The Photographic Archives provides a secure, controlled environment for the Department’s photographic images, both historical and contemporary. Consisting of prints, negatives, glass plates, lantern slides, color slides, "born digital" images, and supplementary research files, the collections continue to grow and assist staff in planning restorations, creating interpretive programs, and documenting concessions and visitor activities. In addition, the Photographic Archives serves as a valuable information resource for students and scholars, as well as the casual interested user. The Photographic Archives maintains a dynamic acquisition program, adding to its contemporary holdings through the original work of a full time staff photographer, and adding to its historical holdings by accepting and housing images previously held in park units and by individuals. The finding aid, the Guide to the California State Parks Photographic Archives (© 2014, California State Parks.) is available here in PDF format to assist researchers. 

As of the 2014 edition, over 109,000 images have been cataloged as part of the Department’s ongoing conservation efforts. Images exist as low resolution digital formats and, except for minor contrast and brightness modifications, have received no cosmetic alterations. Images are cataloged using The Museum System (or TMS), the artifact cataloging software currently utilized by the Department statewide. 

Introduction to Photographic Archives collection of images, history, and the Title Page and Table of Contents Page 

The Park Index lists the current official form of the park name. Former, variant, and proper names are listed alphabetically, and refer the user to the proper name of the park. Internal classified units within parks, as well as unclassified significant structures and areas, are listed alphabetically and refer the user to the larger unit.

The Subject Index integrates the most commonly requested materials under subject headings originally created by Department staff. Subject terms such as "Erosion" and "Equestrian Trails" will lead the user to images regardless of which specific unit they exist in.

The Special Collections section currently includes two unique collections in the Photographic Archives holdings. The first collection listed, the James Woodward Aerial Slide Collection lists the large collection of aerial slides, arranged geographically from north to south within each district under the 2000 District organizational structure. The order of the districts is also geographical, beginning in the interior, north to south, then coastal, finally low desert, and then the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation districts. The second collection, the John H. Plimpton Research Records, lists the materials gathered by John H. Plimpton when he worked for California State Parks as a Ranger. Plimpton’s research focused on the historic and natural elements along the confluence of the North, South, and Middle forks of the American River. Plimpton bound the gathered research in a series of albums. The albums contain a variety of materials, from Plimpton’s typed research, maps, copies of historic photos, then-contemporary photos of resources, advertisements, letters, and other pertinent materials. Both collections are currently only available for viewing on-site at the Photographic Archives.

The Plant Index is arranged "dictionary" style, integrating Latin and common names.

The Animal Index reflects the taxonomical physical arrangement of the slides and includes a common name guide.

The Song Index listing is arranged alphabetically, and assists users in finding common campfire songs for interpretive programs. The number of slides required per song is noted next to the title.