The Douglas Campbell Photo Collection

Introduction by Duncan Campbell

When my father died in January 2007 at age 94, I inherited his photographic collection. This contained 35,000 colour slides, assembled over half a century, documenting his travels and observations. The family had a high opinion of his work, and agreed that these images were worth preserving. I undertook to have the transparencies digitized over the following years: this project was completed in June 2012. First, some background and recollections.

The Photographer Cameras and Accessories Films and Development Review, Labelling and Storage Projection and Shows Digitizing the Slides Internet Library Web Gallery

The Photographer

Douglas My father was an engineer by occupation: photography was his hobby. His early albums of black-and-white prints, taken from the 1930s onward, record happy memories -- days in the hills, and picnics with the family.

Douglas 2006 The switch to colour slides apparently began with a business trip to South Africa in 1955. From then onward, his photo collection became a sort of personal log or diary, recording places visited and sights seen.

Many of the early Scottish photos were taken on Sunday family outings. Douglas used to say that these excursions were his way to avoid telephone calls from company management on his rest day: but it is equally true that he and wife Kathleen shared a deep love of the outdoors (see image at left, at age 25, on a summer mountaineering holiday). This zest for travel found an ideal vehicle in the trailer-caravan: no place was too remote to visit, and accommodation expenses were modest. Douglas and Kathleen were active in local clubs, attending rallies around Britain as well as continental Europe, South Africa and the United States. Kathleen died in 1983. Douglas later remarried; and he and Jane travelled widely in North America, this time by RV (recreational vehicle).

The sheer number of slides that Douglas assembled is impressive: proof that the camera was a constant travel companion (see image at right, taken at his 94th birthday). Their subject matter reflects his abiding interest in the natural world and mankind's relationship to it.

In the early years, he photographed many landscapes. Family members were often requested to stand in the foreground, providing "scale" or "human interest". There was a definite preference for bright clothing -- a red windjacket, for example, to "brighten things up". Setting up the shot often took a while, but the resulting pictures were worth the wait.

Cameras and Accessories

Back in the 1950s, photography was not as easy as it is in these days of point-and-shoot digital cameras, with zoom, built-in flash and instant replay. In fact, it seems irrational for any present-day amateur photographer to be nostalgic about the "good old days". For example, to take a good photograph, it was necessary to perform several important steps before pressing the shutter-release button, including: (1) setting the distance to subject (to provide focus); (2) selecting shutter speed (to arrest motion); and (3) selecting aperture (to control depth of field) camera -- these last two settings often seemed to work at cross-purposes!

I think Douglas started his slide collection using a Voigtländer Vito B. He used a portable exposure meter, but I don't remember whether he also had a range-finder. The flash gun was another separate device, to be clipped onto the camera before use.

camera Douglas's next camera was a Zeiss Ikon Contaflex, with through-the-lens viewing. Focusing was done directly in the viewing area. Another convenience was the exposure meter, built-in to the camera body, although the user still had to set speed and aperture manually. The lens was removable, with an exterior screw-thread for fitting close-up, colour correction and polarising filters. Douglas later bought exchangeable wide-angle and telephoto lenses, housed in a fine leather carrying-case.

camera After many years of service, the Zeiss was replaced by a Minolta: first an XD-7, then an X-700 ; both models were capable of automatic exposure setting, but still had to be focussed manually. Other acquisitions included specialized lenses for macro, zoom and telephoto work camera -- the accessories bag grew larger! Photos could now be taken faster, and with more confidence, but the underlying technology had scarcely changed.

Films and Development

Initially, colour slide (transparency) film was very slow (ISO 8 and 25) : on overcast days, shutter speeds could be 1/30th second or more, risking camera shake. Furthermore, an accurate exposure was especially important. When making prints from a negative film, there was an opportunity to compensate for over- or under-exposure. But slide film was bulk-developed by machine, so "what you shot is what you got".

package Douglas used Kodakchrome slide film, which was developed in specialized plants: each roll held 36 (optionally 24) exposures. A prepaid mailing envelope was included with the film spool; the exposed film was sent off by post; then came the days of patient waiting until the developed slides arrived. Great was the angst if a roll was ever lost.

Eventually, Kodak brought higher film "speeds" to market (ISO 64 and 200), providing an acceptably low graininess. For a time, Douglas experimented with Ektachrome film, which was "faster" and easier to have developed, but he was not satisfied with the results.

Review, Labelling and Storage

slide When the processed slides arrived, they first had to be checked for quality: "duds" were promptly consigned to the trash can. Due to their small size (the useable image area of a mounted slide is just 32mm by 22mm), an illuminated magnifier was used.

metal box Next, the images were hand-annotated with location and date (plus subject matter, when the photo was not self-explanatory): this information was written on the cardboard mounts, and has been utterly essential to me for the digitization project.

The processed slides arrived in a protective cardboard box, which was adequate for initial handling. For long-term storage they were transferred to large-capacity units: either stackable plastic trays or metal boxes, both types equipped with internal dividers.

Projection and Shows

After each trip, the family were treated to a slide show. This contained the best and most representative images, and might last an hour or so. By keeping these "selected sets" separate, the show could easily be repeated.

projector During the show, Douglas supplied a running narrative. His memory recall was excellent: he might also refresh in advance by reviewing the annotations. In later life, special shows were prepared on a given theme, which he researched and illustrated using images drawn from across his collection: for these, he prepared written notes.

projector For best results, shows were held at night: during daylight hours, the room had to be thoroughly blacked-out. Images were projected onto a portable screen, which came in its own carrying case. The earliest projectors were hand-operated, being superseded by more powerful fan-cooled Kodak machines with automatic advance and focussing, capable of producing a bright image 5 feet across. For these projectors, slides were loaded into removable "carousels", holding up to 140 (originally 80) mounts: with several pre-loaded carousels, preparation time for any show could be reduced to a minimum. One inconvenience: the high-intensity light bulbs had a short life, sometimes failing in mid-show and delaying proceedings until they were cool enough to be removed and replaced.

Digitizing the Slides

Given the industrial scale of this project, the following notes may be of interest.

Preparation Instructions

1. Locate all the original slides (apart from the 27,000 that Douglas had on-hand in USA, there were a further 6,000 in Chile and 2,000 in Portugal).

2. Organize slides into thematic groups, and subdivide these into batches of no more than 150 slides each.

3. Take any slides in glass frames and remount them in thin plastic (about 1,000 in all). Remove dust with an air-brush. (For the first couple of years, Douglas separated each 35mm slide from its cardboard mount and placed it in a plastic-and-glass mount for protection during handling, projection and storage. However, these thick mounts collected dust over time and, in any case, are unsuitable for automated scanning.)

4. Sort each thematic group, and number the slides sequentially on the annotated side of the mount, using an appropriate fine-tipped pen (ballpoint or indelible ink).

5. Place successive sets of 24 slides on a light box (this serves as a projector) and take digital photographs. (see illustration) These images provide a convenient, portable record of the originals. Backup the images.

6. Tie the slides into bundles of no more than 50, using paper strip and elastic bands. Place these bundles in zippered clear plastic bags (one bag per batch). Label everything.

7. Create a spreadsheet to record each batch's serial number, contents and count. (see illustration)

8. Assemble a goodly number of batches (say 2-4,000 slides total), and prepare the work order, requesting two sets of data dvd's (TIFF format, at 3,000dpi), and two sets of JPEG miniatures.

9.Pack and ship to Larsen Digital Services, Pleasant View, Utah.

Commercial Scanning

Although I own a working flatbed scanner with built-in transparency adaptor (Epson model 1660 Photo), I decided against using it for this project for a couple of reasons: first, the sheer number of slides involved requires a high commitment of time to a very repetitive chore; second, the low resolution of the digital image is not sufficient to do justice to the original photographs. Sufficient funds were available to outsource this part of the project, and I have done so gladly. The work is carried out in the US because I have not been able to locate a satisfactory commercial service closer to home. If, in future, I should decide to re-scan the best slides at a higher resolution (4,000 dpi), I will re-consider the purchase of a film scanner.

Image annotation

10. Ship one full set of data dvd's to Chile. Ship the original slides to Arlington, along with the second set of data disks (for added security).

11. Transfer the contents of the data dvd's to two external storage devices: one copy is used for annotation, the other one is kept as a safety backup. Store the original dvd's off-site. [Later, the processing lab supplied the scanned images on more convenient USB-powered disks.]

12. Use desktop image-management software (I have selected iView MediaPro, for Mac - later renamed Expression Media) to catalogue and annotate the images. Upon completion, rewrite the metadata to the physical images, making them permanently self-documenting. Backup both the catalogue and the images, preferably storing additional copies off-site.


The industry standard known as IPTC defines a set of data elements (or "tags") that have been adopted widely by professional and press photographers, and are supported by the major image-processing software products. However, the choice of values stored in these data items is left largely to the individual. My approach has been to create a "controlled vocabulary" for several items, to ensure consistency across the collection. These items are: Location, City, State (or equivalent — in the case of Britain, for example, the pre-1974 county name is used) and Keyword. (see illustrations)

24 slides

batch summary




Internet Photo Library

The objective is to share Douglas's photos in an organized way, where they are available for search/query by all the family. For this purpose, I have registered for the Flickr! Pro service, under the pseudonym <The Douglas Campbell Show>. At the same time, it became possible to share smaller copies of the photos with the general public: this has generated a fruitful exchange of background information.

Product Suitability

The "good news" is that Flickr! retains a large part of the image metadata. The following tags are visible to the end-user, and available for querying: Headline, Description, Keywords, City, State, Country, ISO Country Code.

Proof-of-concept testing revealed a few shortcomings, but these were either minor or could be worked around. Specifically:

(a) IPTC Creation Date is not visible to the user: but I always include the creation year in the Headline. Flickr!, being oriented to digital photography, shows the upload date and the EXIF Capture Date. iView has a special function to modify the latter, but it did not produce the desired result. Flickr! also offers a manual override. However, neither mechanism is practical for such a large collection.

(b) IPTC Location is not visible to the user: but, I usually include an abbreviated form in the Headline.

(c) When present, IPTC Title replaces IPTC Headline. This is improper, because the IPTC standard defines this tag as a record identifier. I have used it when Douglas serial-numbered his mounts. As such, it has no value to the user, and can be deleted up-front.

(d) When absent, IPTC Description is set to the same value as IPTC Headline. This is not harmful, but it is distracting: I am deleting the duplicates manually from Flickr.


The image database is organized into Sets by Country (State in the case of USA), which are in turn aggregated into Collections (e.g. US Southwest). For a few Sets (Scotland, Virginia) the final image count runs into thousands; initial tests showed that it could be cumbersome to administer Flickr! Sets larger than a few hundred images. Therefore I have chosen to subdivide all Sets by calendar year: this should also be more manageable for the visitor.

In general, the following folders are not open to public access:
(a) Photos of family members
(b) Photos of named individuals, unless in a "public" capacity
(c) Presentation materials, including maps, show-titles and illustrations taken from books or other published sources
(d) Other people's pictures, including commercial slides
(e) Flawed images


To protect the privacy of subjects in publicly accessible images, the Headline and Description tags usually do not identify individual people: personal names have been omitted, or abbreviated to their initial letter. Similarly, precise addresses are sometimes replaced by a more generic term (e.g. the town name). Since many of the human subjects have already died, this policy may be progressively relaxed. (Note: The master iView record includes a tag for personal names, but it is not used by Flickr!.)


(a) Split each scanned batch into separate folders, according to the database structure, using iView. The intermediate JPEG image is high quality, 1200 pixels wide by 900 pixels high, maintaining the original proportions. This resolution provides reasonably fast image upload, while ensuring good visual quality in the different Flickr! contexts.

(b) Use iView to delete all IPTC Title values from the intermediate files. This must be a physical update, not simply a catalog modification.

(c) Upload one folder at a time via the Flickr! website, using the native batch tool. Check the Photostream, then add images to their respective Set.

(d) Adjust privacy controls for unrestricted viewing and commenting at this URL:

Flickr Sets

Flickr Collections
Flickr metadata

Web Gallery

I started the digitization project using the following 28 existing shows. The web pages were generated by Adobe Lightroom. Documentation was based on the annotations on each mount: sometimes I added a short explanatory note, using my own knowledge or other sources. Accompanying notes (Douglas's memory aids) were transcribed: they are marked like this -- /*/


Note: All slides are bulk-processed at high resolution by a commercial lab. Most images are presented "as delivered", without any retouching or adjustment. In some cases, software manipulation (Photoshop) has been used to correct exposure. In a few cases, where colours are plainly incorrect, or images are very grainy, individual re-scanning will be needed.

USA USA Clarke County, Virginia
us capitol
Washington DC
pioneer mother
Oregon Trail  /*/
berryville presbyterian
Churches  /*/
casselman bridge
The National Road  /*/
ranchos de taos
Santa Fe Trail  /*/
horse country
Farms  /*/
shenandoah river
Virginia miscellany
Lewis & Clark Trail  /*/
Spring flowers
bridge at greenville
Mississippi River  /*/
glacier park
National Parks
Woodland garden
jeanerette mansion
New Orleans & Delta
Desert flowers
lake ice
Yellowstone  /*/
mount st. helens
Volcanoes  /*/
great egret
Florida Everglades
indian blanket
Texas wildflowers
Scotland Chile Other Places
viña del mar
Central Valley
casa cacimba
St. Fillans
torres del paine
Patagonia  /*/
sally lightfoot crab
ewe with lamb
River Annan

Duncan S. Campbell
rev. June 2012