02 August 2009

Philly 2009: Digital photography for genealogy

Whale tracker expert Sally Mizroch of Seattle offered a fascinating take on digital photography for genealogy to a standing-room only crowd.

Sally, who is also president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State, shoots and handles thousands of photos on various whale-tracking projects, as well as for her genealogical research at cemeteries and other relevant information.

In July alone, on one long trip in Alaska, she shot 2,700 photos, each Geo-referenced with latitude and longitude.

She explained - with humor and expertise - that photos shot today are the historic photographs of tomorrow and thus her work and these techniques are relevant for genealogical research.

What's handy for her work is that there are many ways to work with Google Earth, and to enter many tagged photos showing the whale's name, place spotted, marks or comments and other fields. These can be uploaded to Google Earth and a map of all the points can be seen.

Here are some of her tips on working with digital technology:

1. Always work with the highest resolution of the current available technology and use software to make smaller (edited/cropped) copies JPG format) quickly. While RAW uncompressed photos might range up to 12mg, the same photo in JPG format might be from 400-800k.

2. Use a computer with 2GB RAM – Less will make you sad, she shared. GB storage devices are becoming cheaper and the technology is always improving.

3. Before leaving on a trip, take a day or so to test and compare all your new equipment (scanners, cameras, printers) to make sure the quality stays high. Get new stuff and try it out, and check the various settings.

4. RAW is the highest resolution. she used to convert to TIF but doesn't do that any longer, just straight to JPG. She usually stores the smaller files on a compact flash drive.

5. JPGs are compressed small files. The “lossy” format, guesses or predicts patterns, and can provide false information. JPG format sees the "dots" (as in newspaper photos), which is good for art, not so good for data. It's important for her whale work on ID'ing the mammals by their varying tails. The dots are not so important for genealogy purposes.

6. It's important to remember that each time a JPG is saved, it is compressed again and loses data.

There is no disadvantage to shooting in RAW format, and saving those shots as your negatives (with the same name as the JPG). New digital cameras write RAW files so fast that there is no lag time. Also, she added that the new compact flash cards are very fast and rather inexpensive.

Another distinction is that distant or badly lit JPG are unusable, while distant or badly lit RAW files can almost always be saved.

Sally uses two simple tools: A simple, not expensive photo editor which allows editing of metadata and batch process files and GEO-reference software and hardware.

She personally uses ACDSee Pro 2.5 for her editor (about $100) adding that it is not fancy editing and has a tool to browse renaming and is very practical - it's not for pretty art. It gives high-quality JPGs from RAW. For geo referencing, she has used RoboGeo, a RedHen/Holux GPS combo, and Dawn GPS.

Here are the steps from RAW to JPG conversion: Shoot RAW files to work with and match to the JPG files. Batch convert RAW files to small JPGS, select all, convert to JPG and best compression and turn them all into JPGs. In one example, the RAW file was 16mg, and the JPGs from the same file were 400-800k.

Her demonstration compared the quality of various formats, images and enlargements.

Digital cameras automatically store data as well as image information for each photo, such as time, date, camera model, shutter speed, focal length, exposure settings. This data can be imported directly into an Access database. In a batch edit mode, datafields can be changed.

The bottom line is that photos are data, not just images.

She repeated that attendees should "label, label, label" their photos.

Sally also spoke about digitizing old photos. She uses an Epson photoscanner or a Nikon film scanner, recommends using a copy stand, setting the camera on "text," and then to point and shoot.

In her genealogy research, she suggested that original photos, if possible, should be the basis for the RAW file. She's taken shots of sepia photos under glass when visiting relatives, and offered comparison photos taken using various methods, recommending to shoot at an angle, and taking from several angles and to not use the flash.

If you are in the market for a new digital camera, choose one with good low-light capability.

An expert in the audience commented on using the new smart phones to imbed GPS in photos.

And what about the old 35mm slides that many of have? Scan them using a Capermate projector.

What technology will we be using 50 years from now? Sally recommends keeping track of new technology, converting from the older technology, store on newer generation devices, and make sure you can view them.

This was an excellent program and I learned much more about my digital camera and what I could do with it. I was going to take a photo of Sally presenting this program, but my digital camera's battery had died.

I've just come back to my room to recharge the battery, and hope to bring you pix from the conference.

No comments:

Post a Comment