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A few years ago, my wife and I were thrilled to find two small reels of film in her father's basement. On them were images of her parents' wedding, and even a few scenes of my wife, Donna, as an infant in her crib. Suddenly, stories and snapshots came to life through the miracle of motion picture. These films were truly threads to the past.

Today many people have access to some type of video recording equipment. This is a wonderful medium to record images and sounds of relatives and family events, and these tapes complement your still pictures collection. However, particular attention needs to be paid to how you record events, and to how you store completed tapes.First, if you do not own videotaping equipment, don't despair. The truth is that most people who own video equipment only pull it out of the closet for special occasions, so see if someone you know will rent or loan you their camera. Of course, you may want to purchase your own equipment. Prices in general are declining with the growing proliferation of cameras, and a sale can lead to good equipment at a reasonable price.

When filming, keep the camera steady. There are few things more irritating than watching a movie that resembles an earthquake. Don't hold the camera on people too long, but don't be too brief, either. Allow sufficient time for the subject to appropriately say or demonstrate whatever it is he or she is doing, or to catch the action of the moment.

Even if you use a camera only twice a year, you will be surprised how quickly your family film collection grows.

That's the next problem: Your collection does grow; sometimes too quickly. Make sure you keep your "production" exciting and moving along. Unless you have editing capabilities, plan your shots carefully.

Now that you have your family memories recorded, just put the tape away and it's around forever, right? Unfortunately, it isn't that easy. All magnetic recordings (audio, video, even computer disks) are subject to continuous degradation from atmospheric radiation. How quickly they deteriorate is still a subject of debate, but there are some things you should do to protect your archives.

First, purchase the best tape you can for the format you are using. Long-term quality improves with high-quality tape. Then, when your recording is finished, pop out or switch the erase tab to prevent accidentally recording over what you have done. On a VHS cassette, it is located on the back spine. On an 8mm cassette, there is a switch that can be moved between positions so it is easy to continue recording on the tape later. If you want to add to a VHS recording after popping the tabs, just place some adhesive tape over the square hole, and after recording remove it again.

When you finish recording or playing the tape, rewind and eject it. Always make sure your cassettes are stored fully rewound, and don't leave them in your camera or VCR for long periods of time. The tape will reshape itself to the threading path in your machine, which can cause picture distortion.

It is also important to keep your tapes in a cool, dry place, and always store them on their edge - never flat. This prevents damage to the edge of the tape.

If you really want your images to last, nothing exceeds movie film. I picked up an 8mm film camera and projector for $50 at a garage sale, and reserve $20 for a 3-minute roll of film and processing once a year. The expense of the film requires planning before using it, and don't use it indoors unless you have studio lights.

Outdoors, you get superb pictures and color. If you want to view the film often, have it copied to videotape as frequent projection hastens the fading process.

Our children love to watch our family movies frequently, so we make copies of them, too. This prevents the original from becoming worn or damaged. Most video cameras play back, so just hook them up to your VCR and copy away. (You own the copyright on this production.)

- Rod Gustafson is a freelance writer and photographer, who incorporates still and video photography in his work. He is ward mission leader in the Medicine Hat 2nd Ward, Taber Alberta Stake.


(Additional information)

- Preserving mementos, photographs and documents is an enjoyable activity, sparking fond remembrances of earlier seasons in life. But the significance of preserving a slice of life is far greater than just sparking remembrances. Through the many items that are preserved, generations to come can gain a glimpse of the past and thereby understand - and appreciate - their heritage more fully.

This week's Church News focuses on various aspects of preserving memories. The stories are found on pages 6-10.