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 [graphic] National Register Bulletin: How to Improve the Quality of Photographs for National Register Nominations

U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service

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Formal Documentation of Historic Properties

Prior to the mid-1930s, there was no national program designed to systematically document historic properties. Local and state historical societies recorded sites and buildings, but there were no standards that provided guidelines for the long-term preservation of documentation materials. The establishment of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in 1933, and the Historic American Engineering Survey (HAER) in 1969, administered by the National Park Service, resulted in national documentation standards. A HABS (and later HAER) Collection was established in the Library of Congress to store those records.

Photography is an important part of HABS/HAER documentation. In addition to measured architectural drawings and written historical reports, photographs provide views of the property. Because photographs must meet architectural or engineering standards for accuracy, HABS/HAER will accept only large format negatives corrected for perspective distortion. HABS will not accept negatives smaller than 4- x 5-inches nor larger than 8- x 10-inches. The preferred size is 5- x 7-inches. Only a large-format view camera can be fully adjusted to compensate for distortion and perspective problems. Additionally, a large-format negative provides a wealth of detail that is often impossible to obtain with smaller format film.

HABS/HAER requires the following equipment and film:

1. Lenses. No soft focus lenses (or filters) may be used. The complement of lenses will include at least one normal focal length, one wide angle, and one telephoto lens. They must have adequate covering power to accommodate both front and rear view camera movements without vignetting. ( See Glossary.)

2. Filters. A polarizing filter may be useful. A medium-yellow filter enhances details.

3. Film. A fine-grain, cut film with a minimum resolving power of 80 lines per millimeter high-contrast range, and 30 lines per millimeter low contrast range is acceptable. Films such as Tri-X, T-Max, or Plus-X, etc. are suitable. Film packs are not accepted. Color films, either negative or positive, are absolutely not acceptable. For copy work (old photographs, etc.) Kodak Professional Copy Film Type 4125, or equivalent, must be used to make continuous-tone copy photographs. For copy line drawings, Kodalith, or similar film must be used. All films must be fresh (in date) and have a polyester base.

4. Paper. All documentary photographs produced for HABS/HAER must be printed on fiber-base paper. It should be single-weight, glossy, and processed to archival standards. The use of resin-coated paper is unacceptable.

Processing HABS/HAER Photographs

In order to produce archivally stable photographs, both negatives and prints must be handled carefully. The primary culprit in film or paper damage is a fixer residue. All film and paper should be treated in a cleaning bath such as Permawash, Kodak Hypo Clearing Agent, or Orbit bath. Films and papers must be washed both before and after the hypo-clearing treatment. A two-hour wash is strongly recommended to assure removal of all fixer, unless a hypo-clearing or neutralizing agent is used. HABS/HAER has found that film and prints developed and fixed using machine processors repeatedly fail testing for hypo. Therefore, neither machine-processed prints nor films are acceptable for HABS/HAER documentation.

Printing HABS/HAER Photographs

HABS/HAER negatives are large format. Easily yielding considerable detail, these negatives must be contact printed only. Prints should be made on the next largest size of paper (i.e., a 4- x 5-inch print on 5- x 7- inch paper). Prints should not be large than 8- x 10-inches. All edges of the negative must show in the print. The prints should be made on single-weight, glossy-finish, fiber-base paper. Resin-coated paper is not acceptable.


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