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

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


Photographs are an essential part of all National Register of Historic Places nomination documentation because they illustrate the property at the time it was nominated, provide a record of the property's integrity and distinguishing features, and support the nomination's discussion of the property's physical description and historic significance. As of 1997, the National Register included documentation on more than 67,000 historic properties. This record of America's heritage is unmatched in its comprehensiveness.

Because National Register nominations form a permanent record of listed historic properties, it is important that they include high quality photographs. Planners, educators, researchers and other members of the public who consult National Register nomination files rely on the quality of the written and visual documentation. In addition, National Register photographs are frequently used in publications to illustrate various kinds of historic properties. The purpose of this bulletin is to improve the quality of photographs in National Register nominations by providing a clear explanation of the technical aspects of photography, as they pertain to National Register requirements. The bulletin is not a comprehensive guide to architectural photography, nor is the advice it gives the last word on the subject, rather it is intended to be a useful guide for nonprofessional photographers who are called upon to submit photographs to the National Register.

We are pleased that Dr. Frederic J. Athearn of the Colorado State Office of the Bureau of Land Management wrote this bulletin. The American Association for State and Local History awarded him a Certificate of Commendation for his pioneering work in photographic documentation. The text for this bulletin is based, in part, on Dr. Athearn's A Window to the Past-A View to the Future: A Guide to Photodocumenting Historic Places, Bureau of Land Management, Cultural Resource Series, No. 30, 1994.

Jeff Dean, Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Officer, added a section to this bulletin based on his experiences since 1970 in the field of historic preservation. Dean was awarded a Certificate of Commendation in Preservation by the National Trust for Historic Preservation for his 1981 book, Architectural Photography, published by the American Association for State and Local History. He teaches small-format architectural photography for the Mount Carroll Center for Applied Photographic Arts of the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation, Mount Carroll, Illinois.

photo of ancien ruins at Mesa Verde, Colorado
The Ancient Anasazi ruins at Mesa Verde, Colorado. (National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection. William Hnery Jackson, 1874)

Carol D. Shull
Keeper, National Register of Historic Places
National Register, History and Education
National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior


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