Thursday, July 3, 2014

Portraits of a Life – Step 1: Create a Digital Image

To bring the original family portraits and snapshots into the digital realm there are several steps that I follow. A series of blog posts will explain the workflow that is used for the Portraits of a Life project. 

Step 1: Create a Digital Image
Step 2: Archive the Original Image
Step 3: Preliminary Sort
Step 4: Edit, Enhance & Restore
Step 5: Identification
Step 6: Finalize Organization
Step 7: Share

The first of many steps in this process is to create a digital image of the original photograph. Creating a digital image is important for several reasons. The first is if the original is ever lost or damaged a copy of the photograph can live on. Every year natural disasters occur and houses burn down. With careful planning you can ensure that a natural disaster or other incident does not destroy the only copy of family photographs.  Respected author Dick Eastman discusses this topic in detail in his article Suggestion: The Time to Digitize Historic Items is NOW

The second reason for creating a digital image is the opportunity to share these treasures.  The digital images can distribute to family members. Many genealogists are bringing their online family trees to life by including images of their ancestors. Family trees are no longer limited to facts and figures. The images can also be printed in family history books as I have opted to do. Copies of images can also be displayed in frames without having to worry about damage to the original. 

There are a few methods that can be used to do create a digital image – taking a photograph of the original or using a high resolution scanning.  If you are interested in archival photography Gary W. Clark has written a great guide called Archive Photography: How to photograph oversize photos, curled documents, and heirloom treasuresSome tips for creating digital versions of the original visit this link.

After some experimenting with both photography and scanning - the method I have opted to use is taking a photograph of the original. I opted to photograph the original for a few reasons. The first – I felt the resolution was much better. The second – higher resolution was achieved in less time. The third – the most flexibility for future sharing and printing. This method allows the original image to be printed at a larger size. A scan will only allow the original to be reproduced at the same size. 

This process works best when done with a partner. My husband assists me with this step.  He operates the camera and I place the images in range on the view finder. We use an old photo album with a black page as the background.  


Michelle M. Murosky: Portraits of a Life &emdash; Step 1: Create a Digital Image
A two person process makes it go faster. I am holding my grandparent's wedding photo. 

We place our digital SLR camera on a tripod and adjust the camera to face the image.  The camera is set to manual mode to photograph the images in Raw format (.raw). [Note that some newer digital cameras may have the ability to photograph in Raw format in automatic mode.] We use manual mode in order to shoot with natural lighting and no flash.  Natural lighting provides the best coloring of the original image. We shoot in our kitchen and use the blinds to adjust the light level. The lamp above the table is off when we photograph the originals.
Michelle M. Murosky: Portraits of a Life &emdash; Step 1: Create a Digital Image

Digital SLR Camera mounted on tripod. 

Michelle M. Murosky: Portraits of a Life &emdash; Step 1: Create a Digital Image

Digital SLR Camera mounted on tripod. 

The goal is to fill the view finder with the image. Filling the image with the view finder is important to ensure the image has the highest resolution possible.

Why shoot in Raw?

A Raw image preserves the largest range of information from the original image. Using the Raw format the details from the original image can be picked up and enhanced. The raw format also provides the ability to increase the size of the original.

In the examples below the original image is approximately 4 inches x 3 inches. The printed size of the book is a 12 inch x 12 inch page. The original photograph is shown with the same image printed in the book. In these examples the printed image was double the size of the original while maintaining resolution.

Michelle M. Murosky: Portraits of a Life &emdash; Step 1: Create a Digital Image
Original image 4x3 - Printed book page is 12x12

Michelle M. Murosky: Portraits of a Life &emdash; Step 1: Create a Digital Image>

Original image 4x3 - Printed book page is 12x12

Opting to shoot in photograph the original images does require more steps to produce an image that can be used for sharing and printing. The additional steps will be detailed in future blog posts. 

What is most important is that if you find the method that works the best for you. If you have priceless family photos – make a digital image to preserve the original. 

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