All About Digital Photos
Digital Images and Genealogy

Workflow Examples using a Digital Camera

Before you start emulating any of these workflows, you should be aware of issues particular to the camera and lens you will be using. One issue is the size of the camera's sensor which affects both the field of view and the depth of field. See the section on Sensor Size at the bottom of this page.

Copying a Photo Album

With a photo album I usually do 2 set of photos - one of entire album pages in order to see how the photos were laid out in the original album, and a second set, framing each photo in the album individually (to provide maximum digital resolution for each photo). The fastest method is to shoot the whole album first (the camera never has to be moved once the initial setup is made) and then shoot the individual photos (which may involve adjusting the camera between shots).

Before I start, I make sure of several camera settings:
  1. If using my dSLR, I choose the lens that has produced the best copying results (no edge distortion, good sharpness).

  2. I leave the contrast, saturation and sharpening at mid levels (what I use in normal photography). Purists may wish to turn sharpening off and do all their sharpening using photo software (requires high skill level).

  3. Set the camera to Av mode (aperture priority) with a mid range f-stop (i.e. 5.6 on a compact camera, 8 to 11 on a dSLR). This adds a bit of depth of field while still allowing exposure bracketing. We want depth of field (depth of focus) in order to compensate for photos/album pages that might not be perfectly flat (or the camera on the tripod not being perfectly parallel to the work). Since cameras with a smaller sensor have an inherently greater depth of field, it's generally not critical. If you find your shutter speed too slow, you can go to a lower number f-stop.

  4. This step is optional (it requires more post-processing work). Set the camera to auto-bracket the exposure by +/- 2/3 f-stop (my camera can do this automatically - but it can also be done manually). This is to get the absolute best initial exposure.

  5. Turn off the flash

  6. Set the camera to ISO 100 (or whatever lowest setting you have)

  7. Set the camera to largest file size at highest resolution (RAW format if you know how to process it or best quality JPEG)

  8. If using autofocus, set the camera for single shot autofocus.

  9. Set the camera to self-timer mode or attach a remote release.

  10. I make sure the battery for the camera is at full charge

With the camera ready to go, I start the copying process:
  1. I don't have studio lights so the first thing is to lie the photo album on a flat floor that gets unobstructed (i.e. shadowless) light. This is best done on a bright overcast day. I also happen to use a tile floor which makes it easier to maintain alignment (straight lines on the floor)

  2. Mount the camera upside down on the tripod (so that it is facing down).

  3. Using a small level, make sure that the camera is level (i.e. parallel to the photos)

  4. Turn the camera on and make sure that all the initial camera settings are in place (i.e. AV mode, low ISO, largest image size, etc.)

  5. Position the camera so that the largest photo fills the screen with the camera at slight zoom (this is the 10mm setting on my compact camera, 35 mm on my dSLR). This is to get rid of possible edge distortion. Purists will test their lenses at different focal lengths to find the lens/setting that provides the least distortion.

  6. Depending on the lens and distance of the lens to the photo album, set the camera into macro mode

  7. Set the camera into self-timer mode (or use/plug in the remote release for the camera)

  8. Focus the lens (if manual focus) or autofocus and double check the framing.

  9. Press the shutter button (if using the self-timer) or use a remote release (the use of the self-timer or a remote release will eliminate camera shake induced by pressing the button). With my camera, it will take 3 photos in a row (3 different exposures).

  10. Usually after the first test shots I pop the memory card out of the camera and look at the images on my computer (to properly evaluate them). If good, then put the memory card back and continue shooting. This check should catch any problems with the initial setup.
  • Move the photos under the camera (i.e. try to avoid moving the camera and tripod)
  • If you have mixed sizes of photos, you may have to lower the camera to capture the smaller ones at full frame with slight zoom.
  • If you are shooting the full album and can "see" some of the background around the album, try to make that background about the same brightness/tone as the album (so that your autoexposure will expose the photos properly. Not as critical if you are bracketting).
Note: this is not a lesson in digital photo editing - there are lots of spots on the internet with detailed information about how to use photo software - it's beyond the scope of this website.

In post-processing, I generally follow the workflow shown in the Storage of Digital Photos page, main difference being the naming conventions I use for genealogical photos.
  1. Firstly, before I erase the photos from my memory card, I backup the photos as detailed on my storage of digital photos page (the Rule of Two).
  2. Since I bracket all my photos (take 3 shots at once using different exposures), I generally do a quick cull of those photos that are clearly under or over exposed, leaving one or two exposures. Purists will leave all 3 exposures
  3. I usually add initial IPTC data - a general comment regarding what I've taken pictures of (i.e. "Aunt Millie's 3rd photo album"). If you're keen and have the exact captioning for each photo - it can be done at this stage.
  4. I make a copy of all the photos into a second folder. I'm going to leave my originals (my negatives) just as they were from the camera and do all further processing with these copies. If I make a horrible mistake (a bad edit, accidental delete) - I can go back and retrieve the original. I generally keep the originals in a chronologically named folder just as I do my regular photos. However, my new folder is going to be genealogically labelled - I'm going to put it in a folder based on family surname and rename the images - see the Filenaming Page for details.
  5. I'll now edit the renamed photos. Edit can involve such things as cropping, adjusting levels, adjusting shadows and highlights, and more. It is usually done to bring out the most detail in the main subject - often with genealogy photos it is the people in the photos. You're enhancing the photos to best show the people in them (particularly faces).
  6. At some point I try to make sure that I have the best labelling information I can get. This may mean sending some of the photos to other relatives for better/more complete identifications. I add all this info to the IPTC data - also making sure to update my original images (my negatives) with that same labelling information
My final, enhanced photos are now ready for use. The full set is kept in my Genealogy Photo collection. I may put some into my genealogy software (attaching images of people to their listings in my genealogy database). I may create a set for distribution to relatives (see Sending Photos to Relatives)

Copying Objects

This is not a full workflow - just some hints. Keep in mind that with a digital camera, it is worth practising using different methods/settings until you find one that works the best. In cases where colour is very important, it is recommended that you shoot in RAW format and use RAW processing software to adjust the whitebalance of the shoot to exactly match the colours of the original document. This can be critical in an uncontrolled environment where you may have a variety of light sources (natural daylight, florescent, tungsten).

Paintings: Rule 1 is to never use a flash. Rule 2 is that to avoid distortion, the painting must be shot straight on - the camera lens should be centred on and parallel to the artwork. If the painting is under reflecting glass you'll have a problem with Rule 2 in that the glass will reflect back you, the camera and the background. So, one trick is to try to make that background as dark and as monotone as you can. One way to do this is mount the camera (hopefully black) on a black tripod with a black background (i.e. piece of black felt fabric). This can even be done by one person by using the camera's self timer and holding up the fabric behind the camera. The painting will still "see" and reflect back the camera, tripod and fabric - but it will be reflecting a reasonably monotone black background, providing minimum visible reflection in the photo of the painting.

Jewelry: put the jewelry on a nice piece of felt fabric - a rich dark blue is often a good choice. It also helps to have a "highlight light" - a light to add some depth and sparkle to the jewelry (usually by placing it at about 45 degrees to the object. I use a little LED flashlight with a built in tripod - it can easily be moved to provide the required highlights. This can also help if trying to shoot engraving on metal - move the light so that the shadows ideally highlight the engraving. You'll also usually need macro mode on your camera and strive for a high depth of field. The camera should be on a tripod with a remote release or use the self-timer.

Figurines: similar to Jewelry with lighting and depth of field the key elements.

A House: this could be the original family homestead or your current home. Architecture and memories are two key factors. By the latter I mean things that mean the most to you and your family, perhaps the kitchen eating area, the backyard, the kids' bedrooms, etc. - images of your home that will bring back warm memories (and a few laughs). The architecture concept is the simple documentation of the home and property. One idea for this is to check out better quality real estate websites that have had professional photographers shoot houses for sale - this will give you some idea of techniques that you can use.

Sensor Size:

One of the things that is handy to know with the digital camera you'll be using is its Field of View Crop Factor, more commonly known as a Focal Length Multiplier. This is based on the sensor size and affects depth of field and can also affect lens distortion. A full size sensor is one that is the same size as 35 mm film. Many compact cameras have a sensor that is very small and the smaller the sensor, the greater the depth of field (depth of focus) of any given lens.

For instance, my digital SLR cameras have APC size sensors which produce a focal length multiplier of 1.6. So, if I stick a 35mm zoom lens that goes from 17 mm to 85 mm, it is really going from 27 mm to 136 mm in full size terms. With a regular 35 mm lens on the camera, it is doing this by only taking a portion of the lens' image (cropping). The lens set at 17 mm will have about the same depth of field as a 17 mm lens, but the field of view of the photo will be that of a 27 mm lens.

A compact camera has an even smaller sensor and correspondingly greater depth of field.

Don't worry about the details, the bottom line is that in copying, more depth of field is a good thing

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