SYS Blog

A story of recovering photos after a flood

Posted · 55 Comments

Here’s a letter from a photographer that had a flood in his darkroom. Although you may not have the skills, you can get the services of a photo lab to help you in time of need. Notice also, how he set priorities of things he wants to save.

April 10, 2009,

Hey Scott,

Nice article I read on your comments about the Italian Earthquake and preparing at home.( Listen, I actually have a disaster to save my stuff from. Although it wasn’t an earthquake… still was a heartbreak.

My darkroom is here where my mom lives in an old antique house. I haven’t been here for 4 months and so when I walked in the other day I found a big surprise. This winter was the wettest, coldest, grayest, most humid winter since ’81. Somehow it rained through the chimney, soaked through the walls and completely drenched half of the table in my darkroom. On one half was my archived negatives and my enlarger. On the half that got wet, were about 20 rolls of my Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia and other random photos… including their negatives. These were in their little envelope holders but I had not yet archived them in plastic negative sleeve holders that you talk about it your book.

Everything got drenched and as I went through them some of the negatives were still in little puddles of water. One roll (great memories of me and Laura in Vietnam) got completely washed away. It looks like scattered ink now. Luckily most of the negatives were wet but did not loose their “fixing property” meaning the image stayed put.

The ruined photos on paper themselves don’t bother me. Some are ruined, some are wet, some are ok. But if I have the negative I can reprint.

Well, your book advised me to simply rewash the negatives as if I had just developed them. So if they were wet… get them wetter! Obviously I’d have to use the wetting agent etc. This is mainly to wash off the water marks and stains and to assist even drying. So I’m in the process of doing that. They seem much better now.

So, I’ve gone through my first conservation session. I must say my washing, drying and hanging did quite the job, AND I looked professional while doing it, although I won’t be writing a book or publishing articles anytime soon! I thought you might want to hear this to put in your archive of disasters to help others.

BTW, if I have photos that are in ok condition but the negatives are ruined, I will do copywork and simply take a photo of that photo so I can make a new neg.

If you have any advice regarding anything else it would be gratefully accepted. Anyway, best of luck on your projects and book and thanks



My answer to him… 4.10.2009


Sorry to hear about your disaster. I always tell people that a disaster is not necessarily a hurricane or a storm… it can be a leaky roof or a broken water heater. My mom had a box of great family photos stored in the garage and the water heater leaked and pooled around the cardboard box, which soaked in and got the photos wet and stained. Then they dried out and stuck together. She started pulling them apart, ripped them in the process, saw that she wasn’t going to save anything that way and threw them all away!.. and this was after I wrote my book! All she had to do was call me…

You are a good student and did just the right thing to save your stuff. By taking action immediately, you saved the maximum number of photos and negs possible. GREAT job! As you can see, when it comes to saving your stuff, you have to decide on some priorities first.

Regarding the humidity situation, you need a blower or fan leading into the room. Because its a dust sensitive area, you should have an air filter in the mix. Moving air through your darkroom, especially in that old house, will give you the air to dry it out. Moving air through your space is very important. Obviously though, if its 80 % relative humidity outside, it’ll be the same inside unless you get a dehumidifier. The idea of putting the negs in a plastic box is good to protect it from more water infiltrations (which are sure to leak in with the next big storm) but as soon as the temp goes up, your little plastic box will get condensation inside because you trapped high humidity when you sealed it..

There are two things that make humidity levels change: obviously the ambient humidity is important but temperature is the main mover and has a huge effect. If its humid, and the temperature goes up, it gets more humid.

Anyway, congratulations on taking action right away.

55 Responses to "A story of recovering photos after a flood"
  1. Katie Speeds says:

    Thank you for giving such a useful blog. Your site is not only knowledgeable but also very designed. I find very few professionals who are capable of writing technical content with this much appeal. I keep searching for articles on this topic and searched through dozens of blogs to come across something I can use. I’ll look over your book too.

  2. Lavonne Appia says:

    Nice webpage. Thanks

  3. Is all your info correct? I often have to check the same silly things out for myself on my own News Blog site, here… but what you wrote is important, and I will place a link back to your blog. Peace!

  4. Alina says:

    Thank you for the information provided. The best content I’ve seen in this niche.

  5. Prolawn says:

    Thank you so much, Great information… You keep writing and I’ll keep reading.

  6. Joan says:

    Great Blog. I love the lay out and the color scheme is it possible to get a copy of your theme? Please send me an email at

  7. Scott says:

    Thanks everyone for the comments. Be aware that there are longer articles for free download available on the site. Also, you can go to for additional content.

    Stay in touch! And tell others about this site.


  8. Codi Trantham says:

    The article is the best info I’ve been able to find on this topic and I appreciate your style of writing. I look forward to your coming posts and will click on your rss feed for updates. Excellent work and much success in your business enterprise.

  9. Have you ever thought about using Space Saver Bags like Pack Mate or Space Bags. Yes, you probably only think of these for reducing bulky items like clothes etc but another very valuable use for them is to offer whatever is inside them 100% protection from water and dirt. Store your photos in the bags in the loft for example and if you did have a leak, they would be protected by the bags. What’s more, these bags are clear so you can at a glance see what the contents are.

    • Scott says:

      This is a great suggestion! I love Space Bags and am trying to get connected with your company as an online supplier and as a provider to Space Bags for emergency preparedness info. Let me tell you a story;

      I was meeting with a Captain of a Sheriff’s dept here in the USA and he told me about emergency response efforts during a flood when there was 6 ft (2 meters) of water in the house. While they were going through the house, there were Space Bags floating around with clothes etc. In addition, there were space Bags that were underwater with heavier items like scrapbooks. All of the items were safe and clean. After this experience, he went home and he and his wife put all their treasured items and storage in Space Bags. BTW, the plastic used for the Space Bags is archival.

      Thanks for contributing to the blog. Come back often and tell others about it.


  10. Jaylin Imram says:

    Hey I just wanted to let you know, I really like the writing on your website. I think your info will help me in my office too. Keep up the good work!

  11. Scott says:

    Thanks Jaylin,
    I referred your comments to the web guru. Thanks for your comments. You might be interested in the free downloads/articles under the “Products” on the scroll in the upper left of the screen. Consider the book too. Its a good read. And, look forward to having you back on the blog. I try to post an entry most everyday, though I do get interrupted with no internet when I’m traveling sometimes. In fact next week I’m in Hawaii for work and will be posting about murals in an historical building, I think.

  12. Great post, thanks. I’ve enjoyed your blog for quite awhile and I should comment more. It’s always a great read.

  13. Tedy says:

    Great job, as others have written. I have even done searches of what is available, also in French, on this subject and yours in the only good info I can find. Your book looks very good also. Thanks

  14. Patrick Class says:

    This is great info about dealing with storms. We’ve had a lot of water (water damage) this winter and this is right on the money as we try and deal with possible outbreaks of mold. Thanks for your book too. I agree with the other testimonials I’ve read on how helpful it is.

  15. Amber Spinn says:

    Thanks for sharing all the good information and facts that you have posted. I’ve marked this blog to keep coming back. Your book looks very well done too. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  16. Maira Schwipps says:

    Great blog, although I think some of the stuff on it needs expanding. I’ll keep coming back and check out your book.

  17. Estela Slee Rigsbee says:

    umm… I am really glad to have found you. Can I handout some of your free downloads to my club?

    • Scott says:

      Estela, Thanks for asking if you can distribute the free downloads that are found in the “Products and Services” in the scroll on the upper right of the website (hint). Yes, feel free to hand out free downloads but please give us credit and tell people where you got the information. Would you also, please, encourage your club members to sign up for the free preservation tips at the top of the Home Page? I promise we won’t spam.

    • Scott says:

      Hi Estela, Yes, feel free to hand out copies of my free downloads to others. But please give us credit and tell people where you got it. If your organization has a newsletter or does e-mailings, I can send you tips and articles to redistribute. Let me know.

  18. Paul Pleutins says:

    Ok, cool… I just put a link from my blog to yours. Great stuff. Thanks! I encourage all visitors to really check out this website. Its very unique and useful.

    • Scott says:

      Thanks Paul,
      We love being linked to! Take note of the FREE articles/chapters in my book to download on the “Products/Services” page on the scroll upper left. Also, sign up now for FREE preservation tips via e-mail. No Spam, I promise.

      You sound like someone that would also like to know a very good appraiser at

  19. Nicolas says:

    Hi there,
    Super post, Need to mark it on Digg

  20. As an avid photographer, I’m happy to have found your website. The story of the photographer with the flood in his darkroom was great and I appreciate all the good info. Send me your tips (I signed up).

  21. Antonia Stewart says:

    Your blog keeps getting better and better! 🙂 Can I take ammonia and wipe down things with mold?

    • Scott says:

      Antonia, NO! Ammonia might kill mold but it will also cause a LONG list of permanent damages to your family heirlooms, collectibles, books, artwork, frame finishes…. everything! Straight out of the bottle its WAY TOO STRONG. Even diluted to 1 part ammonia nd 10 parts water, it can still cause a lot of damage on many types of items. I don’t know what you are trying to clean so I can’t give you any better coaching than that.

  22. Tony Edmond says:

    I’m writing from Australia. Thank you for the information provided. We had a flood this weekend so I’ve copied your article with a couple of tips that should help. Thanks for the easy to understand info.

  23. I’m in a business that utilizes a lot of water and things get flushed. Your suggestions about protecting and preserving are so well taken and presented. We will implement some of your suggestions and refer our clients to your website for more. thanks for making the free tips available!

  24. Sharon says:

    Flooding can be a very traumatic experience – I’ve experienced it first hand and when personal items like photos are also affected it can only make things worse. Nice post – thanks for sharing.

  25. Abel Louis says:

    How do you find ideas for such great articles? I am always blank for new ideas for articles on my blog. Your tips are great.

    • Scott says:

      Thanks Abel. Flood water damage and mold is a subject a lot of people have to deal with all year round. As for how I come up with articles, I speak and write about my expertise… and I “feel” this subject a lot. There is no other expert speaking on this subject that writes in plain English for the public. My book is the best selling preservation manual ever. I don’t write about your house’s foundation, nor your pets nor your car’s restoration needs after a disaster. My expertise is focused on personal valuable treasured items like collectibles, heirlooms, family history items, memorabilia, photos, art, letters and certificated and diplomas etc.

  26. Phillis Tacchino says:

    Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  27. This is the kind of useful info blogs should have. I have bookmarkeed this blog and no doubt will be back to see what other articles you will be posting.

  28. Thank you for posting this, as others have said stuff like this is just as important as learning about which camera attachments to buy and how to take action shots, etc. If someone says disaster, I usually think of something like an earthquake but not a leak or something. I will try to be prepared for situations now and prioritise the stuff I want to save.

    • Scott says:

      Stacy, You should see the two photo albums a lady gave to me today. Water and mold really did a number. I’m going to post about them and give some coaching, so stay tuned. Thanks for your comments.

  29. Wendy Sliders says:

    I’ve been to a few of your posts and I love this blog. I agree with your insights and Blog and I will be back to check it more in the future so please keep up your work. I love your content and the way that you write. It looks like you’ve been doing this for a while now.

  30. Francis Trial says:

    Very good information and timely with the floods in our area (Miss and Tenn). I’m very lucky to get this info from you and will download the book.

  31. Emma Birkinstock says:

    Thanks very much for the good report. I follow your blog and in fact I’ve been looking over quite a few of your posts today. I’ve clicked on the RSS feed to stay in touch. Thanks

  32. Eloise Starsman says:

    I’ve been poking around several of your posts and, great stuff, thanks! This water damage and flood info is so important for us right now… and so right on.

  33. Lyn Huang says:

    Good share. Your article is very great and very usefull for us! Very easy for us to understand. Thank you

  34. Ray Ban says:

    Timely content with the clean up of Nashville in the news. Thank you for your information.

  35. Ed Hardy says:

    I know of a business here in town that wasn’t able to re-open after a flood because they lost important papers, including inventories, appraisals and policies. So, your expertise and is MUCH appreciated. And I love how you present your content and the way that you write. It looks like you’ve been doing this for a while. I will sign up for the updates and tips and will be back to check it more in the future so please keep up your work.

  36. Christian Louboutin says:

    Your posts and ideas are very useful as we try and deal with flood and water damage. Thank you very much.

  37. Betty Hazlin says:

    I’ve signed up for the updates and will definitely refer this article to all my close friends and colleagues. This info about water damage is info that I can put to use. Thanks for posting!

  38. Jennifer Yilks says:

    Your information is always so useful and interesting. We’ve been hammered here on the east coast and it looks like we’re in for more with Hurricane Igor lurking off the coast (and another one behind it). Please keep it coming. We really appreciate YOU — thanks a lot!

  39. David says:

    Nice post. Really amazing information provided. Great tips provided which will surely benefit.

  40. Peggy says:

    That’s one problem as these photos get drenched even just by little water… it seems they begin to fade quickly. Flood has taken many memories away with people not being able to salvage those photos during storms. Thanks for the reality check and good info.

  41. Kate says:

    It was such a nice post!!! Great info. Thanks

  42. Dave says:

    Wow, I would be devastated to lose some of my old photographs. Thank you, it was a lovely read.

  43. Daryl Tuffey says:

    In floods, all paper documents are impacted by the water and its a very hard task to get back your original documents into perfect condition. So, listen to what this article says. Its exactly correct. Your information is very informative.

  44. Fiorella Smithson says:

    I was part of a tribute to Alexa Chung, the British broadcaster, model and fashion icon, and we wanted to archive the best of the material we produced for the event. Thanks for your very helpful suggestions! We couldn’t find anywhere else this easy to understand help.

  45. Lonna Gray says:

    This article brings back memories of my brush with disaster called hurricane andrew. The worst hurricane I ever went through while living in Florida. Although I did not lose any photos. I did lose alot of electronics and some collectibles. I appreciate all the pointers your article gave. I learned something new, thanks for that.

Comments are closed.