Fading Happens: How to Protect and Save Faded Photos

faded photos

Fading Happens: How to Protect and Save Faded Photos

Photos are tricky little objects. Here’s an example: You place a new, beautiful photo that looks fresh and bright on your mantle. You walk past this photo for years, occasionally dusting its frame and admiring how lovely everyone looks. Then one day, the photo doesn’t seem as fresh and bright. You notice the details in a dress are gone or a nose has disappeared. What happened? Your new, beautiful image has aged into a faded photo.

Your first instinct may be to panic, close your curtains, and shove the image in a drawer for protection. Resist the urge. While the sun and house lights are frequently to blame, they are not the only causes for faded photos. Plenty of images kept in the dark—whether in albums or boxes—can fade and deteriorate. Nothing can stop a photo from fading further, but there are actions you can take to slow down the process and ensure a successful restoration.

How Does Fading Happen?

Light is the obvious cause. The Library of Congress writes, “The technical term for color fading is photodegradation…Ultraviolet rays are one of the causes of fading because they can break down chemical bonds and fade the color in an object.” Once exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays, the molecules in a photo break down and fade.

However, there are other causes of fading, including:

  • Environmental: Photos are not permanent objects. These images respond to their environment and can absorb environmental elements. Dust, air, smoke, and chemicals can settle on the surface of an image, and the emulsion will change. This causes the photo to break down and fade. 
  • Photo Damage: Silvering, mold, and water damage can all cause a photo to fade over time. 
  • Improper Storage: Acidic materials such as tape, mats, and cardboard can eat away at photography and cause fading.
  • Unstable Color Photography: Color photography was unstable when compared to black and white photography. Early color photos through the 80s and 90s faded and shifted in color. Fuji Crystal Archive and Kodak Endura were the first to pioneer stable color photography.
  • Photo Proofs: There are some instances where an image was designed to fade. Professional photographers would often create proofs that were unfixed and designed to fade quickly because they wanted you to buy final prints. If you only took the proofs, then your photos would disappear. It’s a little rude, but it was effective. 

How to Fix and Prevent Faded Photos?

We have good news for you: faded photos can be saved. If you have the negative or slide that the image came from or another copy of the photo, then you can create a new print. This is the easiest solution, but often the least common. A professional will take your faded photo and use a combination of darkroom and modern technology techniques to bring back as much information as possible in a restoration. At our studio, we may ask you to bring in any additional photos taken from that shoot or time period to help with the restoration. If the photo has severe fading, we may need to use a little artistic liberty to restore the information that has faded out completely.

As stated above, you cannot stop photo fading from happening once the process has started. However, you do not need to live in the dark (Unless you’re trying to save money on your electric bill. For that, you applaud you.) Yes, faded photos should be kept out of direct sunlight, but there are other things you can do to help protect your images:

    1. Use UV protecting glass. Switch out the glass in your picture frames, whether they are custom framing or inexpensive box store frames. UV protecting glass will help block 99% of UV rays that cause fading.
    2. Display a copy. Who says you need to use an original? We use archival paper that will not fade, so you can feel safe displaying your photos. 
    3. Invest in proper storage. Storage is important. Use the proper materials to ensure your photos health. You can learn more in this post.
    4. Professionally frame your photo. Proper framing matters. A pro will conservationally seal your frame to help keep the elements out of our artwork and provide the proper housing.
    5. Change your light bulbs and invest in window treatments. We can’t help you with this one, but there are light bulbs and window treatments that are supposed to help protect your interiors from fading. LED bulbs, window film, and sheer treatments can help block UV rays. Check your local home improvement store, your energy company website, or a local window treatment company to learn more about your options.


As always, prevention is the best solution. Take the actions above to help provide the best protection for your photos’ health. If you find a faded photo, do not despair. Fading cannot be stopped, but your image can often be saved. 

Still unsure? Contact us to review your photo.