How to digitise slides. Recommendations and working lists for the reproduction of a very special artefact

Checking lists to organise the internal workflow

Checking lists help to control whether all the important aspects of a digitising project have been thought of. The following lists are not exhaustive. They concern the collection to be photographed, the instruments used, the internal communication, the digitising order, the preparation for the taking of reproductions and procedures to be followed etc.


In the part on scanners some points have been already discussed which will be not repeated here. Please look in the section “Checking lists to organise the internal workflow, and to outsource the work” under “A. Checking lists to prepare and organise the workflow  the following sub-sections: “1. Check of what is in the collection to be scanned” and “2. Check the physical state of the object” below. If the work is outsourced, see also “D. What to check when the scanning is done by a professional company.”


  1. Checking lists to prepare and organise the workflow

When employing a still- or video-camera, some aspects of the workflow can differ from the steps used in scanning slides.


  1. Check what has to be photographed how:

1.1 Is the object translucent (thus ideal for reproduction with transmissive light) or opaque (thus better captured with the help of reflective light)? Is the object’s surface heterogeneous (takes of both sides, takes from different camera angles to show structures) or homogeneous (one take)?

1.2 Is the slide flat or voluminous (three-dimensional)? Can all information desired be retrieved with the standard camera position in the camera-stand? Or does the object need additional effects in a mise-en-scene (e.g. special lightning to enhance certain qualities, “make up” through the addition of a special back-ground)?

1.3. Has the slide series really be photographed? Or is it better to put it on a scanner as its qualities can also be reproduced by less time-consuming mass scanning?

(Please also have a look into the section “Check what has to be scanned how” below as some of the questions for the scanner operator may be interesting for the photographer, too.)


  1. Check the parameters to be used for (different parts of) the collection:

2.1 what will / should be done with the photo files? What should be the basic settings for the photo camera to achieve this?

2.2 Do different parts of the slide collection need special settings? Which ones could these be? And how time-consuming will this be their photographing (e.g. mise-en-scene with light, back-ground, different camera angles, the reproduction of effects of moving slides with the video function or “chrono-photography” / stop motion-effect?

2.3 What consequences will this have for the work-flow (e.g. more time, staff, equipment etc. thus higher costs per reproduction)?

2.4 Will the equipment currently at the disposal of the archive fulfil all technical necessities? And will the digital result be of high enough quality to support both – the whole post production work and all the ways to give access to the reproduction?


Practical hints given by expertsLinda Serenson Colet (2000) who wrote the first guide titled “Planning an Imagining Project” of the series on Quality in Visual Resource Imaging suggests testing and evaluating the working situation when the parameters for image capture and editing have been agreed on: “[…] it is necessary to determine whether the equipment under consideration is capable of satisfying the specifications. In turn, one can use digital equipment to evaluate the appropriateness of the capture specifications. This can be achieved by testing the digital equipment and testing the images for their intended uses before the project goes live. This evaluative phase can also be used to assess quality-control standards and workflow.” And she recommends: “[…] one should expect to continue going through iterative processes of testing and refinement even after the project has moved beyond the evaluative phase.”   (


  1. Check the communication system:

3.1 Is everybody involved in the workflow informed about her/his function to assure a continuous delivery under secure conditions (no rushing, enough time for collecting, transport, acclimatisation, administration etc.)?

3.2 Are all needs of the involved departments are taken note of, discussed and agreed on? What information gaps have to be filled before the procedure can start?


  1. Check the order of the photographing (work-flow):

4.1 How many slides could be digitised in a day? If more has to be taken out of the vault to avoid long transport: what would be convenient “portions” for a shooting over several days?

4.2. Which part of the collection should be done first, which second etc.? Is there any reason to deal with one part first?

4.3 How large is the working space? How many slides can be kept there to take them all together “in a portion” to leave the settings of the camera and the conditions of the camera-stand unchanged for a certain time? Can the slides be kept there for a period of time or does the photography have to be done in a limited amount of time as other archive departments need the repro-equipment?

4.4. Does the workstation and digital asset management have enough free memory to receive the scans? For how long will their digital storage space be sufficient?

4.5. Will the workstation be needed for more than just quality checking (once the photographing is done)? Is in-house post production intended? Right away after having digitised the slides, or later?

4.6. Which staff members will be involved in the whole process besides the photographer: e.g. to fetch and bring back the slides (storage department), to clean them (restoration department), to re-name the files (documentation department), ingest them in the media asset management (IT department) etc.

4.7 What would be the fastest / safest / simplest / cheapest way to organise the reproduction process: e.g. steps needed for a smooth work-flow, analysis of potential critical moments, planning of convenient moments during the next 12 months to do the scanning etc.


Practical hints given by researchersThe researchers responsible for the Benchmarking Art Images Interchange Cycles. Final Report made some suggestions for the photographic workflow. The workflow’s aesthetical consistency can be secured by implementing a PCS (“Profile Connection Space”) into the different steps of the production process which the Benchmarking group (Frey 2011, p. 15-16) describes as follows: “1. image capture” with e.g. white balance and lightning control for the still-camera, “2. proofing and image file preparation” with e.g. monitor calibration, “3. image delivery” and “4. image archiving”. Everybody involved in one of these steps has to respect the protocol worked out by the institution. The latter has to make sure that each operator evaluates the quality of the digital reproduction of a scan under identical viewing conditions.


  1. Checking list to prepare the photography-taking area
  2. Is there enough space for the photographer to move easily around the camera-stand without the risk of damaging objects? Are all potential tripping hazards eliminated to avoid accidents?
  3. Is there enough space to set shelves / tables to keep separate the slides to be done and those that have been done already (to avoid double work by mistake)? Where can the slides be put to acclimatise properly before being photographed?
  4. Are there enough light sources outside the camera-stand to make the working space bright enough: e.g. to control the order of the delivered slides, to take notes with the computer etc. Can all lamps be switched off easily when not used or if disturbing the photographer’s work?
  5. If mass photography is required: check the arrangements of the shelves / tables to avoid any unnecessary coming and going between them.
  6. If different photographers work on the same “portion”: make sure, in cooperation with the staff members and by strategic preparatory actions, that the communication between concerned parties is evident and no information can get lost.
  7. If the reproduction has to be interrupted temporarily: make sure that the interruption does not cause problems for the staff members or for the material, e.g. can the photographer leave her/his stuff in a box / drawer? Is there a procedure and a facility to protect the not yet scanned slides to avoid bring them back into (cold) storage?
  8. Can the windows of the room be made opaque to prevent unwanted light from interfering and eventually ruining the digital photograph?
  9. In case other people are working in the same room during the reproduction session: does the working area need special arrangements to keep any interference from external factors out? To what extent might the digitising process can disturb the colleagues not involved? What has to be done to help both sides to cope with each other’s activities?


  1. Checking list to prepare the photographing procedure
  2. Check that the photographic equipment are clean and programmed according to the standards set by the archive, and that the needed tools are ready and at hand.
  3. Make sure that the light pad is cleaned after each take as e.g. dust, dirt, loose colour particles, dirty finger prints, hair, fluff etc. lying on the glass plate will be reproduced in the image as part of the slide.
  4. Make sure that working rules given by the archive are respected before, during and after the procedure (e.g. that gloves are worn when handling slides).
  5. Make sure, by implementing the latest “Profile Connection Space” (PCS) for the whole workflow, that all the devices – camera, workstation, supplementary computer monitors, laptops etc. – use the same colour parameters.
  6. Make sure to calibrate the camera’s interface (before each working session) and the monitors used in the work-flow (daily).
  7. Make sure that workstation and digital asset management have enough space to receive the files, and that it will be so for the (whole) process.
  8. Do not forget to prepare the camera (clean front lens, enough space on the memory card for the day, transfer of yesterday ones to the computer to keep the day’s output in a common folder when saving them to the hard disk, etc.)
  9. When working with a light pad for back lighting, use a mask, made of flat mat black card board and leaving a hole in form of the slide pile to be digitised, to avoid unwanted light reflection by the pane which could also lead to erroneous information when the camera is set on automatic exposure. Make the hole slightly larger as this will allow to get an bright line around the slide’s edges. This allows to distinguish the characteristics of an unframed glass pane (e.g. polished, rawly cut) and the physical condition of the frame (e.g. paper frame incomplete, wooden frame with signs of use).


Practical hints given by photographersA website lists the following objects to be useful when shooting photographs: 1. tripod, 2. external flash, 3. flash diffuser, 4. rechargeable batteries, 5. battery charger, 6. gray card, 7. cleaning kit with lens cleaning pen system, high quality lens brush, air blower cleaner, 50 sheets lens tissue paper, handy empty spray bottle, three premium magic-fiber micro-fiber cleaning cloths; 8. a 30mm lens (for cropped sensor) or 50mm Lens (for full-frame sensor), 9. neutral density filters, 10. polarizing filters; 11. remote shutter release, 12. memory card, 13. photography bag; 14. bounce reflector, 15. flash light stand, 16. flash umbrella or softbox, 17. flash snoot, 18. camera strap [to counterbalance the camera’s weight and to protect the shoulder muscles], 19. specialized lenses. (