Recordation of Historic Architecture, Engineering and Landscapes



Photography Frequently Asked Questions.

Is film still required?Ahwahnee

Yes, the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) and Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) of the National Park Service Heritage Documentation Program (HDP) all require documentation to be done on large format, black and white film. Digital photography (known as Born-Digital) does not meet the requirements no matter how many megapixels of resolution. Many other documentation and mitigation parameters for environmental or historic preservation like CEQA, NEPA and Section 106 reference the quality and specifications of HABS/HAER/HALS standards and as such, they must also be recorded on archival, large format film to comply with the intent of the mitigation/recordation and meet the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Architectural and Engineering Documentation.

Black & white, not color?

HABS, HAER and HALS all require documentation to be done in black & white. Black & white silver-halide film on a polyester base is archival and resists fading for over 500 years. Color film is composed of dyes and starts to decay and fade much faster. Some resources that have colorful components and many landscape documentations (HALS) may include duplicate views captured in both black and white and also on color transparency film. Additionally color film and digital images of the resource are often included in the field-notes because these do not need to adhere to such stringent archival standards.

What is the definition of Large Format photography?

In the case of photographic surveys, large format is defined as: Photography using sheet films in the size 4 inch X 5 inch or 5 inch X 7 inch or 8 inch X 10 inch. The National Park Service Heritage Documentation Program and in the past the NPS photographers in in the HDP division in Washington DC have used primarily 5x7 film. 5x7 has been the preferred format for the HABS/HAER/HALS collection since its inception in the 1930s. (Very important resources like the Golden Gate Bridge, the Holland Tunnel, the Statue of Liberty and The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park were recorded on 5x7). Aerials are almost always done with 4x5 cameras because they can be hand-held in aircraft. 8x10 cameras are generally too cumbersome for the fast-paced field-work but are often used for studio copy-views of photos, blueprints and maps.

When is Large Format recordation required?

Large Format photography is the only designated standard for documentations required under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, (Section 110b) to mitigate adverse impacts to historic resources through alteration or demolition. These mitigations comply with environmental policies like NEPA, Section 106 and have been used as de facto state requirements for other regulations like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). If impacts to historic resources result from new projects, demolition or alteration, there may be a requirement to document the building, landscape, bridge, etc. The type and scope of the documentation comes down to SIGNIFICANCE. If the building is significant enough to trigger a mitigation requirement, then there is a high likelihood that large format photography will be stipulated as one of the mitigations. If the building is not significant, then it may not require documentation or 35mm or digital photos may suffice for local review. The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) has less stringent specifications so NRHP nominations can be photographed in digital or 35mm film.

What is required for a solid documentary mitigation? 3 Things!

Documentary mitigations have three core components:


1.) The photography must include maximum, accurate data; that is why large format cameras are used to capture extreme detail with perspective correcting lenses.

2.) The film, prints, report, captions and notes must all be created on archival materials, and the film shall be processed to exacting standards to insure archival life-spans of 500+ years.

3.) The photos and report must be accessible to the public to be a public benefit. Available to provide architects, engineers, scholars, preservationists, and interested members of the public with information on the historical, technological, and cultural significance of America's historic resources.

The best case (the only one meeting federal stipulations) is donation of the photographs to the National Park Service Heritage Documentation Program (HDP), report and/or drawings to the HABS/HAER/HALS collection at the Library of Congress. If a more local museum, archive or repository is selected for a mitigation project, it is imperative that copies of the documentation be disseminated to locations where the information can be found and used publicly and do not just end up on a shelf in a storeroom at the back of city hall.

What is HABS-like, HAER-like and HALS-like documentation?

Besides made-up terms, these informal parameters are an attempt to capture the goals and quality of official HABS/HAER/HALS documentations without ALL of the requirements. There is no formal definition for HABS-like, but in our experience it usually means that HABS guidelines for form and content are followed closely but the finished documents (prints and negatives) are not submitted to the Library of Congress. Often the documentation photos, drawings and reports are distributed locally and/or regionally. Most of the documentary surveys in California triggered by CEQA, are HABS-like (or HABS-lite, or Diet-HABS) but it is important to note that while they may be state sanctioned they are not recognized as sufficient as mitigations for federal projects until they are checked by the NPS western region office and submitted to HDP for forwarding to the Library of Congress. In state or local HABS-like documents, it is important to adhere to the "3 Things" above and make copies of the report available to the public or better yet, unofficially donate the report to HDP when it is done..


How many photos do you need for a HABS/HAER/HALS?

This is a complex question. Again, it comes down to SIGNIFICANCE. If the building is a detached garage in a historic district, three views may be sufficient. If that garage is the "HP Garage" birthplace of the Silicon Valley, then it may need more views – but it's still a tiny garage and more than twelve views may not make the building more understandable.

Heim Bridge Down

What about demolition of the largest lift-span bridge in the western United States? 20 views? 40? 100? In complex recording projects, the significance needs to be balanced with the size of the resource, its context, its complexity and the reason for its designation. In the above bridge example, 40 HAER field-photo views and 40 copy-photos of pages of blueprints were photographed to tell the story of the bridge's significant engineering, without the blueprint copies much more detailed field-photography of the bridge would have been warrented. How was that determined? Scouting, asking questions and working with an architectural historian to analyze the bridge's significance and character defining features. There is no simple guideline, but working with an preservation expert and/or an experienced HAER photographer can help with this very complex question. Remember the intent is to tell a clear story about the resource, that may mean interiors, context, landscapes, details and possibly even aerials. However the documentation should not be excessive, punitive or disproportionate with the significance of the resource.

How many copies of survey reports are produced for a HABS/HAER/HALS mitigation?

If the documentation package goes to the National Park Service Heritage Documentation Programs (HDP) to be archived in the Library of Congress (LOC) in a formal submission, then 1 set of negatives and 2 sets of prints is customary because the world will have access via the LOC internet site (the second set of prints is usually transmitted to the SHPO). As far as additional copies to fulfill the mitigation requirements or state or local conditions CEQA it again comes down to SIGNIFICANCE. If the building is the "HP Garage," birthplace of the Silicon Valley, then it's regionally important and perhaps every library in the Silicon Valley should have a laser-copy of the report.

Heim Brisge down

Usually local museums are obvious recipients of documentation reports, and libraries, historic societies, state museums, universities, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and even advocacy groups if they have an archive. More complex or unique records like railroad or Native American resources, should also be sent to specialty archives like a railroad or tribal archive. But again, numerous copies may not be warranted if the significance is minimal or just local, because the negatives and prints are expensive to produce. Typical HABS-Like documentations require one set of negatives to a primary repository such as a state or regional library or museum, and one or two print-only copies to local repositories.

Archival laser-copies may be sufficient for the historic societies, local libraries, and planning departments since they may not be set up to take delicate original prints or negatives anyway. It might be possible to see these reports as PDF's on the web too but the concept of perpetual online access is much easier than the reality of posting and maintaining and site, updating links, making backups and hosting those digital documents FOREVER. 

How do I hire a HABS / HAER / HALS photographer?

Large documentation projects can be quoted directly by phone or RFP. It is advisable to consult a HABS professional (historian, preservation planner, photographer) to help with a documentation RFP. Be sure to establish requirements for format: 4x5 or 5x7. How many views? (this can be changed after contracting, but lets competing photographers bid apples to apples on the RFP) Access restrictions, safety and security issues should be clear. A HABS photographer should ask relevant questions about: Location constraints, hours of operation/access, electricity on site, 4 wheel drive requirements, generators, lighting, traffic on roads and bridges, homeland security, safety equipment, aerial views, temperatures, snow and rain, deadlines, deliverables, lodging, and site specific questions. When calling a photographer or creating a RFP it is great to have ready answers to these questions.

Can any photographer do HABS/HAER/HALS documentation photography?

Theoretically yes, large format cameras, lenses and equipment can be rented in many large cities and thousands of photographers have experience with large format cameras. However the exacting specifications for recording HABS/HAER/HALS surveys (26+ pages) are complex and it can take time to master the logistics, field notes and maps, darkroom work, archival washing and printing, and the intricate post-production to Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Architectural and Engineering Documentation. Some photographers do not wish to sign away copyright to their photographs and put them into the public domain (required). Therefore there may only a handful of photographers in any region with the experience/desire to do HABS/HAER/HALS surveys. An experienced HABS/HAER/HALS photographer knowledgeable about historic construction, engineering and architecture that is expert in historic resources will produce the most complete documentation in the least amount of time. Suggested reading for photographers: Recording Historic Structures (Photo section by William L. Lebovich) (2nd edition), National Park Service. A Record in Detail by Jack E. Boucher. Industrial Eye by Jet Lowe. And A Constructed View by Julius Shulman.

Do HABS prints need to be done in a darkroom?

An in-house darkroom allows can improve turn-around times and keeps the negatives from being shipped for printing, but the 2011 guidelines for HABS/HAER/HALS now allow digital print cards to be printed with archival pigment digital printers. The resource is still recorded on large-format film and the film processed and archivally washed as before. Then, instead of being contact-printed in a wet-darkroom, the negative is scanned on a back-lit scanner, the image is inverted and formatted in Photoshop, and printed on a pigment ink-jet printer. This may not save any time, but allows photographers without wet-darkrooms to complete documentations. Digital print cards may also be less costly when large numbers of document copies need to be produced (over five original sets).


Does a site need to be on the National Register to be included in HABS?

The resource documented should be historic (that implies "significant" and not just old). However sites do not need to be registered on the National Register of Historic Places or a National Landmark to be documented. The HABS/HAER/HALS collection seeks to record "A Complete Resume of the Builders' Art", including folk and vernacular examples of historic resources. The best way to ensure a resource is viewable as a public benefit is to record it on large format film to HABS/HAER/HALS specifications and donate the record to HABS using their simple short-form. Contact the relevant division of Heritage Documentation Programs in Washington DC; they are very helpful and welcome the generous contributions of photographers.


What does a sample documentation mitigation look like?

In order to facilitate the creation of thorough mitigations that are easy to scope we have created a template of a generic HABS documentation sample mitagation. It lists the most important aspects and covers specifics like timeframes and who is responsible for the mitigation. It is linked here as a PDF, or search "MITIGATION OF CULTURAL RESOURCE IMPACTS THROUGH DOCUMENTATION."