I started photographing our squeezes at Digital Initiatives in May. For 10 – 15 hours a week between May and September, I got in a very comfortable routine; headphones in, lay squeeze down as crease-free as possible, and set the CaptureShop software to take a series of three bracketed photos. Easy-peasy, so long as I remembered to turn the light array on (I only forgot one time…maybe twice).
The editing process in Photoshop was similarly easy, especially as Chris Pugh and Leslie Field had worked out all the kinks the previous summer when they did a test collection. Basically, I have been paid to listen to podcasts and music all summer and hit buttons in a pre-arranged, pre-programmed order to produce consistent images. The most challenging part of my job most days was deciphering Malcolm McGregor’s handwritten notations on the squeezes, trying to match them up with the typed list we had, and occasionally just trying to decide what on earth that chicken scratched abbreviation actually said.
Then I went to Paris for a week and they upgraded the camera software in the lab. CaptureFlow is from the same developer as CaptureShop and much of the interface is the same, except for one feature. That bracketing feature that we’ve been talking about, the one that makes our squeeze photography possible because when we merge three different exposures it exaggerates the natural shadows produced by raking light? Yeah, that’s gone.
I have no idea how many hours Leslie, our photo guru at DI, spent testing various options in CaptureFlow trying to recreate the easily programmed bracketing of CaptureShop. I do know that we eventually found a work-around by mimicking the bracketing with Photoshop, which is actually the most beneficial outcome of this software upgrade; now we know how to take a single image of a squeeze and digitally create a composite bracketed image. This makes replicating our imaging process easier for any institution with a squeeze collection but without the multi-thousand dollar equipment of UBC’s Digitization Centre.
So here’s how the magic happens now: I take a single photograph of each squeeze, instead of the three I was taking previously. This is great because the TTI is in high demand at DI and decreasing the amount of time its in use for our project means other projects can move ahead. DI currently has at least 17 other projects on the books and organizing everyone’s time so there’s no equipment overlap is difficult.
I then create 2 copies of the image file and open all three in Photoshop’s Merge to HDR Pro function. From there, you get the option to change the exposure value of each image:
And once you’ve mimicked bracketing, the process is exactly the same as before – flip the squeeze so it can be read left to right, replace the black background with neutral grey, and its good to go.
I’m coming to the end of our squeeze collection, so I’ve started getting in to the weird, unlabelled material – like the squeeze of the honorific decree that we tweeted a couple weeks ago. Material like this will require more research and more reaching out to the epigraphic community to make sense of, but we’re very excited by the response and support we’ve gotten from epigraphists and digital epigraphy projects from around the world. We’ve also started reaching out to the undergraduate ancient Greek classes on campus, trying to inspire a new generation of epigraphists to take up the task, so stay tuned for translations and more detailed info on specific squeezes in the coming months. Digitizing is only the first phase of this project. Making information freely available is one thing, but actually putting it to good use has always been our end goal.