CSNTM keeps three priorities in mind as we photograph the manuscripts. The most important is the physical preservation of the manuscript; CSNTM staff members understand the value of these documents and take all necessary precautions to care for them properly. In addition, we strive to achieve accuracy in imaging each page; that is, the photograph must show all relevant information contained in the manuscript, not only the main text but also any marginal notes, prickings, Eusebian canons, and other features. Finally, each image should be aesthetically pleasing, with lines of text as straight as practicable and the overall appearance of the photograph attractive to the eye. In digitizing an institute’s manuscripts, CSNTM staff always recognize that their first priority is to serve that institute. As much as we desire to get accurate, complete images that are aesthetically pleasing, there are times in which this cannot be done without damaging the document. In such instances, the care of the physical manuscript must override other concerns, even if this means, for example, not capturing the entire surface of the page.
Requirements for handling the manuscripts vary from one institution to another. Many require that manuscripts be handled with gloved hands so that contact with oil from the hands is avoided completely. Other institutions ask that gloves not be worn in order to increase the sensitivity of the hands, reducing the chance of mishandling the document. In every case, CSNTM staff members comply with the handling requirements of the institution, submitting the handling and photographic process to inspection at every point.
Before photographing, we record the “vital statistics” of each manuscript. This information includes the manuscript’s shelf number, physical dimensions in centimeters, material (papyrus, parchment, or paper), estimated date, contents, number of leaves, columns per page, lines per column, and other significant data.
The Center has photographed manuscripts in a variety of locations including Cambridge University; the University of Glasgow; St Andrew’s University; the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster, Germany; Athens, Greece; the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople; the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on the island of Patmos; the National Archive in Tirana, Albania; and the University of Michigan, among others.
In the short history of CSNTM, we have evolved in our techniques, protocols, and standards. Upgrades in equipment and technology, as well as increased experience in manuscript photography, have enhanced our ability to create higher quality images than were possible only a few years ago. For example, while earlier photographs included both visible pages (recto and the preceding verso) simultaneously, two years after CSNTM’s inception, each photograph includes one page only in order to achieve higher resolution. In addition, greater attention is paid to the positioning of the manuscript beneath the camera in order to achieve straighter lines of text, increasingly uniform margins, more parallel edges, and closer cropping. Although perfection is not possible, CSNTM continually strives to take photographs that are increasingly readable and attractive. The images below illustrate the development of our standards, from 2002 to the present.
Image quality has evolved over the years, from two-page photographs to single-page shots with straighter text and edges.
CSNTM currently uses Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III 21.1 megapixel cameras. While a resolution of 21.1 megapixels is greater than what is generally considered necessary for handwritten documents, the Mark III contains useful features that enhance the efficiency of the process and the quality of the images. We do not use flash photography but rather rely on reflectors and diffused lighting, along with Canon’s white balance features, to achieve the proper lighting on the manuscripts. To minimize the physical handling of the manuscript, we shoot all of the recto sides together, then turn the manuscript once to shoot all the verso sides. After shooting in RAW format, we convert to TIFF using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software. We then use Adobe Photoshop to integrate the recto and verso images into their consecutive order.
Dr. Noel Enete, formerly the chief architect at AOL, designed a program specifically for CSNTM in 2002 and updated several times to meet our growing needs. Essentially, this program takes the large TIFF files (over 60 megabytes apiece) and, using batch processing, converts the TIFF images to JPEG. These JPEG images average around 2 megabytes, and yet the image quality is virtually identical with that of the TIFF images. However, CSNTM only posts the JPEG images on the website, saving the TIFF images in our archive banks.
Ultraviolet light is used for palimpsests and for manuscripts that are damaged by water or are severely faded.