Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday "Photo" Preservation Tips

Click on image for an enlarged view

I was exchanging emails with some research colleagues and we all have varying levels of experience. Because we have recently come across some vital information on Indian Territory Freedmen and sharing the results among us, I was motivated to share some of my experience as a photography lab rat before digital photography existed; when we did it in the dark(room.)

Most people don't have experience performing "copy work" and we all may have to conduct it in some way as genealogical researchers. After performing her research my colleague (Angela Walton-Raji) shared her findings and I was struck how she could have improved on her copying of original documents that have been folded and stored for many years.

When viewing the documents I was reminded of some advice I received Paul Lee years ago about preserving paper documents. It was stressed that I should never fold a paper document because it could deteriorate and become torn. His other advice was never staple or paper clip paper documents because of the detrimental effects.

It was his suggestion that we should never fold a document that became clear to me when I saw how my colleague was capturing the documents that prompted me to offer some advice for her future trips to the archives for information gathering.

It is unfortunate that our National Archives have stored historical documents in such a way that may lead directly to their destruction. It also makes it important for researchers in general and Indian Territory Freedmen researchers specifically to utilize today’s technology to preserve these documents in a manner that future generations will be able to view and appreciate them.

It was with this background I hoped to suggest something you all could find useful later on. As I viewed the letters Angela was sending it occurs to me you all can use a little photo device for composing pictures.
All you have to do is get a mat board the size of an 11” X 14”, cut the board along the vertical axis in 4 pieces each measuring approximately two and one half inches by fourteen inches. When you have papers like Angela was photographing you can frame the document so it will lay down flat and take the shot as if it were in a frame.

You may want to look for archival acid free board so the personnel at the archives won't have any objections to what you are doing with the document and the board will be heavy enough to have a uniform look to the finished document as you use your camera to capture the image.

If you look for a little table top tripod it shouldn't be more than $5/$10/ less than $20 and it will allow you to take a picture that will be in focus. Generally you need to be at least 12” to 18” away from the document so the camera can focus on it and look for contrasting elements within the document to focus your lens.
If the documents are letter size or smaller you may want to create similar pieces of mat board cut from an 8” X 12” mat board (1 inch X 12 inch strips.)
The other important aspect of all of this is the quality of light you are working in; but with digital cameras they have a wide latitude for low light situations and when you use a tripod you minimize any problems you may have with the low light situations, such as out of focus and blurred images.

If there is a table near a window, natural light is perfect and for the photo perfectionist we, I mean they prefer northern light because it is softer and more diffuse, but any good light source should be okay (you can always fix it later in a computer graphics program.)

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