Prairie Settlement

Digital Capture

The images in this collection were scanned at the Digital Imaging Laboratory, housed in the Nebraska State Historical Society's Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center, which was constructed in 1995.

Image Capture for the Butcher Photograph Collection

Solomon Butcher photographed homesteaders in the Nebraska Sand Hills using full plates, which are six by eight inch glass plate negatives. Although he was an excellent photographer in the sense that he had a tremendous eye for composition and capturing the essence of the homesteading experience, he was less than a master craftsman. The quality of his plates range from very overexposed and dark to very underexposed and light so that there is barely any information captured on the plate at all. Fortunately, digital technology has advanced to a point where the images could be captured electronically with little difficulty.

Scanning from the original in-camera negatives enabled us to capture electronically what Butcher captured at the time of exposure. Digital capture from the original negatives rather than from photographic prints allows much more detail to be revealed, especially in the shadow areas. A black and white photographic print contains many shades of gray, from the deepest black in shadow areas to the whitest white in the highlights of the image. In a traditional darkroom, a printer must "pull-in" the highlights by printing them darker in order to maintain detail. Shadow areas are, by definition, dark and often hold little detail on a print. The advantage of scanning the negatives allows for manipulation of shadow areas in the image to uncover details not retrievable from prints.

Digital imaging technology allows us to provide an accurate representation of glass plate negatives. Such negatives have a tremendously long tonal range. To illustrate, assume that a glass plate has 250 different shades of gray. Today's photographic papers, however, may have only 175 or 200 shades. Such papers make it practically impossible to accurately print a glass plate negative. The resulting prints do not hold all of the information that appears in the negative. Advances in scanning technology during the last several years have allowed for capturing increasingly higher resolution and density range. More information can be pulled from the original object during the scanning process than ever before. And more information in the electronic file leads to a better understanding of the original photograph.

The Butcher plates were captured without cropping. Everything on the negative is available on the master file. The JPEG files were manipulated for use on the web. In most cases the manipulation consisted of increasing the contrast. Every computer monitor displays differently, and so the images may look slightly different on different monitors. Please feel free to download the higher resolution files and look into the shadows of the doorways and windows. The shadows contain stories never before available to researchers.

Revealing Hidden Details

See the enlargements (at right) of the doorway in this photograph.

Image: caption
Starting a new Family northwest of West Union, Nebraska. 1886

bedstead just visible in dark doorway manipulated image shows bedstead with quilt clealy through doorway

Image Capture for the Oblinger Family Letters

Original manuscript materials from the Uriah Oblinger Collection were also scanned. This material consisted primarily of letters written on various types of paper, envelopes, and a large family chart create by Uriah Oblinger. Although we created SGML tagged text for researchers, we wanted researchers to have an opportunity to read from the original letters. We generated a digital image for each page of the letters and did only enough manipulation to make them legible for web-viewing. In some cases, the amount of manipulation required extreme darkening of the paper in order to pick up the light pencil or ink. Manipulation of this kind makes the letter pages look quite different than the originals, but provides for much more clarity in the text.

In some cases, as with the Oblinger family chart and three cased photographs of Oblinger family members, we used a digital camera for capture. The family chart is too large to fit on the scanner bed, and the depth of field of the scanner lens is too short to do a good job of capturing cased photographs.

Equipment and Specifications

Scitex EverSmart Pro flatbed scanner.

Phase One FX Digital scanback camera

Macintosh G3 computers with 384Mbytes RAM and 8 gigabyte hard drives
Local Area Network with 18 gigabytes of temporary storage space

Smart and Friendly CD-ROM recorders

Scanning Specifications:
Butcher Photographs 800 pixels/dots per inch
Uncompressed TIFF for master files
JPEG derivatives for web delivery

Oblinger Letters 800 pixels/dots per inch
Uncompressed TIFF for master files
JPEG derivatives for web delivery

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