Chapter 2 - What is a Photographic Point?

Project: Photographic Points written by K.D. Swan, February, 1961

 "What is a photographic point? Briefly stated it is an established point, carefully chosen, from which pictures can be taken at intervals to show changes that have occurred during the time lapse between shots." 

"These pictures are often of great value in showing the growth of plantations, the establishment of reproduction on old burns, the changing aspects of timber sale areas, the rate of decay of stumps of fallen lumber."

EDITOR's NOTE: Each camera point documents a specific location. Once a point is established a forester maps the longitude and latitude of the point. A post is erected to mark the location of the point and a metal tag is attached to the post with the point's identification number. The map, post, and id tag allow Swan and other forester to return and re-photograph the same location year after year.

Swan's First Camera Point Series


Camera point one, taken in 1923 by K.D. Swan.

Camera point point photograph taken in 1923.

Same camera point tree, photo taken in 1944.

Same camera point tree, photo taken in 1944.

Same camera point tree, photo taken in 1950.

Same camera point tree, photo taken in 1950.


"It is a fascinating project, and the finding of spots from which original pictures had been taken (with no thought at the time of a follow up) gave me more thrills than any other branch of forest photography during my years with the service - except possibly the taking of wilderness views. Crusiers in the Lubrect Forest may have noticed in a few places metal posts with bronze caps stamped PP followed by a number. These mark photographic points established years ago as a part of this program."

Wilfred W. White and K.D. Swan on a field trip to the Lick Creek Timber Sale area in April of 1938.

Wilfred W. White and K.D. Swan on a field trip to the Lick Creek Timber Sale area in April of 1938; photo by J.N. Hessel.


 "In 1909 the much-publicized Lick Creek timber sale was in progress on the Bitterroot National Forest. This operation, which was intended as a sort of pilot project for future sales, was in charge of W.W. White, one of the pioneers in the early years of timber management in this region. I suspect that during the progress of this sale he spent most of his waking hours among the trees that he loved; certain it is that he lived in a cabin on the area and became well acquainted with every aspect and feature of the topography in the vicinity. The Big Blackfoot Milling Company, a subsidiary of Anaconda, purchased the timber and did the logging according to Forest Service specifications. For years the sale area was considered a sort of show window of conservation cutting practices and logging methods."

Lick Creek Timber Sale Camera Point area sign.  Bitterroot National Forest Lick Creek Timber Sale area sign. Click on image to get a view of the Camera Point map.


"During November of 1925 White and I took a set of the origianl pictures and went to the area to see if we could locate the points from which they were taken. This quest was extremely fascinating." 

Lick Creek Timber Sale area photo. Bitterroot National Forest Lick Creek Timber Sale area in April of 1938. Click on the photo to get a series of photos from the Timber sale #87357.

"The camera we were using was nearly the same as that was used for the original pictures, and when a spot was once found it was simply a matter to adjust the outfit so that the image on the ground glass would coincide with the print we were holding. It was an exciting game, and we felt it was more fun than work. In a few days we had located all but one of the points – sixteen in all. Later the points were marked by iron posts which were tied in to a Land Office corner by compass and pacing. The traverse was platted on a large scale map for future use. Photographs have been taken at intervals ever since."

"White had a good memory and was able to spot, in a general way, the locations we were after. Peculiar stumps and logs were a great help. Just when we might seem baffled in the search for a particular spot something would show up and give us a key. The clue might be the bark pattern on a ponderosa pine, or perhaps a forked tree."


A photo of an English compact camera.

Editor's Note: The English compact R.B. camera uses 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 inch glass plates to produce images.

Photo of a Graflex camera.

Editor's Note: K.D. Swan's camera of choice was the Graflex. The Graflex was a sturdy, reflex camera made by a division of Kodak in Rochester, New York.

Photo of a box of glass plates similar to what was used by K.D. Swan.

Editor's Note When W.J. Lubken took the first set of camera point he used glass plates to capture his images, not on film.