My Lightroom education the past two weeks has been to alternate two tasks: reviewing forum posts for tips, tricks, and common dilemmas; and uploading, adding metadata, and organizing a limited number of images. I have some work to redo based on my forum reading. Within Lightroom, I have focused on establishing a backup, adding keywords and captions, and experimenting with formats for the title field. I sense that I am still resisting obvious paradigm shifts.
Peter Krogh’s books pointed me to Victoria Bampton as a Lightroom (Lr) resource. I discovered she is the Lightroom Queen behind items in my various Google searches. She has written a number of books (to address the different Lr products/plans) and manages a series of forums for Lr users, where beginner and advanced users are welcome.
I am using Lightroom, which used to be referred to as Lightroom CC. It’s still confusing to just call it Lightroom, because there is such a long history of various products, services, and plans. The Lightroom Queen forums refer to Lightroom as “cloudy” to distinguish it from Lightroom Classic. I have concentrated on reviewing posts related to “cloudy.”
Basically, I am reading all of the posts in the “Lightroom desktop apps (cloud-based service)” forum, 1-3 pages of posts per day, just to educate myself. It is a little tricky, because as I get to older posts (early 2019 and further back), features have been added by now that address some of the post concerns. I’m not sure how far back I should read, as the information will become more and more dated.
I’ll need to tackle Victoria’s books for Lr (she updates them to reflect Adobe releases), and she also has a blog I want to read through.
Backups: local storage
Before uploading too many images into Lightroom, I wanted to consider storage options. The idea behind the cloud plan is that you don’t have to worry about backing up everything on various hard drives, etc. You trust Adobe to handle that. Of course, who does? Maybe someday; it’s a paradigm shift. I’m actually ready for that, but my husband isn’t. There is an option to store locally, so I have selected that. As best I can tell, the local storage is of unedited originals, no metadata (or not all metadata?); hubby and I agreed this is sufficient. We have Time Machine to back up our hard drive, so we have that redundancy as well.
I’ve seen comments on the Forum stating that the intent of local storage really isn’t for backups, although they acknowledge it can serve that purpose. I’m still figuring it out.
I am still struggling with this a bit. I have worked out a format for the title field of my images, but it is a long format. Krogh doesn’t include anything descriptive in his titles – just his name, date, and numbering. I am beginning to see the value of his approach. People in the forums debate how detailed file names and title fields should be, versus relying on keywords for that purpose. What information to enter into the caption field was pretty clear; it is intended to be long-form, so that is how I use it.
Lightroom is a database, and if you are still tempted to organize using folder structure and file name structure, it starts to feel like a square peg in a round hole. You actually cannot edit the file name in Lightroom (cloudy). Can I get comfortable with this? Some users cannot. The Lightroom Queen says “…it just doesn’t matter.” Except that it still feels like it does, or should…or used to. I recognize that I am trying to use the title field as a file name field; is this what I should do? Probably not. Do I need to loosen up on my desire for structure? Probably so; further research required. Another paradigm shift.
What I am delaying for now
I’ve taken a break from watching tutorials. Some were way too dated, or were focused on Lightroom Classic (definitely no point watching those if you aren’t subscribing to a plan with Classic). Even for the “cloudy” tutorials, after the first few segments, they all seem to jump into editing. I’m just not ready to focus on that; I am still figuring out how I can consistently organize my images and apply metadata. It was one of the Udemy tutorials referenced in my prior post that first made me aware of the local storage option, so they have been useful, to a point.
I want to read Peter Krogh’s DAM 3.0 book, but I think Victoria Bampton’s Lr books need to take precedence. Krogh covers a broader range of material, and I need to stay focused on Lightroom for now.
I joined Scan Your Entire Life (SYEL), but I have not returned to scanning at this time. Once I discovered the Lightroom Queen forums, I decided it was best to invest time in understanding the nuances of Lightroom. I want to establish certain standards up front before I get too many images scanned and uploaded; I desire to minimize rework (I’ve accepted there will be plenty). SYEL does address Lr and other tools for managing photos, so I should peruse it next, after I have consumed most of the relevant (i.e., “cloudy’) Lightroom Queen material. I did pay for an annual membership to SYEL, so I shouldn’t delay too long. Maybe SYEL can help me decide on file naming (does it matter?) and how to use the title field.
Make it YOURS
The journey for each of us will be different as we collect family memories (older ones, newer digital ones) and decide what to do with them. Considerations include identifying tools, establishing ultimate goals, and determining how much time and effort we can (or want to) put into a final product. Make your journey just that: YOURS.
I’ve been debating what software or application to use long term for organizing photos. When we invested in an iMac (~2014), I expected I would use the Photos app indefinitely. Slowly over the years, I realized that might not be the case. Yesterday, I purchased a monthly plan for Lightroom (Lr), the cloud version. In this post, I’ll summarize my decision for choosing Lightroom as well as my first 24 hours using it. Future posts will address additional Lightroom features, as I discover and utilize them.
A debate with myself
For the past 4-6 years, I used Photos on my iMac. I experienced at least one upgrade of the Photos application in that timeframe, which was uneventful. The Photos app has been easy to use, but I have occasionally experienced minor problems, including navigation, keying data, and identifying people. I successfully organized a subset of my photos into 174 (!) albums, added keywords, and performed basic editing. I also created several slideshows.
The question that has been in front of me for several years was whether Photos was the best long-term tool for my use. I am not a professional photographer. I need to have access to the functionality mentioned above, and I would be happy with additional functionality, provided it is not overwhelming. So, I have always remained alert to alternative software and applications.
In addition to managing photos for myself and my husband, I have volunteered to digitize my parents’ family photos. I want a tool that can facilitate sharing with two sisters, a niece, and two nephews. I want all of these photos to be in the same application as my own photos, but I also want to be able to distinguish them. The organizational tools need to enable this.
Migrating photos from one system to another is not easy. There have been attempts over the years to standardize things within the industry, but it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t want to feel that I am stuck in a particular system (like the train cars on the bridge, below). It is important to me that I have multiple export options and that I will not lose metadata in the process.
You (still) get what you pay for
In Unmasking Free Online Storage, I addressed “free” storage. The article is over three years old, but my views have not changed. I still believe in paying for quality service, support, features, and design.
My first exposure to Lightroom
I was first introduced to Lightroom via Peter Krogh’s The DAM Book (DAM = Digital Asset Management), which I read in 2016. I heard more about Lightroom as a member of APPO (Association of Personal Photo Organizers). A couple of years ago, Adobe introduced Lightroom CC (now just Lightroom), which it distinguished from Lightroom Classic. I was curious but found articles on the topic overwhelming; I didn’t understand enough to process what the differences were. And so I waited, and kept using Photos. But, I was careful about how much I uploaded into Photos – I still sensed that I would be migrating at some point.
I attended an APPO conference in Raleigh, NC, in 2018. Peter Krogh was the keynote speaker. He also had a display table and a breakout session. His presentations featured Lightroom, so I was further exposed to it at this conference. After (too) much debate, I purchased Krogh’s The DAM Book Guide to Organizing Your Photos with Lightroom 5. It took me another year to begin reading the book. After finishing it, I realized I was going to proceed with Lightroom.
I researched the Lightroom options. Lightroom [CC] vs. Classic was making more sense to me; I had learned enough to comprehend the differences. I was getting much more comfortable with cloud storage, the appeal of sharing and accessing via multiple devices, and everything being synced immediately. Although my photos are important to me, they are not my livelihood. I don’t want to have to manage a series of drives for backups. I do want a backup beyond Lightroom, and I am confident I will incorporate something into my workflow for that (future blog post).
My first 24 hours with Lightroom
The Adobe site has a variety of tutorials for Lightroom. I watched several of them (3-5 minutes each). Investing 30 minutes of my time was enough for me to realize that the navigation and features felt comfortable; things were not so different from Photos, and I knew that I would not be at a loss. There were three different Lightroom plans. I didn’t want Classic, so that left one option, for $10 a month and 1 TB of storage. It’s easy to add storage if needed. I really don’t know how much storage I will ultimately need (for my own photos plus those of my parents). I digitized files as JPG previously, but I intend to digitize as TIFF from this point forward (TIFF files are much larger, but not lossy). Being able to easily increase storage for a reasonable fee is a nice feature. So far, I have imported about 30 photos into three albums.
It took me a while to find the Info button so that I could enter Titles and Captions (File Name is a different field). I have added Keywords. I don’t want to load too many photos too fast, as I am still experimenting with Title formats. Peter Krogh recommends MyName_Date_#### for File Names (the #### is for consecutive numbering of images). I am not sure if I will be editing File Names; I need to research whether it is possible to do so in Lr. I considered applying Krogh’s File Name approach to the Title field. Since I am not a professional photographer, I figured I could skip the MyName portion, but then I realized that portion could help me distinguish my own photos (SCKO), from my parents’ family photos (CAMPBELLJM), from grandparents’ photos (ZIMMERMANDE, CAMPBELLJH).
Krogh recommends that all photographers utilize the Copyright field, since we all post so much online. So, I am populating that field as well.
Additional resources I need to tackle
I am very much a Lr beginner. I see my path, but I am moving along it slowly. Just as we are all working to navigate a COVID-19 world one day at a time, I will continue forward on my Lightroom journey one step at a time.
I have identified a few next steps, before I load any more photos into Lr:
Udemy training via Denver Public Library (free!): three courses; I expect I will start with the bottom one.
scanyourentirelife.com: this site offers a membership; while I was a member of APPO, I didn’t want to spend the additional money. Now that I have decided to focus on my own photo collection (versus digitizing for others), this site seems like a better fit.
LinkedIn Learning: Learning Lightroom CC (under two hours, $29.99). LinkedIn Learning was formerly lynda.com. I always found the courses to be excellent, but since this one will cost me, I think I’ll give the Udemy courses a try first, supplement with the Adobe tutorials, and then determine if this is worth the price.
A bit of detective work is always involved in photo organizing, and not just for old photos. Even with digital devices, timestamps aren’t always correct; you may need to determine photo order and rename files accordingly. A detailed travel itinerary won’t necessarily help you identify key sites such as the Gloriette, Neptune Fountain or Roman Ruin (all at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria). Photos taken on the same day may be from entirely different countries or cities; pay close attention to the timestamps to recreate a day’s journey.
A previous post addressed allocating space in a photo book. This post builds on the earlier one and includes scanning trip memorabilia to personalize a book, an explanation of the detective work mentioned above, and a few frustrations encountered along the way.
Organizing photos from three devices
The photos to be used in an Eastern Europe photo book for my sister’s 2018 trip came from three different devices: a digital camera and two iPhones. I could tell that the camera photos had incorrect timestamps (some showed times of 4:00 a.m.), and I was not sure by how many hours I should adjust them. I elected to compare photos of the exact same location (e.g., a waterfall at Krka National Park) across devices. I was able to determine that the timestamp for each camera file was off by about six hours.
In addition to the time adjustment necessary for camera images, I noticed that the first few camera photos actually had timestamps for the year 2017 (the wrong year often indicates there was a battery issue with the camera). With the exception of the 2017 timestamps, the dates for the camera photos were reliable, but the time-of-day portion of the timestamp always had to be adjusted as I worked to integrate the camera photos with the iPhone photos.
To locate the timestamp for each image on an iMac, I viewed each photo in Preview. Under Tools, I selected Show Inspector and the Exif tab to view the Date Time Digitized and Date Time Original. A previous post discusses Photo date fields (origination, creation, modification) and why the dates that appear in Finder are not the ones you want to rely on for photo organizing.
Converting HEIC to JPG
Some of the images were in HEIC format, others were JPG. My sister and I had agreed the photo book would be designed using Shutterfly, so all of the images had to be converted to JPG (Shutterfly does not accept other file formats). Fortunately, I had done batch conversions for a family wedding in late 2019, so I applied my saved Quick Action to convert all of the HEIC images.
My sister had wisely saved a small number of memorabilia items to be scanned and included in the photo book as appropriate. Readers familiar with Shutterfly will know about Stickers and Backgrounds, which are particular to each photo book Style. Scanning memorabilia is a way to personalize photo book pages with unique backgrounds and stickers; some examples follow.
Scanned memorabilia becomes a “personalized sticker”
This page includes Shutterfly Stickers and a “personalized sticker.” See below for information on the street map as a background.
Scanned maps as page backgrounds and images
The scanned street map of Vienna, Austria (above) served as a page background, as did a map that includes the Island of Šolta (below).
Incorporating hotel key cards
The key card image of this hotel turned out to be the only picture the group had of it (no one had remembered to take a photo).
Postcards: “Personalized sticker” and Shutterfly Sticker
Fortunately, the design of the scanned postcard was a good match for the Shutterfly book style that my sister selected.
Memorabilia I was unable to use
Not every memorabilia item scanned well. One hotel had a maroon business card with gold lettering. I previewed the scanned image, realized it wasn’t appealing, and didn’t even bother to scan it.
I wish it was possible to upload PNG files to Shutterfly – a way to truly create our own stickers. I was happy with the scanned version of this round paper coaster from a hotel, which Preview allowed me to crop as a circle and save as a PNG file. But, I could not upload it to Shutterfly (remember, only JPG files can be uploaded). A picture of the same item with 90-degree corners was not useful. I ended up not including the coaster in the book.
Itinerary provides guidance
A group of five individuals traveled to Eastern Europe; the trip was coordinated for them by an Ohio-based travel company. A seven-page itinerary (not pictured) was provided for my reference; it was invaluable in determining what section of the trip the various memorabilia items aligned with. The abbreviated version of the itinerary that appears in the photo book (below) shows that for multiple locations, there were day trips to nearby sites.
By comparing photo timestamps to the itinerary, I was able to determine that photos taken on the same date were actually from three different locations (the GPS tab can also assist, if populated with data):
There were only a few photos from Medjugorje, so instead of devoting an entire photo book page to this location, I used Ribbon Embellishments in Shutterfly to create a different background within a page for two pictures. The Medjugorje photos were taken on the same day as other images on this photo book page, but at a different time.
Allocation of pages in the book
To allocate pages within the photo book, I used the same method described in an previous post. One difference this time around was that I did not select the front and back cover photos in advance. I was not on the trip, so I decided the best approach was to “live” it and create the entire book first; I expected this would enable me to identify which photos best captured the trip as experienced by the travelers. For this particular book, that approach worked well (the feature photo for this post was the book’s front cover photo).
This Excel spreadsheet captures my approach to determining how many pages to devote to each segment of the trip.
Shutterfly does offer foreign characters (e.g., umlaut) in some instances. I followed these instructions on how to insert them. Inserting an umlaut on the Schönbrunn Palace page was not a problem, but I was unable to insert a caron for either Šolta or Šibenik (I received the error, “Invalid characters removed”). I tried changing the font within the photo book style, but that did not prevent the error. I got a bit creative on one page and placed the olive from an olive branch Shutterfly Sticker above the S to mimic the caron.
I had an unexpected benefit from working on this photo book: an introduction to Viennese coffee. It was referenced on the trip itinerary, and I wanted to give it a try. I made ours with Nespresso Lungo pods (no particular flavor), fresh whipped cream (whipped it myself), and Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate syrup. It has become our standard late-morning treat while staying at home for COVID-19 social distancing.
Shutterfly photo book style: Vintage Travel. Size: 12 x 12.
Photo credits: Susan D. DiGiacomo and Eugene F. Pushic
I suspected that the Auraria Campus in Denver would be an easy place to maintain six feet of separation from others, and it was. A Saturday afternoon walk on March 21 was the first time I felt something amiss. There has continued to be a lot of activity outside of my home every day for the past week, so this walk was my first encounter with the emptiness wrought by COVID-19.
A surprise on the way to campus
I walked the Cherry Creek Trail to Speer Boulevard to access the Campus. Off of Speer, I happened upon a connection to Youngstown, Ohio — my hometown. Denver’s 14th Street Viaduct was built in 1896 and torn down in 1988. The Youngstown Bridge Company of Youngstown, Ohio, was awarded the contract for the superstructure of the 1,467-long trestle. The viaduct is long gone, but pieces of it remain.
I had never heard of the Youngstown Bridge Company. I found a six-minute video with some of the Company’s projects.
It turns out that the Mill Creek Park Suspension Bridge in Youngstown, Ohio, was built by this company. I recalled taking this photo of my oldest sister in front of the Suspension Bridge in 2011.
This Bridgehunter link shows that most of the Youngstown Bridge Company bridges have been replaced, but some are still open to traffic, including the Suspension Bridge above.
Three water quotes
Once on the Auraria Campus, I came upon three water quotes. There was no water feature nearby, so I am not sure what inspired these quotes to be placed in a Campus walkway. Both Cherry Creek and the South Platte River were flowing rapidly this week; I have stopped multiple times just to enjoy the flow of water, so the quotes seemed especially relevant to me.
Ease of maintaining six feet
I had never been on the Campus before, so I am not sure how populated it would normally have been on a Saturday afternoon. Knowing it is shut down due to COVID-19 made it seem more desolate.
There are multiple churches incorporated into the Campus; I saw two of them today. The Emmanuel Gallery began as an Episcopalian Chapel in 1876. For the first half of the 20th Century, it served as a synagogue. It is Denver’s oldest standing church structure. St. Cajetan’s Church was built in 1925 and served the area’s Spanish-speaking community until 1973.
Signs of the times
As I began to head back across campus, I was pleased to see spring bulbs in bloom; these crocuses and daffodils are the first I have observed in Denver. I noticed a single disinfectant wipe nestled among the bulbs and realized that the COVID-19 pandemic leaves a mark here too. A little further on, crossing Speer Boulevard, I noticed a pair of blue nitrile gloves.
I selected the Auraria Campus to achieve six feet of separation; my walk exceeded expectations in that regard. I anticipated I would feel safe. Instead, the outing left me feeling disturbed and saddened despite the notes of spring all around. As I finish writing this post, Denver has announced stay-at-home orders that will go into effect on Tuesday, March 24.
I occasionally have a need to convert my iPhone HEIC images to JPEG. Previously, I only needed to convert a couple of images at a time. I accomplished that through Preview on my iMac, one image at a time. After attending a winter wedding, I wanted to convert 54 images from HEIC to JPEG. I came across a How-To Geek article, explaining how to use Automator on my iMac for this task; I had results for my 54 images in less than a minute.
The need identified
The newlyweds set up a share site and asked various attendees to upload their photos to the site so that the couple would have access to them in one location. After culling my images from two events, I was ready to upload them…or so I thought.
The site selected by the couple didn’t support HEIC format. My largest group of images was 54, and I didn’t want to use my Preview approach to save each image as a JPEG. A quick search yielded this How-To Geek approach using the Automator application on my iMac.
It took me five minutes to read the article, open Automator, build the Quick Action as described, and achieve my desired result.
Modifying the Quick Action
As the How-To Geek article mentions, a Quick Action can be saved and reused. The one change I needed to make was to change the To: folder to a generic “HEIC to JPEG” folder on my desktop so that when I ran the Action next time, the resulting JPEG images would be placed in a generic folder. (I wouldn’t always want my JPEG images in the Alex-Ally wedding folder.)
First I created the “HEIC to JPEG” folder on my Desktop. Then, I edited the Quick Action:
I will make it a practice to immediately move, upload, or otherwise act on the images in this folder and then promptly delete them from the folder so that it is always empty, ready for the next conversion.
Finding a simple solution that was quick to implement and can easily be used again (I just need to remember to right-click) gave me the same sense of relief felt by these two ladies at the conclusion of the reception.
This fall marks three years of Photo Refuge LLC. It was almost one year ago that I announced the evolution from hands-on digitization to advising and coaching. At that time, I did not know that a move from Virginia to Colorado was in my future. My husband and I will be relocating to Denver in September 2019. We are attracted by the proximity (a day’s drive) to multiple national parks, monuments, and forests. We desire a city that is more walkable and bikeable, and while Colorado has its share of dry summer heat, we won’t miss Virginia’s humidity.
I have enjoyed working with each of my clients and the variety of projects presented over the past three years, and I have come to appreciate how very time consuming photo organizing projects can be. A new city will yield a plethora of things to explore, so I have decided to wrap up photo organizing work with clients.
I have not had as much time as I would like to work on digitization of my own family materials, but I hope that will change when we relocate. I do plan to maintain a Photo Refuge site and write about my experience digitizing, categorizing, and presenting a collection of family memories. My sister has dubbed me the family historian, and it is time for me to live up to that designation. I also intend to maintain a presence on LinkedIn.
I am grateful to the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO) for training and sharing of best practices, to Richmond SCORE for business startup workshops and mentoring, and to all of the clients who entrusted their family memories to me (especially those who were first on board back in 2016). Establishing and working at Photo Refuge LLC enabled me to transition from a 20-year career of forecasting, project management, and strategic planning to this next phase of my life in DEN (this open-air Summer DEN at the airport was a welcome respite after a week of move planning).
I don’t know what Colorado has in store for me and Kevin, but we are both comfortable with the uncertainty. The move is exciting, even with all of the unknowns. RVA has been good to us, and we will cherish the memories created there (many in photo form). The move to CO is a deliberate decision, and that is what energizes us the most — building something new together and selecting a destination that aligns with the mutual interests we have developed after more than two decades together.
It’s been almost five months since my father passed away in November 2018. Much of the paperwork and immediate action items are behind us. This month, we acknowledged what would have been his 93rd birthday. Coincidentally, I had recently turned my attention to his World War II memorabilia, which we set aside as we tackled more pressing matters in the months immediately following his death. There are three daughters, and I volunteered to research what the various badges, ribbons, lapel pins, etc. represented. The day before his birthday, I mailed my findings to my two sisters.
We agreed it would be difficult deciding what to do with these items without actually understanding the significance of each one. That’s where photographs and a three-page itinerary of his travels in WWII came to our assistance. When did he earn each of these items? For what reason? How were they worn? Of course, online research was also a big help. Our father was in the U.S. Army, and I learned about insignia for infantry divisions and regiments, the Third United States Army, overseas service (“Hershey”) bars, Chevrons, and items worn on the home front.
As I reviewed our father’s documentation, “My United States Army Career,” I calculated his age when he went through basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, at the end of 1944: he was 18 1/2. By the time he was 20 1/2, he was home. I remember him saying his basic training was accelerated due to the Battle of the Bulge, which occurred as his training was wrapping up. I know his parents visited him at Fort McClellan (they would have traveled from Ohio), but his itinerary also indicates he was home (due to a delay) for about five days in January 1945, before sailing for Scotland. I am certain the images below were taken during one of those two timeframes. From these formal pictures, I know which lapel pins were issued to him before he departed for Europe. I know that he had already earned the Sharpshooter Qualification Badge on his left breast (the clasps read: Sharpshooter, Rifle, Carbine). The shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI) on his left shoulder (red, yellow, blue) is for the Replacement and School Command.
Our father was made Private First Class (PFC) in April 1945. In fall 1945, he was assigned to a Quartermaster truck company in Germany. He made Corporal in January 1946. I can’t make out his enlisted rank insignia in these photos, but it looks to me like he is still a PFC (a single Chevron on his arm). He has also acquired some medal ribbons, on his left breast. Two of his ribbons were the World War II Victory Medal and the Army of Occupation Medal. Our father’s itinerary noted the end of the war in Germany (May 9) and in the Pacific (September 2); since these photos include the medal ribbons, they were probably taken in the second half of 1945.
When someone saw the below image of my father, he expected it was a basic training (“boot camp”) photograph. After conducting my memorabilia research and comparing this image with other Army photos, I now know he was homeward bound. He is wearing his Combat Infantry Badge on his left breast, which his itinerary states was earned in April 1945. But, he is also wearing Sergeant insignia on his right shoulder (earned February 1946). I believe his Ozark insignia (102nd Infantry Division, assigned March 1945) is barely visible on his right shoulder, above the Sergeant Chevrons.
The most helpful photo in understanding how memorabilia were worn is this image with three individuals (my father in the center). My father has the “A” insignia of the Third United States Army on his left shoulder (assigned July 1945), above his Sergeant insignia (three Chevrons). His left wrist has two overseas (“Hershey”) bars; he ultimately earned three of them. His lapel pins read “Up Front,” the distinctive unit insignia for the 405th Infantry Regiment to which he was assigned in March 1945. The medal ribbons are more clear in this image, but without color, it is still hard to determine exactly which ribbons these are (he ultimately earned three). The gentlemen on his right and left both have 26th Infantry Regiment insignia (“Blue Spaders”) on their caps (my father was transferred to that regiment in May 1946). His itinerary notes he headed home at the end of June, 1946.
I was also touched by two different kinds of pins, worn on the home front during WWII. I expect these were worn by his parents. The one on the left is a Son in Service-Infantry lapel pin; the number of stars indicated how many sons were in service. My father was an only child. I remember commenting to my parents, “It must have been difficult for Dad’s parents to see him go off to war.” They immediately responded, “Everyone was sacrificing, that’s just the way it was.” Mutual sacrifice was accepted by all and expected by all. The pin on the right has a single Chevron symbol under USA, so I expect his parents acquired it sometime after he was made Private First Class in April 1945.
There are still some questions that the photographs and the itinerary don’t answer (left to right, below): When did he receive his Good Conduct Award? When did he earn the Marksman Qualification Badge (with five clasps)? Was he ever affiliated with the 406th Infantry Regiment (he had one of the lapel pins)? What happened to the SSI for the Replacement and School Command (referenced earlier)?
I am at peace with not knowing the answers to all of these questions. The documentation he left behind paints a mostly complete picture, so I am content. I am grateful for this glimpse into his distant past – the young man he was before marriage and fatherhood. After returning home in 1946, he attended college, where he met our mother (they married in 1949); he always said that the G.I. Bill was critical to his education. He never would have considered college due to the cost; the G.I. Bill made college feasible for him and many others.
I have scanned and photographed each of the memorabilia items; the photos from this timeframe are partially digitized. I am envisioning a photo book that pulls together his itinerary, images of the memorabilia, and the photos from that time period. Perhaps the story can finally be recorded, with some degree of completeness, in one location.
If you have a family story with bits and pieces in various locations and formats, pause and consider all of the materials available to you as you work to understand the context of memorabilia and photos – different kinds of items may work together to complete much of the puzzle.
For our family, the three-page itinerary of his U.S. Army career, typed by our father in the 1940s, was in a three-ring notebook of unrelated material. It was part of the story, but separate from everything else. The pictures were in a photo album; unfortunately, they were glued in place, so any helpful information on the back is no longer accessible to us (there are some cryptic notes in the album). The medals, badges, lapel pins, etc. had been framed years ago in a shadow box but had no identifying information. Online research was key for these items, as well as photos where he was wearing at least some of them. If the itinerary told us when an item was earned or when he was reassigned, then we knew that a photo with an associated item must have been taken after the date from the itinerary. Slowly, a story of two formative years in this young man’s life has emerged. Yes, there are a few unknowns, but the story is sufficiently complete for my satisfaction. I’m just going to treasure it.
The transfer of 21 Hi8 tapes to a digital format took 28 hours; splitting the resulting files into 452 edited movies required months of detail work. Is it worth it? I believe so, since the end result is the way we store and consume videos today: we don’t have a series of unrelated events in a single file that is one or two hours long; rather, we have a number of separate video files that we can view individually or combine in a creative way if we choose. Fortunately, the way we consume video in the second decade of the twenty-first century provides us with much more control than was afforded us in decades past. It is simply more practical to share clips from old tapes than it is to share a digital file of the entire tape.
In a previous post, I discussed the benefits of breaking videos that are hours long into individual clips. I still believe that a first step should be to capture the videos in their entirety, if your only copies are on tape. Tape degrades over time, so preserving your memories in a digital format is something you should tackle immediately. The upper end of the life span for tape is 20 years. Some of the tapes I recently worked with were older than that (1990 – 2011), and they were in fine shape, but yours may not be. Don’t tempt fate if the only copy you have is still on tape.
Transferring using Vidbox
I discovered the Vidbox device a few years ago. I have used it with a VCR and with two different camcorders, with S-Video, RCA cables, and camera-specific cables. I did experience problems with a continuous feed when using the S-Video, which I solved by avoiding all USB hubs and power strips and disconnecting unnecessary devices. Power was not an issue when using just camera-specific or RCA cables.
There are demonstrations of Vidbox available, and all were positive; I can add my experience to that list. I have now transferred over 30 tapes with the device. It connects to your computer via USB and then to either a VCR or a camcorder using the appropriate cables. The instructions on screen are clear, and if you encounter issues (as I did with the S-Video), then Vidbox support is available by phone.
Another option is to have the tapes transferred by a local camera shop, a photo organizer, or a national company. If you use one of these approaches, be clear regarding what file format will be delivered to you, whether you will be able to edit the files, and what media will be used (USB, EHD, DVD, etc.) for delivery.
The client did not know how much footage was on the 21 tapes. As shown in the chart below, eight tapes had about two hours of material, nine had about one hour, and the remainder had a half hour or less. The total number of hours for all tapes was just under 28.
Creating and editing clips
I used iMovie 10.1.9 to separate hours-long video into separate clips. Consider a hypothetical one-hour tape that includes Christmas, an indoor birthday, and swimming at an outdoor pool. I begin by selecting all of the Christmas footage and copying it into the iMovie project pane. Then I watch the footage and observe breaks in the filming. I separate the footage and add transitions for each of these breaks (Cross Dissolve is my favorite transition). The Christmas movie might end up having four different clips (opening presents, cooking in the kitchen, eating dessert, playing with toys), with transitions between them. The indoor birthday movie might have ten different clips. The outdoor pool movie might have just a single clip.
Auto color balance
A number of the clips benefitted from auto color balance, which was part of my base rate. Examples of video that improved after auto color balance included: indoor basketball games (above), some outdoor swim pool shots, and events in the kitchen. Generally speaking, outdoor shots with grass did not improve with auto color balance (e.g., soccer games, Easter egg hunts). I found that whether auto color balance would improve a clip or not depended on the direction of the light source relative to the camera, use of a camera light while filming, and the source of light being natural or artificial.
Auto color balance improved this footage from a preschool pumpkin-carving video; the yellow tint was removed.
It also improved this footage of father and child at an outdoor swim pool by removing the unnatural shade of blue.
This footage from a neighborhood Halloween parade did not benefit from auto color balance, since it was filmed outside.
I always apply auto color balance to the individual clips within a project. As the videographer was shooting and possibly changing position, the light may have shifted. While one clip benefits from adjustment, a different clip may actually look worse. Although it can be tedious to apply to each clip and view the impact, I highly recommend it; one size does not fit all.
Manual color correction options (versus auto) are available in iMovie, but that level of adjustment was not within the scope of this particular project.
Determining dates of clips
If cases and/or tapes are dated
For this collection of 21 tapes, some cases were dated with years and a brief description of contents (eight cases were not labeled at all):
Beginning 10/7/93 End Myrtle B. 1994
The tapes themselves were not labeled, so I had to be aware that if a tape had been placed into the wrong case, then the case label might not be appropriate for the tape inside of it. I made a note of each case label as I began to work on that particular tape, as it was my first indication of what might be on the associated tape.
If the video itself is dated
The case labels were a starting point. Dates recorded using the camcorder proved to be very reliable, when they were available. The camcorder manual explained how to view the date while playing the tape (it could be toggled on and off). While capturing the footage using Vidbox, I made sure to toggle the date and timestamp off. While editing the clips, I would replay the tape in the camcorder, toggle the date and timestamp on, and use it to date the clips. The camcorder date and timestamp were not always available, even on a single tape (i.e., it would be available for some footage but not for all footage). I utilized it whenever I could.
If neither of the above are available or reliable
There is always a bit of detective work associated with dating of tapes and clips. The client provided me with some key dates (anniversary, birthdays, baptism, etc.) If you cannot determine the date for a particular event, continue working with other material that follows on the same tape. If you ultimately determine the date of events before and after an event in question, the two known dates can at least sandwich the unknown one. In many cases, I ended up labeling with seasons if months could not be determined. There is a caveat to this approach, however. In a few instances, I could tell that an event was out of order on the tape. Perhaps something was accidentally recorded over (someone grabbed the wrong tape), or perhaps the intent was to record over something that was no longer needed. You cannot always rely on the order of items on the tapes themselves. Consider the age of individuals in the footage and the season to help you determine if something is out of order or not.
Information can also be gathered from the video and/or audio. This does require taking time to watch and listen to the recording so that you can identify any clues. Below are a few examples of dating clips using clues within the audio and video:
July 4, 1990: reference to July 4 (Independence Day) in the audio, and I was confident of the year.
Sunday, September 2, 1990: audio reference to Sunday night; this clip followed Labor Day weekend clips (known from audio). I was confident that the year was 1990, so I could determine the dates of Labor Day weekend that year.
October 20,1990; Notre Dame score was 29 to 20 (on audio); they played Miami on that date with that score. This date also matches the newspaper headline in the video – Oakland As and Cincinnati Reds in World Series (those dates were October 16-20, 1990).
Friday, April 1, 1994: I was confident of the year, and there was mention of it being Good Friday on the audio.
January 7, 1996: date was available from local newspaper coverage of a blizzard on this date; it was revisited by the newspaper 20 years later in 2016.
Most of the examples above were audio clues (except for the newspaper headline). An example of a video clue was this brochure from a piano recital (a bit hard to read: June 4, 2000).
Both children in the family participated in springboard diving during the summer months. I was unfamiliar with this sport and the associated terminology, which made dividing the clips and naming the movies challenging. I didn’t know how many dives were performed at a particular meet, whether the kids alternated or not, and what “DD” meant (announced as each diver stepped onto the board).
I learned to use background imagery to help determine if diving clips had been filmed on the same day or not. The umbrellas at the tables, where the dives were positioned relative to other structures (buildings), and the attire of spectators and coaches all helped me to determine if what I was viewing was a different dive meet than prior footage.
The site USAdiver.com had a table that helped me decipher the terminology used when the divers were announced. Each dive had a number (101), a letter (A, B, C), a description (back dive straight), and a degree of difficulty (DD = 1.7). Having access to this information enabled me to label the movies with more accuracy and to add appropriate titles.
I used an iMac for this project, so Vidbox Video Conversion for Mac provided me with .MOV files. After creating and editing the clips in iMovie, I researched export options. I ultimately chose Quality: ProRes. The higher the quality and resolution, the larger the file size. There is debate as to whether ProRes is “overkill” for video shot in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the goal here was to enable preservation of these videos/clips for the long term (i.e., decades). There is general agreement that ProRes is a format that is likely to enable future editing (the larger file size means there is a lot of data retained) and easier migration to new file formats when the time arises. Since ProRes files are large, individual movies can always be further compressed if smaller files are needed in specific circumstances.
Vimeo’s blog post was helpful as I considered archival needs, and this Video Compression Guide points out that further compression is always possible if you retain a higher quality master version.
Don’t forget the Memory Stick
This particular camcorder had a Sony Memory Stick. It was similar to an SD card, but longer. I set it aside while I focused on the tapes. Fortunately, I made a note to remember to check it before wrapping up the project. I truly did not expect to find any material on it.
The camcorder manual, which the client still had, provided information on how to view the Memory Stick contents using the camcorder. About 20 images were templates of some sort, but then still images began to appear. There were ultimately 33 of them. I wasn’t sure if the client would want to save these images or not, or what quality they would be (the manual specified they were JPG, but not what resolution). I knew she had invested in a good camera and had used it at the same events where the camcorder was present. I wondered if these still images might already be reflected in her print or digital photo collection. I used my iPhone to film the images as they played on the camcorder. I shared the resulting video with the client, and she confirmed that she wanted to retain the still images.
I found out the Sony Memory Stick was proprietary technology. Sony customer service was helpful and directed me to Best Buy for a device that could read a Memory Stick. There were a couple of devices with widely varying price points. The less expensive one was out of stock, but I found a comparable device elsewhere. The client was agreeable to spending the $24 needed for the device to access the Memory Stick, so those 33 images were copied to a CD and an EHD for her use.
I give credit to the parents, the videographers in this family. They still had the camcorder, cords, and manual. The tapes were in good condition, with some labeling. Often, audio had been used to record the relevance of the event being filmed. There was not a lot of wasted tape between events filmed. Occasionally, the camera had been left running, capturing grass, the lens cap, or a counter – but there was only a handful of situations like that. Overall, the video was easy to work with and decipher.
I shared a selected number of movies with the client via Vimeo as I progressed through the project, so I received some early reactions to the work product. I am anxious to hear from the family as to which events surprised and moved them the most, upon viewing all of them for the first time in a decade or more.
“I love these!!! Thank you SO much! I am so grateful that we are preserving these diving memories. The middle school birthday party is HILARIOUS…and slightly painful to watch, haha. I was, in fact, a teenager once.…”
~Maria M. in Richmond, VA (July 17, 2017)
“I was able to view the videos and was delighted with them. Thanks so much for doing such outstanding work!”
Rebecca M. in Richmond, VA (May 1, 2018)
ALL IMAGES ARE USED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE CLIENT.
My mother passed away almost one year ago, on November 13, 2017.She lived with Alzheimer’s disease for about 15 years.I am the only sibling who lives out of town, nine hours away.I was grateful when my two sisters and father were agreeable to me contributing to her memorial service and reception by preparing a slideshow and several photo collages of her life.As a photo organizer, this participation enabled me to utilize that passion.The items I prepared were easily transported by car when we made the journey north for her service and reception.
Depending on the challenges encountered, digital photo organizing may involve the evaluation of thousands of photos for a variety of reasons. There are apps and software to assist with various parts of the process, enabling you to navigate around the roadblocks you will face. Preserve the original file structure for reference, and then apply a systematic process to a copy of the original files.