Access to the vast reservoir of information available via the Inter-net is one of the circumstances of my life that has made fulfillment of my interest in railroad history possible. Using the Inter-net, I am able to find and study digital reproductions of the original photographs, manuscripts, and historic documents that constitute the body of railroad history. Even though the materials that come to me are reproductions, I feel privileged, and sometimes thrilled, as I study and learn from the fruits of my searches. I also feel a sense of personal responsibility that requires me to treat these reproductions as if they were the originals. I do not feel free to avail myself of processes that make it possible to alter the reproductions in such a way as to confuse or change the historical content, nor do I attempt to “improve” the artistry of the reproductions. In spite of the intended certitude of what I have written above, I am conflicted. Perhaps the best way to explain is to to provide an example of the source of my conflict.

The original materials come to me as digital files. Using appropriate technical means, images are formed. These images are then examined to find answers to the questions of the moment. Often the examination of the images is thwarted by the “defects” found in the image. An example is this image of the Dale Creek Bridge:

Sub Neg 9788, 12236, 12584, place last piece of Dale Creek Bridge, near Sherman


The image is from the American Heritage Center photographic collection. The image documents how the truss spans were removed. It is obvious the image condition is so poor that a detailed examination is problematic. It is possible the image can be edited to permit an examination of adequate quality.

click to enlarge

edited Sub Neg 9788, 12236, 12584, place last piece of Dale Creek Bridge, near Sherman 

The image, in the rendering above, has been edited and the image is ready for a detailed examination. So far so good, but which one of the two above images should I select if it became desirable to submit the results of the detailed examination and an image for publication? This is my conflict. I am bound by my pledge to not “alter” the reproduction image of the original photograph. At the same time, I wish to publish an accurate representation of the source of the published conclusion. These two choices are mutually exclusive in that both cannot be chosen without providing an extensive exposition of what constitutes “editing”and both images for comparison. This seems impractical when dealing with many reproductions. So we will limit the discussion to the “either/or” choice. 

My position is it is best to “publish” the unedited reproduction in the majority of circumstances. Edited reproductions will be be allowed in these situations:

  • The reproduction image is of such poor condition that examination of image details is is rendered unproductive, but the rarity of the original makes examination and “publication” desirable.
  • The number of reproduction cycles is sufficiently large to yield a poor reproduction image, but “publication” of the image is highly desirable because of the subject matter of the reproduction.
  • The subject matter of the reproduction is of importance to an exposition being presented, but the inherent quality of the original is poor. 

An author’s note documenting the editing process is included in the published work. 

The images below illustrate the results of editing:





Example of author’s note:


 To facilitate examination, the downloaded images were edited.Editing consists of:

1) Rotate to align image if necessary.

2) Crop to remove white space, ragged edges, and out of square shape.

3) Create border.

4) Change color to “grayscale”.

5) Set color using “auto adjust”.

6) Manually adjust “lighting”:

  1. a) contrast
  2. b) shadows
  3. c) highlights

7) Adjust “sharpness”

8) Convert image file to Tif format

9) Rename image file.   

This exposition represents my present thinking on the subject of editing reproduction images. I have an open mind on this matter and welcome comments.

The Old Machinist

Note: These images are in the photographic collection at The American Heritage Center located in Laramie, Wyoming and are used with permission for my personal use only. PLease do not download images.




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