First, let me tell you how we used to do it. I started out shooting images with my digital camera mounted on our new (used) copystand, purchased off eBay. But because I was working alone, not only did I have to place the artifact, check its placement on the camera’s built-in LCD screen, shoot and review the image, then move it slightly to the left or right, and adjust the aperture and ISO, reshoot, recheck and so on. That was taking way too much time when you consider we hope to get an image for every artifact in our collection -- estimated upwards of 8,000!
So I added a volunteer partner (in this case, my husband, who’s an avid photographer) to help me shoot batches of artifacts. With him shooting and making adjustments to the light, and me placing each artifact as I wanted it, this was definitely faster. One session we shot approximately two dozen images of a dozen artifacts. When I copied the files onto the computer and reviewed them a few days later, though, many were a little too dark or not as sharp as I wanted. By this time, of course, I’d replaced all the items in their protective enclosures and didn’t relish the idea of having to do it all again. So, either we’re left with a lower quality image, OR we have to take the time to reshoot and handle the artifact a second time.
"Tethered" shooting -- how it works. Click images for larger view:
We settled on a product called TetherPro, for $24.99 downloaded, and this works with the USB cable that came with my digital camera. Not only does it streamline the process (it could easily be saving us half the time of gathering images and getting them into the computer), but it also has improved the quality and consistency because I’m reviewing each one in real time at higher magnification and at a much larger size, allowing for immediate correction.(Let me tell you, this makes a huge difference for a mid-50s curator with bad eyes!)
My husband suggests if you are using either Nikon or Canon digital SLRs for your museum work, to take a look at this group of options for tethered shooting, which notes that many Canon digital SLRs come with this type of software (called EOS utility software). So you might already have this capability and not even know it!
Here’s to faster, better images in our electronic museum inventories!
P.S. Our inventory project is made possible with a grant through the Community Preservation Act..