Shipping Photos

Given a choice, we recommend against shipping photos. If you live near the New River Valley in southwest Virginia, we could meet face to face. Or you could scan the originals and upload them. If you have access to a flatbed scanner, see the article How to Scan for Restoration. Or use a scanner at a copy center, or give the link to the kid next door to do the work.

But if you’re too far away or don’t have access to a good scanner, here’s how to pack an original for shipment.

I wrote this article using the advice of Ctein, a world expert on digital photo restoration. He wrote the excellent book Digital Restoration From Start To Finish.  

Materials for Shipping Photos

Start with a plastic bag that one uses for food storage. These polyethylene bags do well for photo storage because they are non-acid and non-reactive. They are great for organizing one’s collection or for shipping photos. But they are not the best for long-term storage because they trap moisture. Place your originals in the plastic bag, squeeze the air out, and seal the bag. Be gentle.

Cut three pieces of corrugated cardboard a bit larger than the photo. Now cut three more the same size, but which have their corrugations running the other way. Imagine these pieces as if they were maps. Three will have north-to-south corrrugations and three will be east-to-west.

You’ll also need kraft paper or an envelope large enough for your package, and packing tape.

How To

Sandwich the photo between two of the pieces you just cut. Use one piece that has north-to-south corrugations and one that has east-to-west corrugations. Drape the ‘zip’ part of the Ziploc bag over one of the pieces of cardboard and tape it in place. This keeps the photo between the cardboard instead of letting it peek out and get damaged. It also keeps the extra thickness at the mouth of the bag from damaging the photo. If your bag is a “slider” bag, pull off the slider.

Now add more cardboard to each side and alternate the directions of the corrugations. When you’re done you’ll have a bundle that has layers like this:

  1. Cardboard with north-to-south corrugations
  2. Cardboard with east-to-west corrugations
  3. The mouth of the Ziploc bag
  4. Cardboard with north-to-south corrugations
  5. One side of the Ziploc bag
  6. Your original photograph
  7. The other side of the Ziploc bag
  8. Cardboard with east-to-west corrugations
  9. Cardboard with north-to-south corrugations
  10. Cardboard with east-to-west corrugations

Tape the whole package up with packing tape, place it in a padded envelope, and put that in a box or stiff envelope.

Now consider your work. If you feel like writing “Fragile” or “Do Not Bend” on it, you haven’t packaged it the way you should. Could you throw the package across the room without damaging your photos? If not, redo your packing. Or add more cardboard! Shipping photos can indeed be done safely.

Finally, add your return address and address the package to:

Dapplecreek Photo Retouching and Restoration
Tim Stephenson
179 Bannock Burn Lane NW
Willis, VA 24380

Use the shipper you like best; the US Postal Service is likely to be the least expensive and FedEx the most secure. Don’t bother with insurance, because shippers don’t insure for sentimental value. This policy bothers me, but they almost never lose packages. Make sure they require a signature when they deliver the package. We can’t assume liability, I’m afraid. But we will provide your originals we at least as good care as we take with our own most treasured heirlooms.

After scanning we’ll package your original the same way to return it to you. We’ll add the cost of the return shipping costs will to your bill. If you’re not happy with our work, you don’t have to pay us for our time. But we will ask you to pay for the return shipping.