Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, May 6, 2016

Camera vs. Scanner -- What can I do to improve my images for genealogy?

Anyone who looks at genealogy websites for any length of time will see some truly terrible examples of scanned documents and photographs. When looking at digital images created by scanning or photographing some original photo or document, we need to remember that our copy can be no better than the original. The issue of the quality of the images online today is a serious problem for genealogists who are attempting either to glean data from a document or view an image of an ancestor.

In some cases, where it is possible, if we have a poor quality digital image, we can track down the original. But in other cases, the original may be lost or destroyed. You can minimize the issues of poor quality digital images by using good quality equipment with as high a resolution as you can afford. But in many cases, lighting in the issue. There is always the temptation to do too much post-photo manipulation. But if the lighting is too bad, there is little you can do with a photo editing program such as Adobe Photoshop to cure bad photography. Here is one example of an interesting photo but a bad one for genealogists.

No amount of photo manipulation is going to help us identify the two boys in the photo and only some persistent detective work would identify the location. The photographer probably knew the identity of the two boys, but now years after the photo was taken, without some identification on the back of the photo or in an album, their identity has been totally lost. The lesson to be learned, identify your photos in a way the preserves what you know about the photo. In this case, the solution for the photographer would be to show a closeup of the boys or move the angle of the photo to include a recognizable landmark.

Here is another example.

I happen to know where this photo was taken and I could probably walk to the exact location. But the photo is underexposed and the person on the horse is not identifiable. Once again, if you are going to leave a lot of photos to your posterity, have the patience to identify the people (I am actually reminding myself of this need).

Here is an example of a photo of a photo.

All of these photos come from the collection of Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson and were taken in eastern Arizona from the 1880s to the 1940s. If you search in the Memories for "St. Johns" you will find them all. Can this photo be fixed?

The key here is to use as little editing as possible to bring out the image. If you do decided to edit an image make sure you keep an archive copy of the original or have the original available. Not all edits turn out well. This photo is just about at the limit of what will be acceptable editing.

1 comment:

  1. Hi James. If a photo is over exposed, then there is no way any info can be obtained by editing. It is better to slightly underexpose, than overexpose. Best of all is possibly bracketing the exposures. Regards