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Friday, August 16, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Ten: The Importance of Image Quality

When faced with a pile of old photos, the genealogist must make some important decisions. Of course, there is always the challenge of identifying the people and places represented in the photos, but sometimes we are faced with just really poor quality photos. Here is one example.

With the digital photographic manipulation tools, we have available today, this photo could be improved but the problems with focus, lighting, and exposure are not particularly correctable. In addition, this particular image is a generational copy of the original and much of the detail of the photo has already been lost. Here is a quick edit of the photo for comparison.

When taking a photo or when preserving one through using either a scanner or a camera the most important issue is making sure the images are focused. This image has a soft focus and further manipulation will cause some parts of the photo to look improved but others to look worse.

Manipulating or enhancing photos creates a whole list of ethical and historical issues. Whenever you elect to "fix" an old historically important photo, be sure and keep an unmodified copy of the original. When I manipulated this image, if I had spent more time, you probably could not easily tell that the image had been altered. The danger here is when the altered image replaces the original as the historical reality. You might dismiss the original as "damaged" but do you really know that the image was damaged and that the part of the image I removed do not add important information? One thing removed was a piece of an iron support, probably used by the photographer to help the person hold still.

Should something like this support be removed to "improve" the appearance of the original? This is a real question that needs to be answered by the person doing the "preservation."

After numerous discussions with genealogists who insist on improving the photos, I realize that my efforts to preserve the originals are being largely ignored. Here is an example of a series of photos that show what happens as people improve on the originals. By the way, can you tell which one is an accurate copy of the "original?"

All of these copies are duplicates uploaded to the FamilySearch Memories App. It would be nice to have the original photograph so that a better copy could be made.

Stay tuned for more of this rather endless series.

Here are the previous posts in this series:

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:
Part Six:
Part Seven:
Part Eight:
Part Nine:

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