Off My (Virtual) Shelf – Three How-To-Do-It Books

Scene in a Library, by William Henry Fox Talbot, before March 22, 1844; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, accession number 2005.100.172.

Scene in a Library, by William Henry Fox Talbot, before March 22, 1844; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, accession number 2005.100.172.

For the last several months I thought about reviewing three books I have on my virtual bookshelf. Since I purchased these three e-books in late 2014 and early 2015, I think more than half-way through 2015 is about time I do it, don’t you?

I love having reference books available to me as e-books, and I most often buy them for Kindle. In a few cases I own both the hard and the digital copy, but because I already have such a large photo-history (and related) reference collection in print form, I am very interested in saving space and purchasing e-books when it makes sense to do so.

For the three books discussed below, I note the copy I own. I have arranged them in the order I would use them. The more often I go over these three books, the more I see that each one is going to be useful to me, but in quite different ways.

For an overview of what you should consider, and what you might actually do with your collection, take a look at Preserve Your Family Pictures: How To Save Photo Heirlooms for Future Generations, by Amber Richards (Kindle Edition, 2014).


Although this book is focused on the family collection, most of the suggestions made here for preservation and storage apply to any photograph collection. I could refer to it for my family photos as well as for my collection of Georgia photographs.

The book is divided into ten chapters, in addition to the Conclusion, covering identification, storage, organization, conservation, digitizing and editing, and slides.

Most recommendations given are quite sensible, and good practice – supporting brittle photos, wearing gloves, etc. Various methods for removal of photos from magnetic albums, and of dealing with water damaged items, are addressed. Some of these processes were new to me, and I cannot comment on them, but the suggestion to document those images first is a very good one.

Solutions for storage and organization are discussed which includes boxes, interleaving papers, sleeves, and location, as well as the don’ts. Options for making and editing digital copies of your photographs are given, and for the latter, Richards gives step-by-step directions. Methods for storage of your digital photos rounds out this section.

A final chapter, “What About Slides?” cites possibilities for digitizing that format. Richards notes that having them made into prints is a viable option.

Although I am not familiar with all the techniques Richards describes, there is only one, in the first chapter, under “Suggestions for Photo Identification,” with which I disagree, and it is a small thing.

When I was working with photographs as an archivist, I would not recommend that detailed information be written on the back of a photograph – certainly not on an older photograph. Yes, a marker specifically made for this task (either the brand name Richards cites, or another) is good to have, and possibly use, but to be used sparingly!

I would suggest that written notes, either printed or in digital form, accompany, or be related to, an image. These might be numerically keyed, or connected to the image in some other way.

The Richards book is an easy to understand guide to the possibilities to consider and steps to take to organize, store, and document a personal collection of photographs. The other two books I describe below cover those same topics, but they are more specifically focused.

When you have additional needs for your collection, and you are ready to take that next step, consider Archive Photography – How to photograph oversize photos, curled documents, and heirloom treasures. Copyright © 2013 by Gary W. Clark (edited by Gena Philibert-Ortega; published by as part of The Illustrated Home Archivist Series; Kindle Edition, 2014), and/or Slides and Negatives – Digitizing and Protecting Your Vintage Film. Copyright © 2014 by Gary W. Clark (, as part of The Illustrated Home Archivist Series; Kindle Edition, 2014).



Archive Photography has eight chapters, two appendices, and a glossary; Slides and Negatives has seven chapters, three appendices, and a glossary. It is the Glossary in each of these two books many will find especially useful. What if you have no idea what in the word Acid-free actually means, or what Lignin is? You will find the definitions here. Any “technical” term Clark uses and does not completely define in the text is included in the Glossary. I would like to see each term in these glossaries made bold, but that is my personal opinion and a minor thing.

Archive Photography is devoted to the larger images in our collections, those that are not easy to scan and digitize. Instead of trying to figure out how we can use our flatbed scanner to make digital copies of these, Clark offers ways we can photograph and digitize them. These ideas are useful for the smaller public or private archive or library, in addition to caretakers of family photograph collections.

How to set up an “archiving station” and the costs of doing so, types of cameras and lenses, using point and shoot and smartphone cameras, light, tripods, timers, light stands and lamp holders, diffusers, light tents, and backgrounds are all covered by Clark. He describes the simple and the more complex systems of photographing these objects. The Appendix A cites costs for setting up advanced and home or lower-cost stations.

Clark’s Chapter 3, Copying Large Objects includes directions for dismantling a framed photo, creating a cradle for a curved glass-covered picture in order to photograph it, photographing a framed certificate, and using a copy stand for even larger objects.

An important point Clark makes is to Document Your Actions, by recording who, when and how the photographing and digitizing occurred. Here Clark suggesting (for a framed object) the insertion of a note, between the picture and backing, on acid and lignin-free paper. He differs in approach from Richards when he says that a number 2 pencil, but not a marker, may be used on the backing of the object itself.

In chapter 4, Clark discusses how to deal with curled documents (not photographs), how to create a humidity chamber and options to that, using a humidity gauge, what not to do or try, using a dummy document first, and handling the actual document afterward. His chapter 5 is devoted to suggestions for Archiving Heirlooms – those 3-dimensional objects (jewelry, mugs, thimbles, bronzed baby shoes, etc.) most of us have.

Chapter 6 Removing Photographs from Albums covers how one might deal with removal of photos from magnetic photo albums, and whether or not pictures glued in an album should be removed, and some alternatives.

Chapter 7 and 8 go into the do and do not of using your smartphone or tablet cameras (particularly well-suited to document objects away-from-home), for any of these aforementioned tasks. Steps to set up your phone camera, including use of grips and tripods, lighting, flattening pages, hand-held shooting, and using camera apps are all covered.

Appendix B cites Archival Standards for Storage, and how these might apply to the home, and cites acceptable storage and display products as well as those to avoid. Under “acid-free storage containers” is an industry chart for plastic codes – useful information for around the house, too. The section closes with “Archival Definitions,” listing terms which are in addition to the Glossary.

In Slides and Negatives Clark’s first two chapters define negative types and film formats and sizes, and hazardous and safety film. The next two chapters pertain to the care, storage and handling of these materials, and include suggested sleeves, envelopes, pages, binders, and boxes, and a list of Archival Product Sources. The section on Cleaning Negatives is very useful.

As I read about using a “Light Box for Easy Viewing” I was reminded of how much I loved my light table for slide-viewing when I managed a photo-video archives. I need to buy one (a box, not a table). I have hundreds of personal slides to go through to decide upon their fate and it would certainly make that task easier.

I like the detail and history Clark gives on the multiple film types, and the good photo illustrations used to clarify the text. I particularly find the photographs comparing 120 and 127 and 35 mm Format Negatives, and 116 and 122 Format (postcard) [negatives] very helpful.

Chapters 5, 6 and 7 all pertain to scanning: using commercial firms, including sample costs, and do-it-yourself scanning, and choosing a scanner. Within these chapters is a detailed discussion of digital file formats and compression, followed by a Compression Tutorial with illustrations. Understanding Resolution, with a discussion of Pixel and Printed Resolution, and choices for image editing software, scanning large items and stitching scans together are also covered. I appreciate the short section here called Which Side of the Slide is Up?

Clark’s Notes include online links to places or products mentioned, which is helpful. Appendix A is a chart of film types giving the resulting print size, the date that film was introduced, and the date it ceased production. Wow, this is fine information to have!

Appendix B is similar, if not exactly like that in Archive Photography. Instructions for making your own negative holder for 127 and 116 film are given in Appendix C, with a link to download those templates.

All three of these books are suggested for the home archivist, with the two Clark books providing useful tips and links for smaller public and private archives, as well as for beginning or more advanced photographers.

From an advertisement in the Savannah Daily Republican Nov. 13, 1847 page 3

From an advertisement in the Savannah Daily Republican, Nov. 13, 1847 page 3

About the two authors: 

Amber Richards is the pen name of Valerie Garner. She is not only an author, an artist, and a family historian, but she is also the owner of Bellevue Photo Restoration, in beautiful Washington state. Ms. Garner generally works on photo restoration in digital format. See more at . Garner tells me she loves hearing the stories behind the photographs she restores. Those stories fascinate me, too, and if we know about the photographer who took an image, that is a real bonus. The more we know, the better the story every photograph has to tell us.

In addition to the Kindle e-book, Preserve Your Family Pictures is available in print form from, where it is also available as an audiobook. This is an option that would allow people to listen and learn on their commute, or elsewhere.

Gary Clark is a professional photographer, graphic designer, author, and genealogist. In addition to the Kindle e-book form, both of the books described here are available in print from See his website at for his other publications, to obtain handy charts on photo format identification, for photo restoration information, and more for family and photo historians.

© E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without  written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. The piece can be re-blogged, and excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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