To Conference we go! Key takeaways and resources from our trip to the Southeastern Museum Conference

Digitization is the driving force behind the Historic Southern Naturalists project. In January 2019, McKissick staff members proposed a session describing the nuts and bolts of digitization projects for the upcoming Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) scheduled for October. In March we were notified that our proposal was accepted, and last month representatives from three institutions, McKissick Museum, South Carolina State Museum (IMLS recipient), and the Charleston Museum gave a 75-minute presentation on digitization.

Since the beginning of our project we have been discussing digitization, but what exactly is digitization? Is it necessary? Who pays for it? And how does a museum get started?

Digitization vs Photography: Is there a difference? YES!

Photography is the act of capturing an image of an object. Digitization refers to the creation of a digital image, with the inclusion of metadata and long-term, organized digital file storage. The term Digital Preservation describes an additional step that involves creating a digital master file: a photo file with no processing stored for future access.

WHY Digitize?

As an institution, McKissick digitizes objects from our permanent collection to increase access to our collection (with searchable databases like and, to produce online exhibitions, to reduce the handling of objects, to document the condition of objects, and to produce quality images for marketing purposes. In short, it makes our jobs quicker, easier, and more professional.

Our Curator of Collections, Christian Cicimurri, presenting at the Southeastern Museums Conference, Oct. 2019.

What do we have to do? Plan, plan, plan…

If digitization is on your radar, planning is key. Organizations need to plan the scope of the project, the amount of time and personnel to work on the project, space available for use, equipment available, and funds to available. Plan for the day to day, create and update workflows, worksheets, database entries, most importantly…be flexible. Not everything will go according to plan.

Linda Smith, HSN Project Manager, presenting at SEMC

With regards to Photography…

Understanding the triangle of exposure consists of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed is key to good photography. Aperture settings control the amount of light reaching the sensor which also affects the depth of field in the photo. An aperture setting of f11 or f16 results in a wide or deep depth of field and allows most everything in the photo to be in focus.  Shutter speed is the length of time the light will be exposed to the sensor and it is measured in fractions of a second. The shutter speed setting of 1/100 is what we are using on this project. ISO determines image sensitivity to available light (the lowers the # the better for overall image quality). We are utilizing an ISO of 100-200.

For future reference!

Plan ahead when working offsite or with oversized objects. The South Carolina State Museum has the most experience in digitizing oversized objects. They have made use of alternative spaces to photograph their art pieces. In fact, they have converted a storage space into a photography studio by utilizing space and equipment on site. This might be a good solution for your site.

Storage room converted to photo studio at the South Carolina State Museum

Be sure the camera battery is charged or invest in an EXTRA BATTERY (yes, there’s a story there).

Work in small batches and process as you go. Tether your camera to your computer if your software and components allow. It is a big time and frustration saver.

Before/After – Processing photos

While there are many software programs for photo processing available in “pay to play” and open source options, McKissick has chosen to use Adobe Lightroom because of its ability to process in batches. Rather than processing to achieve a pretty photo, we only adjust light and exposure in order to produce an accurate representative of the object. The photographer’s color target in our images allows for color correction using the squares as reference for white balance. The South Carolina State Museum uses Capture 1 for processing. Features are similar to Adobe Lightroom, though Capture 1 is available on a disc installation format, rather than the monthly fee format of Adobe products.  

Getting by with a little help from our friends at the South Carolina State Museum and The Charleston Museum

Our friends at SCSM provided much needed insight on 2D digitization. Photographing large pieces of artwork comes with different challenges than working with smaller 3D objects. For instance, #DYK white photography paper and cheese cloth can help diffuse light reflections on artworks that are varnished or framed behind glass?

The Charleston Museum blew everyone away when describing the process of using photogrammetry and laser scanning. They utilize this technology to create 3D images of natural history specimens, like fossils, minerals, and skeletons, and can even use 3D printers to create replicas. SketchFab and Meshlab software are two open source programs they have used to stitch photos together.

The Charleston Museum creates scans of 3D objects, which then can be used to create 3D printed replicas of rare or delicate objects

Want more help? Here’s a bunch of resources!

Funding resources

Institute of Museum and Library Studies –

Council on Library and Information Resources –

Metadata Resources

South Carolina Digital Library Metadata Schema and Guidelines –

Digitization Resources

iDigBio –

South Carolina State Library/Digitization in a Box –

Federal Agencies Digitization Guideline Initiative –

Connecting to Collections Care (Free Webinars) –

Lyrasis (Fee based services) –

Other Cool Resources:

The Getty Research Institute –

Biodiversity Heritage Library –

Digital Public Library –

Adobe Lightroom –

Nomenclature –

Rights Statements –

Rights and Reproductions: The Handbook for Cultural Institutions by Anne M. Young

As always we want to give a big, special thanks to UofSC, SC State Museum, The Charleston Museum and IMLS for the funding provided to make the Historic Southern Naturalist project possible.

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About McKissick Museum

Established in 1976, we're located at the heart of the historic Horseshoe on the University of South Carolina's campus. Our collections date back to 1801 and provide insight into the history of the university and the community, culture, and environment of the American South. free and Open to the public Monday - Friday, 8:30am to 5pm, and Saturdays, 11am to 3pm, McKissick has a diverse schedule of exhibitions and programs. McKissick Museum is accredited by the American Association of Museums, operating within their guidelines for the proper care and safekeeping of these historical artifacts.

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