Behind the Lens

Imagine a beautifully engraved Victorian map painstakingly hand colored. Now imagine that map reduced to a tiny, grainy, poorly lit image. I strive to offer you high quality, large images for your viewing, downloading, and analysis if you wish. A reader recently suggested I share my photography process, so I am writing a meta post on my methodology.

Over the past two plus years I have grown my technique and equipment for imaging my maps. Early on I snapped a picture with my phone or tablet, map laying on the floor, usually with my shadow falling squarely on the map and in poor light to begin with. I have gone through a trial and error period to reach a fairly effective, efficient, and reliable system.

I have a copy stand that I built, but usually don’t use it due to set up and breakdown time. Instead, I typically use off the shelf equipment from Home Depot and Amazon, along with my Nexus 5X phone’s 12 MP camera.

Equipment

  • Four clamp on spotlights with daylight 5,000 k LED spotlight bulbs. (Cameras handle light from daylight bulbs better than that from incandescent bulbs.)
  • Two indoor extension cords.
  • Two long wooden paperweights, each about 12 inches.
  • My dining room table and two chairs.
  • My phone’s 12 MP rear facing camera.
Equipment used in photographing maps. (Photo: Own work.)
Equipment used in photographing maps. (Photo: Own work.)

Process

  • I wipe down and the dry dining room table.
  • I clamp the lights to chairs, two lights per chair, one chair on each side of the table.
  • I place the map on the table, handling it with washed hands and weighting the edges with the paperweights.
  • I plug in and turn on the lights, positioning the chairs and angling the lights so as to evenly illuminate the map.
  • I align the map in the phone’s screen so as to fill the screen, being mindful of keystoning and distortion, then snap a few pictures, as well as close-ups as needed.
  • I repeat for other maps, then break down the setup.
Manuscript map from 1824. (Photo: Own work.)
Manuscript map from 1824. (Photo: Own work.)

Post Processing

  • I upload my images to Google Photos.
  • I click the pencil edit icon to get to the very easy to use editing tools (I’m sure more experienced photographers are shocked and appalled right now!).
  • I rotate and crop the image as needed.
  • There are four basic parameters which Google Photos allows to be manipulated: Light, Color, Pop, and Vignette. I leave Color and Vignette at their defaults. I punch Light up to about ¾ (from ½) and Pop up to ¼ (from nothing).
  • I then save the image (the original remains in the background) and download to my computer.
Photograph post processing. Color and contrast adjusted using Google Photos. (Photo: Own work.)
Photograph post processing. Color and contrast adjusted using Google Photos. (Photo: Own work.)

That’s it! I have gorgeous, high-resolution, ready to upload images in about 20 minutes.

These techniques can be used for any type of antiquarian document, or for that matter, any document you wish to digitize, old or modern. I have on occasion experimented with the OCR capabilities of Google Docs. I once imaged a comparative with about 200 peaks; keying in the accompanying data table would have been excruciatingly tedious, so I used my phone to scan it to PDF. The result was good but not perfect.

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

2015 Year-end Wrap-up

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog as much as I’ve enjoyed penning it. With 2015 having come to a close, I am looking back on what this blog has accomplished: I’ve introduced the concept of a comparative, shown you some of what I believe are exemplary pieces, and drilled into a few of them to understand them better. I hope this endeavor had both entertained and educated. My goal, which I am renewing today, is to tell the captivating story of these beautiful Victorian pieces in a way that endears them to you as they are to me. My objectives for 2016 are to increase the frequency of my posts, to propose new ideas that further the understanding of comparatives, and to develop a virtual library of text and images. I want to leave you smarter for having read my blog and perhaps slightly intrigued. I’d like to revisit a few of my most favorite items from 2015–I hope you like them, too.

Mitchell’s 1860 The World in Hemispheres has an interesting mirror image of the Great Lakes and St Lawrence. Showing them in reverse order maintains their relative position to the mouth of the St Lawrence, shown flowing in the opposite direction, and allows the reader to find landmarks around the Great Lakes in their relative positions by flipping them

Great Lakes detail of Mitchell's 1860 'The World in Hemispheres' (own work).
Great Lakes detail of Mitchell’s 1860 ‘The World in Hemispheres’ (own work).
Reflected Great Lakes detail of Mitchell's 1860 'The World in Hemispheres' (own work).
Reflected Great Lakes detail of Mitchell’s 1860 ‘The World in Hemispheres’ (own work).

Gay-Lussac’s flight to 23,000 feet in a balloon was quite a feat, in 1804, no less. Humboldt’s ascent of Mt Chimborazo to over 19,000 feet was also a technical milestone, and the data he collected a boon to science. It’s no wonder that these achievement appeared on mountains comparatives, they signaled man’s conquest over nature. Thomson and Lizars show both of these on their 1817 A Comparative View.

Gay-Lussac's 1804 balloon flight as shown on Thomson and Lizars' A Comparative View.
Gay-Lussac’s 1804 balloon flight as shown on Thomson and Lizars’ A Comparative View. Own work.
Humboldt's ascent of Chimborazo as shown on Thomson & Lizars' A Comparative View. Own work.
Humboldt’s ascent of Chimborazo as shown on Thomson & Lizars’ A Comparative View. Own work.

As the discipline of comparatives expanded, cartographers developed innovative techniques to show the features. This yielded two results: comparatives did a better job of showing their features (more features, more information, more intuitive, etc), and it allows cartographers to differentiate their products in the market. Lucas’s Comparative Lengths of the Principal Rivers and A Map of the Principal Rivers by SDUK illustrate both the variety and innovation among comparatives. Where Lucas’s chart is very straightforward, showing river lengths by continent draining westwardly, the SDUK comparative shows both river direction and length emptying into a central water body.

Comparative Lengths of the Principal Rivers of the World by Lucas, 1823. (Own work)
Comparative Lengths of the Principal Rivers of the World by Lucas, 1823. (Own work)
Principal Rivers by SDUK, 1834. Rivers shown by direction of flow emptying into central sea. (Own work)
Principal Rivers by SDUK, 1834. Rivers shown by direction of flow emptying into central sea. (Own work)

 

 

 

The most data-rich of the comparatives I covered this year are Tallis’s Comparative View of the Principal Waterfalls, Islands, Lakes, Rivers and Mountains of the eastern and western hemispheres. They include each of the 5 classes of features shown in comparatives and also range from the early tableau style popular among the earliest comparatives (the waterfalls panels) and move to the more developed format of later comparatives (mountains & rivers).

Tallis's 1851 'Comparative View...Western Hemisphere'. Note the change in styles of the panels and the condor over the mountains. (Own work.)
Tallis’s 1851 ‘Comparative View…Western Hemisphere’. Note the change in styles of the panels and the condor over the mountains. (Own work.)
Tallis's 1851 'Comparative View...Eastern Hemisphere'. Note the change in styles of the panels and the balloons over the mountains. Everest had not yet been mapped. (Own work.)
Tallis’s 1851 ‘Comparative View…Eastern Hemisphere’. Note the change in styles of the panels and the balloons over the mountains. Everest had not yet been mapped. (Own work.)

Thank you for your readership in this blog’s first year; you have brought valuable insights through your comments and direct messages and I hope to continue the dialog in the new year. May 2016 bring you health and happiness.

© Peter Roehrich, 2015