Note on Photographic Facsimiles, Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts

No matter the care put into transcribing a text, a gap still remains between the reader and the physical document. The use of photographic facsimiles in this volume narrows that gap but does not eliminate it. This note explains how these photographs were created and prepared for publication and identifies some of their limitations.
Creating the Photographs
The textual photographs herein were created specifically for this publication and its online counterpart by Welden C. Andersen and, in the case of the images of the printed version of the Book of Abraham, members of the preservation staff at the Church History Library. Andersen used a Hasselblad H3DII-39 multishot camera equipped with a Hasselblad HC 120mm f4 macro lens. By taking a sequence of four photographs, this camera captures red, green, and blue data for every pixel, whereas a single-shot camera records only one color per pixel. The four-shot technology therefore captures much more detail. The lens is optimized for extremely close focusing, allowing for images of documents that can resolve to the level of individual fibers of the paper. Each of the digital images produced by the camera comprises approximately 229 megabytes of information. Though the resolution of these images must be reduced significantly for print publication, the Joseph Smith Papers Project retains the original, full-resolution files, which will allow researchers to view extremely detailed electronic images. Indeed, a primary purpose for creating these photographs was to minimize the need for researchers to consult the original documents.
During photography, the manuscripts were positioned on a low, leveled table. Studio lights diffused by a fabric screen were used to illuminate the subject, and a computer was attached to the camera to process and store the images. The camera was positioned about four feet above the table on a camera stand. Andersen hand-focused each photograph and then remotely triggered the shutter. After ensuring the quality of the first image on the computer monitor, he made a second exposure to create a security backup copy for each image.
Andersen followed standard professional procedures to achieve the highest accuracy in color, tone, contrast, and exposure. Before photographing and any time he adjusted lighting, exposure, or document angle, he calibrated and corrected color using a color test card and color adjustment software. This eliminated any bias of the camera sensor and the light source, meaning that the colors captured in the photographs are as close as possible to the colors of the documents as they exist today.
Preparing the Photographs for Print Publication
Charles M. Baird, a prepress specialist with the Publishing Services Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, prepared the images for printing. Following standard prepress methods, Baird reduced the images to fit the page size in this volume at a resolution of approximately 300 dpi and converted the images from the color format stored by the camera (red, green, and blue) to the colors used in printing (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).
As mentioned earlier in this note, the documents featured in this volume were photographed resting on a table. For aesthetic reasons, Baird used photo-editing software to digitally remove the table from the background and to add a thin shadow around the edge of each image.
Except as described in this note, the textual photographs in this volume have not been altered.
Limitations of the Photographs
Even careful photographs can underplay important features of the original document. Four categories of such features are worth noting here.
First, the documents in this volume are of many different sizes, though the image sizes used herein to maximize readability in the available space may give the illusion that the documents are roughly the same size. Readers should carefully consult the physical description of each document to determine its size.
Second, some documents featured in this volume include unconventional writing patterns that require special treatment. The Egyptian Alphabet documents, for example, are written on large sheets of paper, some of which were folded in half to resemble a book. On a few pages, writers wrote all the way across the sheet, so that a single line spans both the left and right pages. In an effort to represent the record as it actually appears and to preserve the detail of individual words, such sheets are artificially divided in half and presented in this volume on two successive spreads—the first containing the top half of the sheet and its transcription, and the second containing the bottom half and its transcription.
Third, some nontextual features of the manuscripts are represented in the photographs but not commented on in the transcription or annotation. For instance, some pages show bleed-through or ink transfer from adjoining pages, but these marks are not noted.
Fourth, some documents herein contain multiple blank pages, which are not reproduced in this volume. Readers wishing to consult the blank pages of these manuscripts can view them in their entirety at
Techniques Used to Recover Canceled Text
Transcribers for this volume used multispectral imaging and photo-editing software to recover obscure text or study characteristics of the manuscripts. Multispectral imaging, which uses different wavelengths of light to show features that cannot be seen by the human eye, revealed text on one of the Nauvoo-era Book of Abraham manuscripts that was otherwise unreadable. (See fig. 1.) Similarly, the two concentric circles etched into a page of Notebook of Copied Egyptian Characters, circa Early July 1835, are difficult to see in an ordinary digital image. Photo-editing software allowed the page to be enhanced so that the circles could be more closely examined.
Fig. 1. A faint graphite inscription at the top of a page of one of the Nauvoo-era manuscripts of the Book of Abraham is nearly invisible to the naked eye (top). Multispectral imaging made the inscription less obscure (middle), and the use of photo-editing software allowed editors to read and transcribe it (bottom).