Digital Cameras and Genealogy

A good digital camera is an important tool for the family researcher. Not only are you going to be taking photographs, but there are many other uses which will be discussed later. This presentation will focus on what to look for in a camera, then tips for more common genealogical uses.
 
Here are some considerations when buying a camera:
- Can you turn the automatic flash off? Many research facilities don’t allow flash photography because it is distracting and can damage old documents and photographs. Flash will also “wash out” pictures of microfilm.
- Does it have a macro (close-up) setting? You want to be able to focus down to a couple of inches.
- Is the image stabilized to reduce blurring? There will be times when you cannot use a tripod or other support.
- How large is the LCD screen? It should be at least three inches for a good preview.
- What kind of batteries does it use? Proprietary batteries can be expensive and hard to find.
- How easy is it to download the pictures to your computer?
- How does it feel in your hand when you use it?
- What is the image resolution? I put this last because almost any new compact camera is at least 10MP.
 
What can your camera do for you?
- It can take pictures of people and places. Yes, this is the most obvious use, but it’s really important to record family events such as reunions. Transfer the pictures to a computer (or the cloud) as soon as possible. We will look at organizing and “tagging” pictures in a future discussion.
- Take photos of old photographs. At a recent family reunion, people brought photos of their ancestors to share. You should use a tripod or other support for a steady platform. Use natural (but not direct) light and turn off the flash. Don’t take the old photo out of its frame or holder.
- Take cemetery photographs. It’s very common to take pictures of gravestones, but don’t forget background shots of the cemetery. It’s best to take your pictures mid-morning and mid-afternoon for best definition. I also use an aluminum cookie sheet as a reflector for pictures on the “dark side.” Take pictures of lot records and section maps. Share your pictures with others at Find-A-Grave (http://www.findagrave.com/) or BillionGraves (http://billiongraves.com/). More tips: http://genealogy.about.com/od/cemetery_records/a/pictures.htm
- Copy microfilm projections. You can often get a better image than if you printed it out to paper. You definitely want to turn off the flash. You should also try to steady the camera by bracing your arms or using a flexible tripod.
- “Scan” documents. You can take pictures of courthouse book pages or archive documents. Again, you want to turn off the flash and steady the camera. In low light situations, you may also have to turn off the automatic exposure.
- Take pictures of unique family heirlooms whether a clock, a china hutch, or some other item of family interest. These pictures are even more valuable in a familiar setting (aunt Dinah’s china in her dining room).
- Take notes. Instead of copying down pages of information, take a digital photo of the page. Be sure to include a picture of the title page or cover as an information source.
 
General tips:
- Shoot lots of pictures from various angles and distances. The “film” is free!
- Ask for permission. Always respect other people’s privacy and copyright restrictions.
- Accessorize. Tripods or flexible holders can be the difference to a great picture.
- Always have extra batteries with you. And your camera’s instructions.
- Most cameras shoot video too. A panoramic view of the cemetery is a great addition.