Photograph Digitization Project

Written by Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Claire Jackson. 

My very first day of work at the Digital Archiving Lab in the fall of 2019 was packed with a ton of new information. I wasn’t yet familiar with the University’s archives or even how they digitize and make them accessible through their databases. On my first day, I toured the first floor of the library, where Special Collections stores additional photographs, each one depicting a snapshot of Mary Washington’s history. These photographs were taken over the years by official Mary Washington photographers and since printed and organized into folders according to date and subject matter. They range from the trees on campus walk to Commencement celebrations. Each one of these photos held its own meaning to an institution that I had joined just a month prior.

A photograph of the Fitness Center on a sunny day, taken from campus walk near Jepson Hall.

Photographs from the early 2000s show many changes to campus, such as the addition of the Fitness Center in 2004. Photograph by Lou Cordero.

The process of digitizing these photos is what I will detail here. Over the course of the semester, two other student aides and I digitized around 655 photos. The process always started with being assigned a folder that had a label with its title and the cabinet/row it came from. Once a folder was assigned, gloves were worn to take the photo out of its sleeve and to place it on the flatbed Epson scanner in the Digital Archiving Lab. Photos were placed roughly in the middle of the scanner so that there would be room to crop off the side, as well as straighten the image later.

Next, the settings on the Epson scan software were set. Depending on the image, the scan was set for color or grayscale. All photos were scanned at 600dpi and as a TIFF file, both of which are standard for preservation. No additional advancements (i.e. color or backlight correction) were used to digitize the image, keeping it as close to the way it appears. After the settings were set, a preview scan was conducted, which allowed for a crop to be drawn. At this stage, a generous border was used around the image, as an additional crop would be done later in Photoshop. A final scan was done, and then the image was opened in Photoshop.

The first step in Photoshop was to straighten the image. The straightening tool was drawn along one side of the image. Photoshop then automatically turned the image, so the line that was drawn was straight. After this, a final crop was done, still making sure to leave a small white border around the image so that it was clear that no part of the image was cropped out. The image was then saved, compressed to 300dpi, and saved as a JPEG file. 300dpi JPEG files are easily accessible on the web for download, unlike the larger TIFF files. Both the original TIFF and compressed JPEG file were saved onto the archives’ hard drives for storage.

A screenshot of a photograph opened in Photoshop software. The screenshot depicts the straighten tool being used in Photoshop to straighten a crooked image. The image in Photoshop used for this example is of the clock installation in front of Woodard Hall.

The straighten tool in Photoshop is drawn along the top edge of the photo. Photograph by Debra Garrett.

The next step in the process was to upload the images to Omeka, which is a content management system that allows for the creation of private or public digital collections. Each image that was uploaded was done so individually with its own form. Much of the information that was added to this form came from the information supplied on the back of the photograph. Most photographs were labeled with a date, the photographer, and occasionally names of the people photographed. If a title was not supplied, an appropriate one was created by the student aide. The folder name and cabinet number of the folder where this image came from were also put into this form. This step was taken so that if later someone finds this image online and wants to examine it in person, we know where exactly to locate it.

A screenshot of the data entry form in Omeka showing the following fields and values for an example photograph. Some fields have more than one value. The fields shown in this screenshot are the following: Title, "Clock Tower Installation;" Source, "2004-2005, Cabinet 3, Drawer 1" and "Events on Campus;" Date, "2001-04-09.”

A title, the source according to the image folder, and its date were added to Omeka.

One of the most essential pieces of information we put into Omeka included subject headings related to the image. Before processing took place, a list of common subjects, including names, buildings, and campus events, was compiled. This list specified all the names and abbreviations a single item could be called. This is important, because throughout Mary Washington’s history buildings have gone by different names or even a person by their nickname. This list also allowed the aides to know what to pick out of an image that would be important for someone searching for it later. My favorite subject we came up with is “bench sitting.” It really goes to show just how specific to UMW we wanted to be when identifying photos!

A screenshot of the data entry form in Omeka showing the following fields and values for an example photograph. Some fields have more than one value. The fields shown in this screenshot are the following: Subject, "Clock Tower" and “Construction”; Description, "Close up of clock. The clock is embellished with silver details and sits in a wooden carrying crate." and “Image Text: Text on clock face reads: Mary Washington College 1908."; Creator, “Garrett, Debra.”

Subjects according to the index list and a description for this photo were put into Omeka.

Other information that was included in the Omeka form was any text in the photo or on the back, as well as the language it is in. The dimensions and original format were also identified. Once all the information was added, the image was uploaded, and the form was marked as “needs review.” Before these photos with their metadata can be uploaded to Preservica, Special Collections & University Archives staff will review the work of the aides. The process was now done and repeated for a few hundred more photos!

April 16, 2020