The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) is a program of the National Park Service that documents historic places in the United States through drawings, photographs, and written histories. HABS photography typically involves capturing detailed, high-quality images of the exterior and interior of a historic building or structure. These images are then used to create a visual record of the building's appearance and design, as well as to document its condition and any changes that have occurred over time. The goal of HABS photography is to provide a comprehensive and accurate record of historic places for research, preservation, and public education purposes.


The Library of Congress has strict guidelines for photographic documentation and submission into to the HABS/HAER/HALS archives. This level of documentation requires a historical understanding of buildings, the use of large format black and white film, and specialized large format camera equipment allowing for proper perspective correction inside the camera before the image ever hits the negative.

As of 2022 The library of congress still requires the use of large format negatives for 2 reasons : longevity of the film and clarity of the image. The material stability of cut sheet film satisfies the archival requirements for longevity (500 years), while the clarity of the resulting image comes from a high level of resolution not possible in smaller film formats. Film can always be digitized but exclusively digital information may not always be recoverable due to the vulnerabilities of digital data including media degradation, hardware and software obsolescence, file format migration, proprietary formats, etc. In addition, maintenance of digital archives is much more expensive than maintenance of film archives.

Whats is the difference between HABS, HAER and HALS?

HABS, HAER, and HALS (H3) are all programs of the National Park Service that document historic places in the United States. The main difference between the three programs is the type of places they focus on documenting.

HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey) documents buildings and structures that are at least 50 years old and are significant in American history, architecture, engineering, or culture.

HAER (Historic American Engineering Record) documents historic engineering and industrial sites, such as bridges, canals, and factories.

HALS (Historic American Landscapes Survey) documents historic landscapes, such as parks, gardens, and rural or urban open spaces.

All three programs use a combination of measured drawings, written histories, and photographs to create a comprehensive record of the places they document.

Pier 70 - Union Iron Works / Bethlehem Shipbuilding - CEQA Mitigaion - Photographed for The Port of San Francisco

What is CEQA mitigation and how does it relate to HABS / HAER / HALS photography?

The California Environmental Quality Act is a state law that requires public agencies to identify and mitigate the environmental impacts of their actions. CEQA mitigation measures are actions that are taken to reduce or offset the negative effects of a project on the environment.

In the context of HABS, HAER, and HALS photography, CEQA mitigation measures may be required if a proposed project could potentially have an adverse impact on a historic building or structure that is being documented through the HABS, HAER, or HALS programs. For example, if a proposed project could affect the integrity or visibility of a historic building, the project proponent may be required to implement mitigation measures such as architectural photography to document the building's current condition before construction begins. This would provide a record of the building's appearance and condition for future reference, and could help to ensure that any changes to the building are properly documented and preserved.

Can CEQA mitigation requirmenments be met by doing HABS photography?

Yes. In fact, HABS standards are even higher than that requred for CEQA mitigation, so if you do a HABS documentation you can easily meet local California requirments. It is highly recommended by this studio, and other known studios to submit a copy of a CEQA mitigation as a donation to the federal level in order to make the documment accessable. Submitting to local california archives is great, but it will possibly not be searchable or accessable to a researcher in the future.

Should you require HABS/HAER/HALS/CEQA documentation of significant architecture, infrastructure, machinery or landscape please contact the studio.