Digital Photography Policy


A Guide for HPO Staff, Survey Consultants, and Nomination Preparers


Revised May 2017

Note: The State Historic Preservation Office (HPO) requires the use of digital photography for all grant-funded survey and National Register nomination projects. While the HPO prefers and encourages the use of digital photography for all survey and National Register projects, regardless of the funding source, the HPO will continue to accept and process traditional black and white film. As of June 2012, the HPO is producing prints from negatives using scans of the negatives. We will also continue to accept color slides for presentations (which we will scan), though we no longer process slide film in-house.

See the companion document, Working with Digital Photographs, for an overview of digital photography and a review of free or inexpensive software packages for managing and editing digital photographs.

Going Digital: Digital photography offers speed, flexibility, and cost savings in acquiring, editing, sharing, presenting, and printing photographs. It enables use of a single camera to obtain photos for every step in the process of recording, presenting, and nominating a property or district. But it also introduces a number of image management challenges that are quite different from those of dealing with film negatives and prints.

All HPO professional staff are required to learn how to use the office digital cameras; to scan printed materials and slides; to manage digital image files on their computers and in the digital image library on the server; to edit digital images with Photoshop Elements; to create presentations with PowerPoint; to burn photographs and presentations to CD; and to use the office digital projector.

Consultants wishing to move to digital photography should be willing and able to:

1.  Acquire and learn to use a good quality digital camera.

2.  Learn to copy image files from the camera’s memory card to your computer and organize, copy, rename, selectively delete, back up, and otherwise manage the image files.

3.  Acquire and learn the basics of photo editing software to manipulate images and achieve optimum quality and size, which will vary depending on the end-use of the image. This means you will have two versions of some images -- one for prints and another for presentations and attachments to email. At the least, you should be able to copy an image, resize an image, rotate and crop an image, and perform basic enhancement functions with brightness and contrast controls.

4.  Acquire a writable CD drive (now standard on most computers) and burn files to a CD.

5.  Learn to create presentations with PowerPoint or similar software for use in public meetings. The day may be coming when it is the only means of making presentations unless you are able to take your own slide projector.

Contents of This Policy:

I. General Requirements

Camera Equipment
Image File Formats
Minimum Image Size
Submission of Images


II. Digital Images for Historic Property Surveys

Selecting Survey Photographs
Naming Survey Photographs
Editing Survey Photographs
Organizing Survey Photographs
Proof Sheets for Survey Files
Burning CDs of Survey Photographs


III. Digital Images for National Register Nominations

Selecting and Copying Photos for the Nomination
Editing NR Photographs
Naming NR Photographs
Image Format
Burning the NR CD
Submitting the NR CD
Nomination Prints
Fee Schedule for Nomination Prints and CDs


I. General Requirements

Camera Equipment

While neither the HPO nor NPS specifies particular brands, models, or minimum cost of an acceptable digital camera, a camera should have at least 3 megapixels with good optics. Most cameras on the market today have at least 5 megapixels. But the size in megapixels alone does not determine photo quality, which is also dependent on the lens, the size and type of the camera's sensor, and other factors.

Prices for higher quality SLR digital cameras have been dropping and now approach the cost of SLR film cameras. Some allow you to interchange the lenses from your SLR film camera. The HPO recommends the use of SLR digital cameras, but they are not required. However, the HPO reserves the right to refuse photos that we believe are not of acceptable quality.

Image File Formats

Most digital cameras by default create images in a format called jpeg (identified by the extension .jpg at the end of the filename, and pronounced JAY-peg). This is the standard for day-to-day digital photography and is acceptible for general survey work and for National Register nominations provided the images meet the minimum size standards. See Working with Digital Photographs for more information about file formats.

Minimum Image Size

The minimum image dimensions for both surveys and National Register nominations is 1950 pixels x 1350 pixels. They may of course be larger. (See Working with Digital Photographs for an explanation of image size, print size, and resolution).  Such an image would make a print of  6.5" x 4.5" at a resolution of 300 ppi (a 7” x 5” print with margins). A 3 megapixel camera should create an image of about 2100 x 1400 pixels, and this is why it is the minimum for survey and National Register work.  We will not quibble over minor variations in pixel dimensions. 

Submission of Images

Burning Images to CDs:  Digital photographs should be submitted on CDs. Do not use "rewriteable" CD-RW disks, which often cannot be read by computers other than the one on which they were created. Use the less expensive CD-R disks. Photos that are burned to the CD cannot subsequently be edited on the CD, though you can add additional photos or copy over a photo with a new version of the same file name at a later time. The XP operating system enables you to burn files to a CD without the purchase of any special software.

Emailing Images to the HPO: Because of the large file size of digital photographs taken straight out of a camera and the limitations of our email storage, we can accept high resolution photographs as attachments to email only in special circumstances when there are only a few and you have prearranged their submission.  One or two reduced size images (200 KB or less) sent for informational purposes – as in “Have you ever seen anything like this?” – are OK to email at any time. See Working with Digital Photographs for information about reducing the size of an image for email and presentations.

II. Digital Images for Historic Property Surveys

An Important Reminder: Survey photos are always a component of a National Register nomination project. Nomination preparers utilizing digital photography should be thoroughly familiar with this section of the HPO digital photography policy.

Advantages of Digital Photography in Surveys:  A digital camera offers several advantages in historic property surveys:

The surveyor may see and make proofs or prints of pictures the same day they are taken, avoiding the long wait of having proofs and negatives returned from the lab.

There is no expenditure for film, whether black and white or color slides. While there is some expense for ink and paper for making proofs, it is much less than the cost of proofs made from negatives on photographic paper.

If the camera has a large enough memory card, the surveyor may shoot pictures all day or longer without having to stop to load film or replace the card. (Keep that battery charged, and keep a backup battery!)

One camera provides the images needed for survey record photographs, National Register nominations, and public presentations, eliminating the need to carry two cameras or to switch film types while shooting pictures.

On the other hand, digital photography requires additional responsibilities on the part of the surveyor:

Selecting Survey Photographs: The surveyor is responsible for selecting images to be included with the property file. Most people have the tendency to take more digital photos than film photos, because it is so easy and seems “free.” Duplicate images and images of poor quality should be deleted, if not from the surveyor’s copies of his or her original images straight from the camera, then from the images selected for the survey file, printed on proof sheets, and burned to a CD.

Naming Survey Photographs:  The surveyor is responsible for naming the image files.

Important Notes:

1)For survey and nomination projects, you must obtain survey site numbers from the HPO before naming your photographs.

2)      It is permissible to abbreviate property name and address as long as the name and address are readily apparent.

Conventions for Naming Survey Photographs:

Rural Properties

County AbbreviationSiteNumber_PropertyName_month and year_Photographer’s name-Photo Number.

Thus for the Johnson Farm, site CH0457 in Chatham County, photographed June 2007 by Jane Roberts, the name becomes


Using -01, -02, etc. instead of -1, -2, etc. will keep your renamed photos in the order in which you named them in an alphabetical list. Otherwise they will be listed as -1, --10, -11, -12, ...-2, -20, -21, and so forth.  Do not use letters instead of numbers to distinguish the individual photographs.

Certain photo management programs do not automatically insert the hyphen. In place of the hyphen, an underscore or a blank space is permissible.

Do not include information in the image file name about the view depicted in the photo.

If no family name is associated with a property, you may use a generic building type like "House" or "Store" etc. If a generic building type is used in place of a family name, it must be followed by the road number or the 911 address. Thus:


Urban Properties

Also include the town name and use the street address in place of the property name.

County AbbreviationSiteNumber_Town_StreetAddress_month and year_Photographer’s initials-Photo Number.

Example:  CH1670_SilerCity_423NMainSt_10-07_RobertSmith-01.jpg.

In the rare instance that an urban property is known almost exclusively by its name, the name may be used instead of the street address. Thus:


Normally, use of the property name in place of the street address should be avoided.

Do not include the historic district name, if any.


County AbbreviationSiteNumber_Town_District/Neighborhood/AreaName_month and year_Photographer’s initials-Photo Number.



Use the survey site number for the district/neighborhood/area record, not the site number for an individual property shown in the streetscape.

Using software for batch renaming multiple photos at one time.  See the companion document, Working with Digital Photographs, for a review of free or inexpensive software you can use to rename large numbers of photographs with one operation.  Even without batch renaming software, you can use the computer’s memory to capture all the information except the photo number at the end, and paste in everything except the final number for each image. This is often the quickest way to rename a small number of photos for a single property. 

Editing Survey Photographs: The surveyor may undertake basic editing of images before printing proofs, including rotating, cropping, or enhancing brightness/contrast as needed. However, the original pixel dimensions of the images (allowing for some cropping) should not be changed.  The images should not be converted from color to grayscale. Black and white proofs and prints can be made from the color images. See Working with Digital Photographs for a review of software for editing images.

Organizing Survey Photographs
: For rural surveys, all of the photos for each property should be placed in a folder identified by the property’s survey site number. For urban surveys, placement of photos in folders is not required unless the survey area is very large (e.g., a large neighborhood or an entire municipality). It should be noted, however, that placement of photos in folders identified by block and street (e.g., 100 block Main St.) facilitates the printing of proof sheets.

Proof Sheets for Survey Files: Proof sheets of digital photos are required. They provide the same function as traditional proof sheets from film to enable users to review survey files and nominations.

The surveyor has two options for proof sheets:

1. Print the proof sheets yourself on a home or office printer.

2. Submit a CD (with the photos named as described above) to the HPO for printing of proof sheets for a fee. This process is similar to submitting film for proof sheets, and with equivalent costs. The HPO photography services fee schedule is posted at -------- If the HPO prints the proof sheets, all of the photos for a particular property or a particular block face (i.e., for a particular file) must be in its own folder.

Printing proof sheets at home:  Proofs may be printed on a typical home printer, whether laser or inkjet, and may be in color or black and white (again, do not convert images from color to grayscale) on a premium quality, bright white paper (24 lb weight or higher) or low-cost photo paper to reduce costs as long as the images are crisp and legible.  There should be a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 9 images per 8 ½ x 11 sheet, with no image smaller than 3 inches on its longest side.

Labeling proof sheets: This may be done by hand in the traditional way with one label per proof sheet written on the front or back of the sheet. Proofs should be labeled with property survey site number, name, location, photographer (initials are acceptable), and date (month and year). For urban properties, the location is the town; if an urban property has only a generic name such as “commercial building,” rather than a historic name, the street address must also be included. For rural properties identified only by a generic name, the road number or 911 address must be indicated. If a rural property has a family name, no location information is needed. Views also must be indicated, either on the front below the image or on the back, lined up with the image.

Several software packages can print proof sheets with the file name under each image and add a title line for the entire sheet (i.e., the block of information traditionally written on the back of black and white proof sheets). See the companion document, Working with Digital Photographs, for a review of free or inexpensive software that can create labeled proof sheets.  The only thing you may need to write on the proof sheets is specific information about views.

Burning CDs of Survey Photographs: Use a CD-R, not a CD-RW. For a survey project, the photographs of multiple properties may be burned to a CD – as many as it will hold.  Do not make a separate CD for each individual property. If you have already created a separate folder for each property because you earlier submitted a CD to the HPO photo lab for printing of enlarged proofs, you may leave the photo files in the folders. Otherwise, do not create a separate folder for each property on the CD. Label each CD with county, project name, photographer, and date created. Protect CDs in a plastic case or heavy paper sleeve.

 Digital Images for National Register Nominations


Photographs for a National Register nomination are a subset of the photos you have made in the survey phase of your work with a property or district.  Your selected National Register photos for submittal to the National Park Service should be included among those named and proofed as described above in Section II.  Even if you make additional visits to a property or district to take photographs specifically for the nomination, you should first name and proof the photographs as described for survey photographs. Your National Register photographs are  copies of your original survey photographs that are given new names and other special treatment to be included with the nomination. Remember that the minimum image dimensions for both surveys and National Register nominations is 1950 pixels x 1350 pixels.

Selecting and Copying Photos for the Nomination:  Select the photos you want to include with the nomination, just as you would select appropriate views from proof sheets printed from film. Create a separate folder on your computer to which to copy those photos selected for this specific nomination. (The survey photos remain in a separate folder.)

Note: Consult with HPO National Register staff in Raleigh about photo selection for the nomination prior to submitting your photo order.

Editing NR Photographs: If you are able to work with an image editor such as Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, you may straighten, crop, improve brightness and contrast, etc., while maintaining the resolution created by your camera. Do not convert the images to grayscale. Except for any minor cropping that may be needed, do not reduce the pixel dimensions of your photographs as created by your camera

Naming NR Photographs:  Name the image files for a National Register nomination as follows:

For an individual property, for example the Johnson Farm in Chatham County:

NC_ChathamCounty_JohnsonFarm0001.jpg    -- where 0001 is the photo number.

For a historic district:

NC_NewHanoverCounty_SunsetParkHD0025.jpg    -- where 0025 is the 25th photo included in the nomination and keyed to the map.


1)      Do not use letters to identify photos in a sequence; only use numbers.

2)      The word “County” must be spelled out.

<3)   Image numbers must begin with enough zeros to create a four-digit number.

NPS digital photo policy ( also allows use of the district inventory number for properties within nominated districts, but we no longer use inventory numbers in district nominations in North Carolina. Thus the example shown above meets NR requirements.

Image format: NPS requires that digital photographs be submitted on a CD in the TIF format. Images in the TIF format are more stable than the jpeg format, but require many times as much disk space. There are two options for converting your images to the TIF format:

1. The HPO will convert your JPEG pictures to the TIF format and burn them to the CD to submit to NPS for a fee.

2.  If you have image editing software that can convert JPEGs to TIFs, you may do the conversion yourself if you are comfortable with the process and only if you also are printing the photographs (see below).

Burning the NR CD:  Burn the selected images as JPEGs, properly named, to a CD-R. Limit nomination photographs to a single nomination per disk (whether property or district), even if you are submitting two or more nominations at the same time. Identify the CD with county, property or district name, date created, and your name. 

Submitting the NR CD:  There are two options for submitting the NR CD to the HPO:

1.      Send your CD to the HPO Raleigh reviewer, along with an order form for prints (PDF versionWord version) The reviewer will forward your order to the HPO photography clerk.

2.      If you have converted the images to uncompressed TIFs and made the prints yourself, send a CD with the TIFs to the Raleigh reviewer along with your prints.

: All HPO printing of digital photographs for NR nominations is done by the HPO’s Raleigh photo lab (not in the field offices). 

Nomination Prints:  The HPO has a printer with inks and paper that meet NPS archival standards and will print nomination photographs being submitted to the National Register. We will also burn a CD with the final TIF images to submit to NPS with the nomination. The photography clerk will send the prints to you for labeling as in the past and will bill you for the cost of the prints and creation of the CD for NPS.

If you do your own printing, you must verify in writing that you have met the federal guidelines regarding the ink and paper used in the production of the prints. See NPS digital photo policy (

VERY IMPORTANT:  The nomination photo number sequence written on the back of the photos must match the number sequence of the digital file names. For example, for the Johnson Farm nomination, the print labeled # 1 should be NC_ChathamCounty_JohnsonFarm0001.jpg.  The print labeled #2 should be NC_ChathamCounty_JohnsonFarm0002.jpg, and so on. If you want your first photo to be the “glamour shot,” it should be NC_ChathamCounty_JohnsonFarm1.jpg. 

Fee Schedule for Nomination Prints and CDs:  As of August 2006, we no longer require 8x10 prints for nominations, regardless of whether the photo source is film or digital.

5x7 prints:  $4.30 each; two sets will be printed for nominations
8x10 prints (when requested by client; not required for nominations):  $5.35
Burning the TIF CD for NPS:  $2.25
Processing and shipping fee for all orders:  $2.25
Sales tax will be added to all orders 

Click here for the complete HPO photography services fee schedule.