Learning to Document Objects

An important first step in this process of gathering stories and archiving images of documents was learning how to photograph them. We started this stage back in Williamsburg in March.

Professor Cate-Arries set up several tech lessons for Kate and me with Mike Blum, who works with the Modern Languages department helping with all their technology needs. Photography was our longest lesson and very important for this particular aspect of the research because we need to be able to document the objects that we find and that people show to us in such a way that keeps them meaningful.

As part of explaining the process of research I want to start out by explaining a little of what we learned about photography.

We want, first and foremost, photos that tell a story. So while photographing it is important to keep in mind what story you want to tell and how the picture you are taking helps you tell this story. For example, an object of remembrance may be held in the caring hands of the grandchild of a murdered Republican to whom it belonged, or a mass burial site may be framed in such a way that juxtaposes its tragedy against the beautiful landscape in which it was set. Take several photos and see what story each tells.

The same strategies apply for editing the pictures as well. If something made it into the frame that detracts from the story—crop it out. Tilt the picture if things are not straight—or if you want them to not be straight because it is telling a story that is exciting or off-balance! When photographing and cropping, it is useful to keep in mind the rule of thirds. Think of a portrait where the person is positioned exactly in the middle of the frame. What comes to mind for me is a passport photo…not at all lively or interesting.

Rule of Thirds







So if you try to imagine the frame divided into thirds vertically and horizontally, you can orient important objects and people around the intersections to create a more interesting image.

While my research project is largely focused on images, this is certainly not the only application. Images can tell stories by themselves or in sequence, but most especially they can help you tell your story. Whatever research you are doing, images can help relay the importance, can help illustrate a point, can help the text of your story come alive.

Happy photographing!