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Using Archival Photos in documentary films

In making Journeys – the documentary film about El Shaddai Trust, a charity working with children in need in India, I had to rely on archival photographs for the sequences dealing with the organisation’s beginnings. This is inevitable when retelling history. I was presented with a huge number of images in JPG format. The question in my mind was how do I incorporate it into the film?

Using Archive Photos in Documentary Film

Since the story is mainly about people in the present, I knew there would just be small portions of the film where the archival photos would have to be used. Mainly sequences that talk about the early years.

Wading through the multitude of images, I selected images that particularly struck me. I knew I would not directly import the digital images into the timeline and apply some digital panning/zooming.

Archival images in documentaryI printed my selection of images in 5 x 7 size on matte paper. Then I enlisted the support of my eager 6 year old son 🙂 and strung a series of crisscrossing threads in my studio. I suspended select images from the strings. In a sense, the crisscrossing strings represent the crisscrossing lives I was trying to depict in the documentary.

I filmed each image closeup, and some wider shots, using camera movement even as the hanging images gently swayed in the light breeze from the air-con vent.

I imported the video clips into Adobe Premiere Pro and used the appropriate clips in the sequences where archival footage was required. In doing so I eliminated the need to import still images into the project entirely.

Here’s a montage of various sections of the documentary film where I used the technique.

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