Lodge Historians – What To Do With Photography

As part of the 2018 Lodge Historian webinar program put together by Bradley Taylor, Nik Newman, Robert Mason, and Kyle Brendel, I am sharing some of my thoughts and expertise on how photography both informs and compliments a holistic Lodge history program.

  • Can you provide a list of 10-12 items/events/people/things to photograph for any given lodge year? Feel free to note the most important item(s). This could serve as a basic list for lodge historians to research with or begin to document moving forward.
    • People:  Lodge Officers, Lodge Advisers, Award Honorees, and special guests of the Order of the Arrow.
    • Activities:  Capture your Lodge’s activities of the year.  Don’t just photograph selfies, those don’t tell a story.  Capture people doing things that make sense to a viewer.  If you have a Lodge service project, show the actual work being done.  Show progression, perhaps you can capture the moments when the project begins, all the way to its completion.  Capture people candidly, they will often look more photogenic.
    • Accomplishments:  Did your Lodge win a special award at your Conclave?  Did your Lodge complete that Lodge service project?  Did you capture the moment somebody found out they were receiving the Vigil Honor?
  • Do you have suggestions to amateurs on the best method to store photographs – both digital (today) and printed (archives)? For example, CDs, hard-disk, cloud storage, Flickr account, albums, scan printed photos to store digitally, etc. As you know, many lodges will probably collect photos from members, social media downloads, and more versus having one “lodge photographer.”
    • Storage is important, and so is storage backup.  Every digital storage medium will eventually fail, hence, the term MTBF (Mean-Time Between Failure).  Storage needs to be safe, protected, and redundant.
    • Digital images can be stored many ways:
      • At home:  CDs are not recommended.  They are prone to write/rewrite errors, they are easy to scratch, and while they have a theoretical shelf-life of anywhere from 25 to 100-200 years, it is important to note they will wear out.
      • At home:  hard-disk storage is a better solution than CDs, but spinning disks (non-SSD drives) will fail sooner.  It is important that your hard disks are replaced every few years.  This is often not an issue because escalating storage requirements usually necessitates this replacement, but it is important to keep track of.  All hard disks must be backed up regularly, either through a Windows/Mac backup program to a separate disk drive, or through online backup.
      • Cloud Storage:  It is easy for a Lodge to amass a huge volume of images very quickly, so I would recommend cloud storage for backup only.  There are many providers who backup files for approximately $ 60 per year, including Carbonite, Backblaze, and many others.  There are two considerations though.  First, the initial backup to any of these providers is very slow.  The second, is that the service providers tend to be ephemeral.  In recent years, both Mozy and CrashPlan discontinued their home/unlimited backup programs.  If you are using a service that decides to discontinue an unlimited backup service, you could find yourself paying more money or with no backup at all.
      • Photo services like Flickr:  Flickr was the first to the market over a decade ago, but many other services exist like 500px, Smugmug, Photoshelter, and others.  Many of them are very good and they vary in free features, cost, and additional services.  I will focus on Flickr for the moment since it is well know, and currently offers 1TB of virtual storage.  Flickr can be a good solution, but keep in mind that they have a compression algorithm and the files stored do not carry the same filenames.  What does this mean?  If you uploaded a lot of photos to Flickr, the photos would likely look nice, but the compression means they wouldn’t have the exact same quality as your original creations.  If you deleted your originals, and downloaded your Flickr images, you wouldn’t have the same file names or naming conventions either.  Services like Flickr are good for archiving and making images available to a lot of people, but they are not ideal if you want to retain top quality and perfect naming/metadata from the original files.
    • Prints can be stored in a few ways:
      • Photo albums:  Alas, the photo album is not dead.  While there isn’t as big of a selection in this digital world, the ones available are usually good, accommodate a number of image sizes, and include acid free pages.
      • Prints should be scanned!  It is recommended they be scanned to .tif files at 300dpi each.  Programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom can be used to fix imperfections and restore older photographs.  In addition, Lightroom has the ability to capture a lot of metadata, and you can include notes on the photographer, event, etc.  I like to label my prints with a small post-it designating the same filename as my scan, so I can cross-reference them.
      • You may receive older negatives or slides.  This is good!  They are likely in much better condition than prints.  You will need to find somebody in your Lodge with a film scanner, but there is a good chance you can find somebody.  Same scanning rules apply, generally .tif files at 300dpi each.
    • Collecting photographs requires careful record-keeping!  Image theft is a huge issue in the professional photography world, so much so that companies like ImageRights and Pixsy specialize in chasing down copyright infringement.  Always secure permission when collecting images, and always track the photographer.  The photographer should be credited when using the image, usually a small italicized note in the caption (Photo:  B. Taylor is usually sufficient).
  • In today’s digital age, we can easily gather thousands of photos. Would you suggest lodges gather all they can get to store or select a quantity for each event? For example: if a lodge gathered 500 photos from their fall fellowship from 10 members, should they keep them all or pull out the best 20 to save?
    • Digital sprawl can be real issue.  With flash storage on digital cameras making it trivial to store hundreds or even thousands of images on a single card, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with a mountain of photographs.
    • It is better to highlight your best images from an event, activity, or entire year rather than do a huge image dump where people need to dive deep for the keeper images.  What this magic number is will depend on your application.  You may only put 3 images in a newsletter, but you may post 50 in a web page gallery.  Your Lodge’s local history team will need to identify that need.
    • Keep in mind that the images you receive may differ in quality and format.  A person with a cell phone will likely have low resolution jpegs, while a person with a large digital SLR may capture their images in a proprietary RAW format only.  Your team should be ready to determine if they are “finished” files (jpegs, pngs, gifs) or if they are in a RAW format (.NEF, .CR2, etc.) that needs to be edited in Lightroom or Photoshop.  You should have a plan for storing the original RAW files as well as the edits in the same place.
  • What are the best ways to share photographs today digitally? Are there free programs or platforms to share digitally in say a rolling show during an event? Is there a specific resolution for photos posted to websites (optimization)? If historians scan printed photos, what resolution should they scan them at?
    • There seems to be a solution for image archival and sharing for every photograph you own.
    • Social media is ubiquitous, and indeed, a service like Facebook makes it easy to upload and share images.  Keep in mind though that their compression is often aggressive.  They won’t be top quality, which can be easy to notice for large images.  The blue channel in particular can get “crunchy.”  Services like Flickr are better suited for photographers, and there are Sharing tools to social media.
    • My best recommendation is going back to your Lodge’s online presence.  No matter the platform your website is built on, there is usually a lot of room for image storage, and it is a natural place to build an online gallery to be paired with your Lodge’s written history.  If you are on a platform with limited space, you can use a service like Flickr, and you can use a Flickr URL to display the image on your website.  Just keep in mind that these uploads should not be your original images, store them elsewhere redundantly.
  • Do you believe it would be wise for a lodge to assign, or create, a “lodge photographer” position?
    • There are several ways to answer this question.  The question comes down to time, resources, and expertise.
    • We are currently in the “Golden Age of Photography.”  Digital SLRs are more accessible to people, and easier to use than ever.  Their capabilities are unrivaled.  In addition, cell phone cameras have gained incredible photography capability (at least, in good light).  If a Lodge has a person who has the ability to be the assigned photographer at events, as well as the commitment to attend them all, then by all means, create the position.
    • However, it is more likely that each Lodge will have a team of photographers who make images throughout the year.  In addition, there may be others without the equipment, but may capture a “Kodak moment” that would fit perfectly in a Lodge’s archive.  A Lodge’s history committee should recognize this and have a formalized way to submit images for consideration and placement in the Lodge archive.   A website photo submission page or a dedicated email address (something like photos@youroalodge.org) would help a diverse group of people contribute.