Dennis Hill Content Creation

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It’s not about creating pretty pictures. It’s about executing concepts that reinforces a company’s brand and image while driving the marketing vision.

As a preservationist I want to preserve all that is good from the past. As a designer I want the vibrancy and excitement of the new. Having both is what I find creatively challenging.


Dennis Hill studied photography at Los Angeles City College, making the Dean’s List, and continued his studies at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. As an alum, Dennis was Vice-President of the Alumni Board of Directors and a committee chair of the Alumni Council. Currently he is a member of several professional organizations including AIA Pasadena Foothill and the California Preservation Foundation.

Dennis’ architectural photography has encompassed many architecturally significant homes, as well as new construction and commercial development throughout California. In recent years, the primary focus of his work has been creating visual narrative images to implement branding and marketing strategies. He also works with a number of regional and local businesses for which he produces web sites, print and other marketing materials.

Dennis has photographed a number of HABS/HAER/HALS projects, including the Santa Monica Incline Bridge, Claremont Heights Lemon Packing House, the Hollywood Reservoir Pumping Station, Oaklawn Bridge, Odella Ranch, Vladeck Center and Ambassador College. A major undertaking was the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge project. Over 300 4×5” black and white photographs were taken from helicopters, boats, and various locations throughout the City, as well as from the bridge itself, taking two years to complete. Dennis and Frank Deras collaborated as co-photographers on this project. This project was recognized by the California Preservation Foundation’s Design Awards for HAER documentation.

A portfolio of Dennis’ past work may be viewed on his archive website at
He can be reached at or on LinkedIn.

I am a story teller creating a visual narrative. I do this with light, shadow, color and composition. I create a sense of space and volume using only two dimensions.

HALS Belli-Lompa Ranch

HALS Documentation

HALS (Historic American Landscape Survey) documentation is the newest of the historic documentations known collectively as HABS HAER HALS. Started only about 20 years ago, it is also one of the least utilized documentations. By comparison, HABS started during the Great Depression nearly 90 years ago and has thousands of recorded project sites. HALS documentations are required of landscape sites that exhibit historic significance, associated with people or events of historic significance or is a prime example of a master landscape architect.

A recent example is the Belli-Lompa Ranch in Carson City Nevada. Because there are several structures on-site dating to the 1920’s, you’d think that this would call for a HABS (Historic American Building Survey) documentation. Some of the reasons for a HALS documentation are the usage of the property, a major road way (streetscape) dividing the site, naturally occurring water drainage and irrigation. Streetscapes have become a major emphasis for HALS documentations.

In this HALS project, we documented streetscape, fencing, pastures, drainage, irrigation, a barn and several outbuildings associated with ranching in contextual, elevation and detail views.

HALS Carson City NV Lompa RanchHALS Carson City NV Lompa Ranch HALS Lompa Ranch Carson City NVHALS Lompa Ranch Carson City NV

HABS Mitigation

Why do I have to do this? One of the first questions I get is “why do I have to do this?” In the late 1960’s the Federal government decided it was important to preserve and documents our built and archeological history. In 1966 they passed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and codified it through Section 106. Section 106 (NHPA) requires federal agencies to consider the effects on historic properties of projects they carry out, assist, fund, permit, license, or approve throughout the country. If a federal or federally-assisted project has the potential to affect historic properties, a Section 106 review will take place. By the early 1970’s many State and local governments enacted their own rules, laws and ordinances using Section 106 as a guide. The historic review does not prevent razing of structures but adds an additional layer of review and public comment to the process.

Cities can follow HABS HAER HALS to the extent they want. Since local governments are looking to Section 106 only as a guide, they can adopt any procedure they want as long as it does not involve Federal funding or oversite. Some cities require all 3 components, written narrative, measured drawings and large format archival photography prints and negatives. Other jurisdictions only require the photography

Why so much money? If all 3 components are required, a complete small historic documentation (written history with a possible EIR) could run into ten of thousands of dollars. The photography is usually only about 10-15% of the total cost.

The photography itself has three areas of expense. The first is the time required to do the on-site photography. Generally, only about 12-15 exterior images a day can be made. Indoors, with the addition of supplemental lighting, that number falls to around 9-12 images. While on-site, a sketch map showing the location and compass heading along with other field notes need to be made. The on-site work encompasses about 40% of the workload.

Second is the time required to get the film processed and scanned, prints made, prints, negatives and archival enclosures need to be labeled following the Secretary of the Interior Standards. An Index with photo captions needs to be assembled. A sketch map showing where each image was taken needs to be drawn. Next, a PDF of all deliverables (for distribution to other than the archival repositories) needs to be prepared. The deliverables need to be packaged for shipment. Since the negatives are each an original that can’t be reproduced, the shipment needs to be insured for a its replacement value. This is generally the cost to re-shoot the entire project. The second part takes about 60% of the time.

The third part of the expenses are the deliverables themselves, mainly the film, film processing, film scanning, and archival prints. There was a time when black and white was used instead of color due to cost. Color could be 4 times the expense as compared to B&W. Those days are gone. For every click of the shutter, my cost runs almost $10. Depending on how many negatives are required (usually 1-3 per view) I need to take extra just in case something happens. Even the printed Index needs to be on archival bonded and not standard photo copy paper.

What can I do to save money? One might think the best way to save money is to limit the number of views (images) taken. This can be short sighted. Each project needs to be “thoroughly yet concisely” documented. Return trips for on-site work is way more expensive and time consuming than doing the project correctly the first time. Although city staff usually relies on my opinion, they are the final arbiter of needed views.

The other single most important way to save money is to be prepared. Gaining access to all parts of the site is very important. Removal of visual obstructions can also take valuable on-site time. Boarded up windows not only cover important details; they necessitate the need to set up additional interior lighting. Construction and other exterior fencing blocks contextual views. The same goes for brush and other overgrown vegetation.

Voluntary submittal to the Library of Congress. I always suggest that instead of multiple copies of negatives and prints going to various local repositories, do a voluntary submittal to the Library of Congress (LoC). The LoC requires only 1 each negative and print, they have the climate-controlled archives and once scanned, they are available on-line 24/7/365 free of charge for anyone to find and use. Some localities agree and are fine with a digital PDF file, others still require at least one local set of deliverables.  

How to get started? All we need is a copy of your mitigation requirements pertaining to your HABS HAER or HALS documentation. We will talk directly with the Planning Dept. to confirm exactly the items needed to fulfill your obligations and move your project along. We have been creating historic documentation for 20 plus years. We are based in the Pasadena area of Los Angeles and extensive experience creating HABS HAER HALS in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Southern California (So Cal), Northern California (No Cal), Nevada (NV) and Arizona (AZ).

‘HABS Like’ Mitigation

What is ‘HABS Like’

I get this call all the time from developers, property owners and even architects. “I have a mitigation for a ‘HABS like’ documentation, do you know what this is?” I tell them I do and then they send over the PDF of their mitigations (some run into hundreds of pages). These mitigation requirements can be triggered by (NEPA), Section 106, National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Environmental Impact report (EIR), and mitigated negative declaration (MND) as well as local preservation ordinances.

What is a HABS documentation? The Secretary of the Interior set standards and levels of documentation for historic buildings, sites and landscapes which is administered by the National Park Service (NPS). There are three main components to the documentation: measured drawings, written narrative report and large format photography. There are 4 levels but the three that are most commonly used differ mainly regarding the measured drawings and written narrative. The large format photography is fairly consistent among the 3 levels. Level IV documentation consists of completed HABS/HAER/HALS inventory cards. This level of documentation, unlike the other three levels, is rarely considered adequate documentation for the HABS/HAER/HALS collections (35mm film) but is undertaken to identify historic resources in a given area prior to additional, more comprehensive documentation.

What is large format photography? Large format photography utilizes a view camera with sheet film that measures 4”x5”, 5”x7” or 8”x10” (the size of the negative). The camera also has to be able to correct for distortion. The film has to be process so that it is archival for 500 years. Prints made from the negatives have to be archival for 100+ years.

Why Large Format? A 4”x5” sheet of film is almost 15 times larger than a 35mm negative.

Why Black and White Film? The film needs to be archival for 500 years. Color film begins to fad and deteriorate in as little as 20 years. Plus, black and white film has better detail (resolution) than color.

What is Archival? Both the negative and prints are archived in the Library of Congress or other state and local libraries, museums and historical societies. Both need to be properly processed to remove residual chemicals that, over time, will eat away at the emulsion and reducing image detail.

How to get started? All we need is a copy of your mitigation requirements pertaining to your HABS HAER or HALS documentation. We will talk directly with the Planning Dept. to confirm exactly the items needed to fulfill your obligations and move your project along. We have been creating historic documentation for 20 plus years. We are based in the Pasadena area of Los Angeles and extensive experience creating HABS HAER HALS in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Southern California (So Cal), Northern California (No Cal), Nevada (NV) and Arizona (AZ).


The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) is the nation’s first federal preservation program, begun in 1933 to document America’s architectural heritage. Creation of the program was motivated primarily by the perceived need to mitigate the negative effects upon our history and culture of rapidly vanishing architectural resources.

The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) was established in 1969 by the National Park Service (NPS), the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Library of Congress (LoC) to document historic sites and structures related to engineering and industry. Appropriate subjects for documentation are individual sites or objects, such as a bridge, ship, or steel works; or larger systems, like railroads, canals, electronic generation and transmission networks, parkways and roads.

Started in 2001 Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS) is the documentation of landscape sites that exhibit historic significance, associated with people or events of historic significance or is a prime example of a master landscape architect. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) works with the National Park Service (NPS) to facilitate the work. The standard format is a long historical narrative and descriptive report that is prepared using the standard HALS outline format, but must otherwise be prepared as an original document.

After review by the NPS, the work is archived in the Library of Congress (LoC) Print and Photography Collection. LoC makes this work available on their website, free of charge, for use by all. The work in the LoC is in the public domain and is thus copyright free. State and local required mitigation may be archived at California Office of Historic Preservation (SHPO), libraries, museums, State Information Centers or other public and private repositories.

Federal, State and cities interact with historic preservation mitigation requirements through a number of avenues including National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Section 106, National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Environmental Impact report (EIR), and mitigated negative declaration (MND). Most preservation acts, ordinances, rules and laws are included within environmental law.

We have been creating historic documentation for 20 plus years. We are based in the Pasadena area of Los Angeles and extensive experience creating HABS HAER HALS in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Southern California (So Cal), Northern California (No Cal), Nevada (NV) and Arizona (AZ).

Dream Clients

All too often we get caught up in business and don’t realize when a dream client comes along. So, it was a little surprising when an architect in Louisiana, Domain Architecture, contacted me regarding their project in Southern California. This is when you have to love technology. I gave them my price and terms. Instead of negotiating over price they asked if the could share the images and cost with the contract furniture company? I agreed and they sent me over renderings of specific views that they wanted captured. They also gave me a list of other views.
Here is an example:

Click Here for Additional Samples

Camera RAW

Recently I’ve been asked by some clients for my original camera RAW files. Some of these clients only want to receive the camera RAW files while others want them in addition to other formats. The request for these files has become a hot issue for professional photographers. Below are a few reasons why photographers are reluctant to provide RAW files.

First, a little background. What exactly is a RAW file (not to be confused with Adobe Camera Raw)? A RAW file is the file that comes directly from the camera without any type of adjustment. Each camera sensor is made of individual points called pixels. The total number of pixels on the sensor is measured in megapixels. One megapixel is one million pixels or points on the sensor. A 24 meg camera would have 24,000,000 pixels. Each camera manufacturer has its own proprietary format. Pixels only measure the amount of light at a point in the image. Pixels don’t see color, only measuring the relative light or dark in the scene. Each pixel has a filter of red, green or blue over it in order to measure the respective color. Together RGB makes daylight or white light: all the colors we can see. The image shown on the camera back is actually a JPEG image, which has been adjusted or processed by the camera.

So why don’t professional photographers want to give away their RAW files? The first reason is that even if the client has Photoshop or Lightroom it takes a skilled and experienced user to handle the files properly. This is similar to architects who are reluctant to giving away their CAD or Revit files.

Second, is the importance of what the photographer does in post-processing. The initial capture is only the first step in creating a final image. The photographer’s skill and experience during post-processing is as important as the initial capture. Post-processing is a multi-step procedure in which each step builds upon the previous to create the vision of the photographer. When consumer cameras capture an image the camera automatically makes assumptions about the scene and image before it is displayed on the camera back. This is why consumer cameras have settings for snow, beach, mountains, people etc. It helps the camera decide how to process the image. Using the RAW format all adjustments are in the hands of the photographer.  Photographers typically only want to release a final product that is consistent with their brand, vision and style.

To illustrate, below are three images of a scene taken for a recent client. The first is the RAW file just as it came from the camera. The second image is what was sent to the client after post-processing. The client wanted a ‘normal’ scene with good highlight and shadow detail because it was to be used it in scouting movie, TV and other film production locations. The third is another possible interpretation of the scene taking the post-processing even further. Which is the correct or most authentic to the scene? All of them. It all depends on the vision of the photographer and purpose of the image.

To see additional samples click here




Historic Preservation & New Development

Many developers think of historic preservation as at odds to new construction. Well meaning groups standing in the way of progress and their business. This is not always the case. As many cities and local government entities realize the value of historic properties not everything is worthy of saving. Just because it’s old doesn’t make it historic. The property in question has to have some historic, political, social or architectural significance. The above property in Bradbury is one such example. The developer purchased the approximate 4.5 acre parcel from the long time owners with the intend to raze the existing structures, sub-divide into 3 lots and build new homes compatible with the neighborhood.  A cultural resource consultant determined it did not qualify as significant. The original home was cut in half and moved to the lot next door to create a new home. What remained was greatly altered and those alterations can be seen from the exterior and from within.  When the developer removed the vegetation and brush in order to reduce vandalism and squatters, passerby’s could now clearly see the home from the street. Inquiries started to come to the City Offices. People wanted to know what was going to happen to the home and barn (garage). They explained that too little of the original building fabric existed and it had little historic or architectural value and would be razed. The City did, however, require of the developer that a “HABS like” study be completed before the demolition permit would be issued. The developer chose this mitigation over allowing tours of the property due to safety and insurance concerns.

A true HABS documentation would consist of a written report, measure drawings on Mylar and large format, black and white photography. Because the report was local and not to be archived in the Library of Congress, the City required only the photography portion of the report. The developer contracted with an architectural salvage company to harvest the re-usable fixtures and architectural elements which offset the cost of the HABS documentation. The City will increase its tax base and eliminate a public nuisance of vandals and vagrants.  The full report will be archived with a public library or preservation group so that generations to come will be able to view the history of the area. The developer will also share the report with their architects to gather design cues such as the columns and Palladio windows. The full report can be viewed here

Society of Architectural Historians

The Society of Architectural Historians,, held its 2016 Annual International Conference at the Pasadena Convention Center earlier this month. Academics and professionals from around the world convened in Pasadena to share new research on the history of the built environment. In addition to the conference’s 42 paper sessions, SAH presented 18 guided architectural tours of the Pasadena/Los Angeles region as well as a seminar that examined SurveyLA, Los Angeles’ city-wide historic resources program developed by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the City of Los Angeles. The SAH-Getty International Program as well as the SAH Opening Social Hour was held at the Pasadena Convention Center on Friday night. Images from these events can be found here. Dennis Hill volunteered his time providing images and assembling the Welcome Bags given to each attendee.

B Sign

For information regarding architectural, HABS/HAER or Content Creation, please contact Dennis Hill, creator

California Incline, Santa Monica CA HAER Report

Eugene Heck, M.A. of LSA Associates, Inc. prepared this HAER type report for the California Incline Bridge project prior to its reconstruction. Dennis Hill worked for 4 days on-site creating both the black and white as well as some of the color digital images as noted. An Index of Photos and Photo Key accompanied his images. All of the B&W images were created using a 4″x 5″ view camera and traditional B&W film. The full report can be viewed here. Dennis has worked on a number of HABS/HAER/HALS projects including San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, Claremont Lemon Packing House, Oaklawn Bridge and Ambassador College, some of which are archived at the HABS/HAER/HALS Collection Library of Congress.

It has been said that, at it’s best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a a mutual concern for the future.

-William Murtagh, first keeper of the National Register of Historic Places

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