it as a service to flood victims.

Gary Albright, a professional photographic conservator for 27 years, is a
graduate of the Art Conservation Program at the University of Delaware. He
has worked at the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover,
Massachusetts, and at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. He is
now in private practice in Honeoye Falls, New York, and can be contacted at
garyealbright at juno.com.

Mike Hager, a former archivist, has been involved with preservation imaging
for 25 years. He is president of Museum Photographics of Rochester, New
York, and can be contacted at museumphotographics at frontiernet.net.

Questions on rescuing and restoring flood-damaged photos posed to and
answered by professional photographic conservator Gary Albright:

"  What is the first thing someone should do after retrieving the following
items that have been damaged by flood water: a) negatives, b) slides, c)
loose prints, d) framed prints under glass, e) movie film?

"  What is the best way to clean negatives, slides, prints, or movie film
that has been damaged by flood water?

a) Photographs are generally more sturdy than people realize.. Most can
survive a couple days in water. However, after 1-2 weeks, chances are that
there will be serious damage to almost all photographic images.

"  A major threat to photographs is mold. Images that are damp can grow mold
after 2 days. Mold can cause staining or loss of image.

"  In general, these are the steps to salvage wet materials:

" i. Remove dirt. Clean materials while they are still wet. Use distilled
water (if available), and a soft brush or cloth. Be careful not to abrade

" ii. If time and space allow, air dry the photographs. Images should be
dried individually. If dried in contact with other images, they will often
stick together and be difficult, if not impossible, to separate. Excess
materials, such as folders, paper slide holders, and envelopes should be
removed from around the images and disposed of. Make sure to save important
labels and other identifying material.

" iii. If air drying is not feasible, freeze the material so it can be
salvaged at a time which is more convenient. If there are any questions
about proper procedures to follow, freezing is usually the best option.

" iv. Certain materials should not be frozen. These include audiotapes,
videotapes, and motion picture films. These require outside professional
processing if they are to be salvaged. In genera, l salvage color prints
first, followed by black-and-white prints, and then negatives.

2. What is the best way to dry negatives, slides, and prints after washing
them, and to handle them after they have been cleaned?

The best way to dry materials is to either hang them from a clothesline or
place them face up on blotters. If hanging, make sure to use clips that will
not rust or cause damage to the photographs. If drying on blotters, be
careful not to allow water to pool in the center of the images as this may
cause staining as the water evaporates.

"  Is there any difference in treating inkjet and dye-sub prints made in a
home printer?

Most inkjet prints made at home are made with dye-based inks. These will
readily bleed if they get wet. Once bleeding has occurred, they can be dried
(carefully), but bleeding cannot be reversed. Pigment-based inks will abrade
if not handled carefully, but do not bleed. Dye-sub prints are usually very
stable in water and can be washed and dried as outlined for traditional

"  Can CDs or DVDs with images be damaged by flood water? What about

You've asked two different questions. CD's and DVD's can be scratched by
dirt or mishandling. Scratches will affect their readability. These
materials should be handled with gloves, washed in distilled water, and
placed in a vertical position to allow them to air dry. Tap water may leave
residues upon drying, which could also interfere with proper reading of the

Videotape is a completely different story. These materials cannot be
properly dried at home. They must be kept damp and immediately sent to a
professional for cleaning and recopying.

"  Is there any commercial product that is good for cleaning negatives,
slides, prints, or movie film?

If materials are wet they should be cleaned with distilled water (or clean
water if distilled is not available). Kodak Photo-Flo may be added to the
water to help in the cleaning process. After cleaning, materials should be
frozen or dried.

If materials are dry, cleaning is more difficult. It may be necessary to use
distilled water to remove mud and other debris, but this can be risky
depending on the type of photograph and the degree of damage it has
sustained. If dirt is minimal, isopropanol (pure isopropyl alcohol,
available at pharmacies) or products such as Pec-12 can usually be safely
employed. Be careful not to scratch the photograph's surface. And always
start by treating unimportant images first.

Motion picture film can be initially cleaned in water (do not wet the film,
if not already wet). It should then be delivered to a company equipped with
a commercial processing machine for salvage. Motion picture films should not
be frozen, neither should they be unwound at home.

"  What is the best way to store all of the above-mentioned materials to
prevent possible flood damage?

"  Keep them off flood plains and out of basements. If in a flood plain,
store them on a second floor.

"  Store them inside archival boxes. Archival plastic boxes may be helpful,
but in humid conditions may promote mold growth.

"  Where is the best place to store photo images if you expect a hurricane
to hit your area?

In the most secure and water-tight area in the house. This would usually be
in a small, interior room or closet. If flooding is a threat, then the room
should be on an upper floor. However, if there are high winds, there may be
potential risk from a lost roof. Obviously, basements should be avoided.

"  Is there anything that people often do when confronted with water-damaged
images that is likely to cause further damage and is therefore to be

Bleach should not be added to water used for cleaning because it will cause
deterioration of almost all types of photographic materials.

"  Are there any types of images or materials that are less susceptible to
damage, such as media cards or computer files?

None that are readily available. All have their problems.

"  Do you recommend scanning yur most important images and sending them to
friends and relatives in other locations?

Sure, but many people (like me) may not wish to become the repository for
friends' and relatives' photographs. I'm not sure where I would store them,
or if I'd be able to retrieve them if called upon to do so.

Note: Additional information is available in a handout that Gary Albright
wrote for Northeast Document Conservation Center. It's on their web site at
nedcc.org. If you have further questions, or require the services of a photo
conservator, contact Gary Albright garyealbright at juno.com.

Questions on digital image restoration of flood-damaged pictures and related
topics posed to and answered by Mike Hager, President of Museum

Warnings and Disclaimers:

At Museum Photographics we do nothing to the original image except scan or
photograph the image. We are not Photo Conservators and we know it. Any time
you do something to a photograph you run the risk of harming it. Photo
Conservators are highly skilled, well-trained people. We let them do their
job. Having said that, I would recommend setting up a triage system for your
photos. Look at each one and try and assess its condition and its importance
to you. Group them according to their condition and importancesome will be
hopeless, some with a lot of work might be saved, while others may need
minimal attention. If you are unable to make this assessment yourself, a
photo or paper conservator or perhaps a professional photographer may be
able to help. If you attempt to do anything to the physical photograph,
negative, or slide yourself you run the risk of destroying it. Proceed at
your own risk.

Using Photoshop:

You can have great tools, but without knowledge and skills even the best
tools are useless. Digital imaging brings a lot of tools to anyone with the
cash to shell out for the program. As in any field, the more you know the
better. The wonderful thing about digital is that if you muck it up you can
always start over, assuming you did not overwrite your master file or throw
away the original. If you are going to venture into this yourself I highly
recommend Photoshop Restoration & Retouching By Katrin Eismann, published by
New Riders, Library of Congress #99-069723182

1.What is the best method for healing damaged photos that have been
subject to water damage. Is the procedure essentially the same for
negatives, slides, and prints?

"  It all depends on the amount of damage, but negatives and slides can be
scanned. The scanned data can be then be repaired using Photoshop, and a
digital print made. The same process can be done with a print. This does not
repair the original (you would need a photographic conservator for that),
but it can save the information in the image. There is no magic bullet in
Photoshop as far as a repair tool goes and there may be more than one way to
approach the problem. Good general advice: Work on a copy of the file and
use layers.

2. Are there specific programs for different media and/or types of damage?

We use Photoshop, but one could probably also use PhotoShop Elements for
almost everything.

3. What about movie film? Can damaged movie film be digitally remastered?

Movie film can be remastered, but it's expensive, Disney did it to Snow
White. Assuming that the damaged film can be run through a cine scanner, the
digital information is then restored frame by frame.

4. Are there simple programs that a reasonably adept amateur photographer
can use in restoring negatives, slides, prints, and movie film?

Photoshop 5.5-CS2 and Photoshop Elements are the main tools for negatives,
slides, and prints. Photoshop has some advantages over Elements but it is
impressive what can be done in Elements. These two programs are as simple or
as complicated as you want. It all depends on the skill of the user.
Programs for dealing with movie film are highly specialized and require
large amounts of computing power.

5. Is there any type of scanner that is most suitable for scanning specific
types of images?

Flatbed scanners work well with prints. Most folks' negs and slides will be
35mm. These are small and require high-resolution 4000-dpi optical (not
interpolated dpi) scanning, and a scanner with a good ability to read highly
dense areas. Film scanners work best for film and slides, although some
high-end ($10,000) flatbed scanners work well too. Turn off all the auto
features of your scanner, in particular the autoexposure.

6. Can photographs that are curled or adhered to glass be scanned or do they
have to be removed and flattened? If so, how?

It is very hard to make a blanket statement of yes or no. Each object has to
be evaluated individually. Can the print be put on a flatbed scanner and
flattened without causing more damage? Will trying to find out cause more
damage? Sometimes a print can be uncurled safely, sometimes not. If you're
not careful you'll find out too late and wind up with a ripped photo in
pieces. Flattening a print or removing it from glass is fraught with danger.
It's something best left to a photo conservator.

Photos stuck to glass can be scanned through the glass. There can be some
color distortion and other distortions caused by the uneven adhesion to the
glass, but that can be cleaned up in Photoshop.

7. Are there any reasonably priced services that will restore damaged

Hollywood FX. Some folks like the results. It's a Photoshop- and
Premier-compatible plugin, so check with your local photofinishing lab.

8. Are digital media such as media cards, CDs, and DVDs subject to water
damage, and if so can they be rescued?

Digital media cards are subject to water damage, as are CD's & DVD's. I
would contact a digital recovery service. Googling digital recovery will
get you a good list of these services.

9. Do you recommend that people scan all their irreplaceable photos and send
discs and/or e-mail files to friends and relatives?

Good idea, but e-mailing the files will force you to use small files, which
in the end will produce only mediocre reproductions.

Again, I would recommend high-quality scans at maximum optical resolution.
Do not interpolate data, but use the scanner files at their original size
for prints and 4000-dpi scans for slides and negatives. Turn off the
autoexposure feature on you scanner first. All the files should be saved as
TIFF's with no compression. Write the data to CD's or DVD's and make
multiple copies and keep them in different places. Home (not the attic or
the basement), office, safe-deposit box, and, sure, a distant location.
Keeping a copy on a hard drive is a good idea too.

This is a good start but it's only a start. It is important to refresh your
data storage every 2 years or so. Don't trust a CD/DVD written in 2005 to be
readable in 2010. The disc may deteriorate or become damaged so that it is
not readable, or by 2010 today's CD/DVD readers may be pass. Remember
8-track tape? You may even want to open all the files and resave them when
you write new discs. That way the data is saved in your most-recent
image-editing software. Today you are using CS2, but in 5 years what will
you be using? And will it be able to open your file?


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