Restoring memories: Florida photographer describes how to save Hurricane Ian flood damaged photos

A before and after example of a photo restored by Fort Myers photographer Krista Kowalczyk after Hurricane Ian. (Image credit: Impressions Photography)

A Fort Myers photographer is putting her talents to use helping families salvage photos damaged by Hurricane Ian storm surge and debris.

Photographer Krista Kowalczyk and owner of Impressions Photography has helped dozens of families recover photos damaged by Hurricane Ian in Southwest Florida and has tips for others who hope to save their photographs. 

It started when Kowalczyk went to help her friend's 98-year-old father, who experienced flooding at his home. She volunteered to help clean up, but when she arrived, she found all the family photos spread out across the lawn.

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"I got there and realized that they had all of their photographs, things that were hung up on the wall, albums were spread across the lawn of her father’s house, and these were pictures back to her childhood, and she said, "What do we do with these are they trash?'" Kowalczyk said of her friend.

She got to work trying to save the photographs and realized many people don't know what to do with damaged photos.

"So many people with flood damage in their homes across Southwest Florida, it really was a big problem," Kowalczyk said.

Kowalczyk shared tips in a blog post and on social media for others not close enough for her to reach in hopes of helping save as many photographic memories as possible. 

One of the first things she does is remove the photos from frames and albums and then make a digital copy of the image. 

"The big thing is most photographs are waterproof. You can put them through water," she told FOX Weather. "The photograph is fine what isn’t fine, though, is the frames and the albums. Those need to be thrown away."

The photographer says not to give up on flood-damaged images but working quickly is key. The process can be tedious as photos must be cut out of albums or frames. 

After rinsing the image and letting it dry, next, you'll want to try to get a digital photograph of the physical print.

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Some of them, I’m not sure how they’re going to hold up because at this point mold is going to set in, so I can wash them off, but I don’t know what they are going to look like in a month or two," she said.

Kowalczyk also went on a national photography forum and asked for help retouching photos with water spots, and dozens of photographers responded. She's now sending them digital copies for retouching.

Kowalczyk also suffered some damage to her home in Fort Myers but has dedicated her time to helping families through Hurricane Ian recovery by saving their irreplaceable items. 

Since Ian's landfall, she has helped four families one-on-one and dozens of others by offering instruction to save memories from disintegrating.

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