Visual Heritage Photo Restoration and Picture Framing Melbourne Australia

Caring for your photographs

Visual Heritage's Fine Art Printing service provides the means to reproduce your images in the highest quality manner on a selection of traditional papers. We use this service for the printing of your restorations and high quality duplications as well as producing exhibition quality prints for artists and photographers.

Light Damage

Just like ourselves, photographs and documents are very sensitive to Ultra Violet light. UV light can cause damage on two levels. The first is exposure and subsequent fading and discoloration of the photographic image ( or inks in the case of documents ). Light affects different types of photographs in different ways but is detrimental to all. The second and lesser known impact of UV light is its role in the development of acids and subsequent breakdown of paper.

Avoidance: Avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight and fluorescent light. Where possible do not view your photographs under direct light. Framed photographs should have museum quality glass and not be on permanent display.

Repair: There is little that can be done to reverse image fading in original photographs. Digital restoration provides good results from affected prints.

Tears, Scratches and Abrasions

Tears, scratches and other forms of physical destruction are one of the most often seen damage on old documents and photographs. Careless storage and handling over the years is an obvious cause. What may be a precious antique now was once a contemporary object often taken for granted. More often than not the damage has been caused inadvertently and worsened over time, however some may have been damaged by an event or deliberately.
Old photographs are not just susceptible to physical damage from wear and tear, chemical breakdowns are also responsible. Paper becomes acidic over time turning brittle and weak due to the breakdown of fibers. Exposure to Ultra Violet light can accelerate development of acid in photographs.

Avoidance: Your photographs should be stored in archival grades enclosures. There should be ample room to carefully access photographs without having to force them to fit. High quality duplications should be made for display or frequent viewing.

Repair: Do not attempt to repair tears using adhesive tapes etc. This is best left to experts with access to special materials. Digital photo restoration can produce stunning results from physically damaged photographs and documents.


Insects, Rodents and pests

Most people are familiar with the sight of small insects when browsing through old belongings in storage. Silverfish, Cockroaches, Rats, Mice are among various species of destructive rodents and insects. They feed on the cellulose fibres in paper, leaving a range of destruction including tears, surface erosion, holes as well as a variety of stains.

Avoidance: Collections should be stored in clean well kept areas. Eating and Drinking should kept well away for storage areas. Plants and Animals should also kept at a distance.

Repair: Most damage caused by pests is irreversible. Deposits left on surfaces can be carefully removed with a sable brush. Digital restoration provides an effective means of replacing damaged image areas and removing stains.



The modern world contains many pollutants. The various toxic gases that are emitted from automobiles, industry and even household chemicals can be harmful to photographs. Most damage from pollutants is caused by chemical reactions with substances in the paper causing image fading. Smoke, Dust and solid particles in the air can also cause staining and surface abrasion.

Avoidance: Storage areas should be away from stoves and fireplaces and open windows. Encapsulation of photographs in individual mylar pouches offers the best protection from pollutants. The use of paints, varnishes and household chemicals near storage areas should be avoided.

Repair: Photographs exhibiting chemical reactions should be referred to a photographic conservator. Minimal surface dusts can be carefully removed with a sable brush, however embedded particles should be attended to by a professional. Digitally restored duplicates offer a good alternative.


Water Damage

While flooding is the most likely cause of water damage, photographs stored in areas susceptible to even moderate dampness are also at risk. Exposure to water can cause prints to wrinkle and the photographic emulsion to swell and subsequently dissolve image areas. Even small amounts of moisture can cause prints in close contact with each other to permanently stick together. A single flooding or burst water pipe near a collection can have catastrophic consequences.

Avoidance: Apart from avoiding storage areas close to obvious water sources you should look into unforeseen disasters. Leaking roofs, hidden water pipes and other potential hazards should be anticipated where possible. No one is immune from floods, so be aware of this when choosing a storage location.

Repair: Water damaged images should be isolated immediately where possible and referred to a conservator. Do not attempt to separate prints stuck together as this will cause permanent damage. Most severe water damage is irreversible. Digital restoration can repair water stains and wrinkling. Severely damaged images can often be reconstructed with digital techniques.


Acid Burn

Acid burn stains are created over time when a photograph is stored or displayed in contact with a highly acidic material. One common example is " Bevel Burn " a strong staining of the print below the mat board opening. Photographs framed in acidic mat boards can develop this condition due to the migration of the acid from the core of the mat. Another common offender is adhesive tapes such as cello and masking tape ( and Blu-Tak ). Often incorrectly used for repair or fastening of a photograph to an album or frame severe staining can occur in a short space of time. Many documents were produced using acidic papers and as a result most have developed a strong yellow appearance.

Avoidance: Ensure that all materials used for storage and framing are archivally suitable for the type of photograph or document in question. Ideally photographs should be placed individually in paper or mylar envelopes. Where suitable alkaline buffered materials should be used. Acids can migrate between objects so it is a good idea to separate highly acidic material such as newspaper clippings from the rest of collection.

Repair: Consult a photographic conservator about treatment of acid stains. A high quality digitally restored duplication is a good alternative with good results.



A very common cause of damage to old photographs. Photographs stored in conditions with a high level of humidity and temperature change are vulnerable to mould growth. Attics, basements and garages often contain damp stagnant air which aids the development of mould. Once mould spores have settled on a photograph they begin to feed on substances in the paper itself. Mould can grow rapidly eventually causing total destruction of a photographic image. Once detected mould growth should be attended to by a photographic conservator immediately to avoid further damage.

Avoidance: Ensure that your collection is stored in a dry area not prone to high temperature fluctuation. Ensure that the area does receive some fresh air circulation. Do not eat or drink or allow animals and plants near the collection.

Repair: Affected items should be separated immediately and referred to a conservator. A conservator can arrest the growth of the mould and advise you of procedures to remove existing growth. Often mould has permanently damaged image areas which can only be reconstructed using digital photo restoration techniques.


Foxing ( Browning )

Foxing is one of the most common defects seen in older photographs and documents. Small spotted stains and blotches generally a brownish yellow in colour are visible. While the cause of foxing is not certain, it is believed to be a variety of fungal growth.

Avoidance: Photographs stored in damp and humid conditions are most at risk from this type of damage.

Repair: Foxing is irreversible on original photographs and those showing signs should be placed in suitable storage away from unaffected prints to avoid further damage. Digital restoration is very successful in repairing images affected by foxing.


Incorrect Processing

As photography became more accessible to the general public it brought with it some pitfalls. Those attempting their own processing were not always aware of the importance of correct technique. Unfortunately the two conditions below would not become evident in the prints until many years later. These conditions are most common in black and white prints, the choice of many amateur darkroom enthusiasts.

The first common problem arising from incorrect processing of the photograph is insufficient fixing. This condition can develop if the paper was not left in the fixing chemistry for enough time or the chemistry itself was exhausted. Affected prints will darken substantially over time.
The second pitfall is insufficient washing of the prints after processing. The fixer chemistry is not totally removed and remains embedded in the print fibres. Over time the fixer bleaches the image causing fading and yellowing in part of the image. This condition is usually first apparent in the highlight areas of the print.

Avoidance: Often there is no indication of potential damage until its too late. Periodically check your collection for early signs of damage.

Repair: As soon as discovered it is a good idea to have a high quality duplication made of the image. In the case of inadequately washed prints, separate the offending print to ensure damage does not affect others in your collection. A photographic conservator can advise you on treatments. Digital restoration often produces good results from this type of damage.