Digital Imaging Procedures


I was very fortunate to have access to the equipment owned by the Allen Memorial Art Museum, the art museum of Oberlin College. When I began this project, David Calco, the webmaster for the museum, had just purchased a Nikon CoolPix990 camera, lighting equipment, and a computer to handle high resolution photographs for the art museum's digitization projects. He was very generous to let me use the equipment. The CoolPix 990 takes pictures at a resolution of 2048x1536--from what I understand, this is lower than the industry standards, but I was still very happy with the quality of the images.


Wire Stand

The binding on the Artz Hours is rather fragile, so I could not open the book more than about 90 degrees. I constructed a wire stand to hold the book open at 90 degrees, which also held the pages back. Since the pages of the book tend to fan out when the book is opened, I had to have some way of holding down the pages that I was photographing. I decided that a piece of plexiglass would be the easiest and least obtrusive thing to use. So I set the book in the stand, laid the plexiglass across the entire page I was photographing, and snapped the picture (scroll down to see a picture of the complete setup). Once I got the proper lighting figured out, it was a simple matter of turning the pages and pushing the button. The flashcard of the camera could hold ten to thirteen images at a time, so once I had filled it, I would have to move the pictures onto the computer. I was very lucky to have my boyfriend Jonathan with me to man the computer--while I took pictures, he looked at them to make sure they weren't messed up, and sorted them into the proper order.

Because of various people's schedules, and because Ed Vermue, the director of Special Collections, had to supervise the photography, I basically had two days to do all of it. Jonathan and I had to work like maniacs, but we managed to get pictures of the entire book in those two exhausting days. (Although at the time of writing this, I am still planning to go back for one afternoon--I have found a few pictures that have ugly glares and a few that are somehow missing, but it should only take a few hours to remedy this.)

Of course, just taking the photographs wasn't the end of the story--next I had to rotate, crop, and convert to different sized jpgs files nearly 250 9-Mb tif files. Again, I couldn't have done this without Jonathan's help--I still had to crop them all by hand, but he wrote scripts to convert them to jpgs and create an html file for each of them. I am still tinkering with some of the images to make them more clear.

Photography Setup

What Worked

There were several things I did that worked well. The wire stand and the plexiglass made turning the pages easy, so I could take the photographs quickly--all I had to do was turn the page and place the plexiglass on it, and I was ready for the next shot (however, there is more about plexiglass in the next section). Having Jonathan on the computer really helped--there is no way I could have done it in such a short amount of time if he hadn't been there to sort the images.

What I Would Do Differently

Live and learn. As I took more and more pictures, we kept noticing different little reflections in the plexiglass. Sometimes it took a long time to figure out what was reflecting. I had to be careful not to lean over the book as I took the picture, because a reflection of me would show up in it. I discovered that turning out the lights in the room, leaving only the lights shining directly on the book, helped dramatically to reduce glare, and made the colors in the final image much richer (I discovered this unfortunately late in the process). Even the boom that held the camera reflected in the glass--I didn't notice that until I was almost done with the photography. If you have a careful eye, you will see the reflection in almost all of the pictures--it's faint, but it's there.

So if it were up to me, I would paint the room black and cover everything that is anywhere near the camera in non-reflective material. I don't think that the people who use this equipment on a regular basis take pictures through plexiglass very often, but if they do, they should consider repainting the room.

The other thing I really wish I had done is put a little counter in the edge of each picture. Jonathan would download 10-13 images off the camera's flashcard, and then he would have to figure out what order they go in. Although I theoretically took all the pictures in order, sometimes I would miss one or take a picture of the same page twice, or somehow human error would find ways of screwing things up, and we had to spend large chunks of time flipping through the book trying to figure out what page matched which pictures. If we had just had a little counter device of some kind (or even just written numbers on a piece of paper) to tell us what page I was photographing, the whole procedure would have gone much much faster.

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