California Settlers Reference Sources Photographing Documents

Using a copy stand:
The primary use of a copy stand is to photograph pages from books, photographs, and other small, flat objects. If you take these pictures with slide film, they can then be directly incorporated into your slide program. Granted, digitally scanning these items may be a possibility, but digitally scanning and then converting to a slide for a slide projector program is a longer, more costly process and you may lose quality. Also digitally scanning bound manuscripts, or fragile or oversize items may be difficult with the common flatbed scanner.

The copy stand should be mounted on a low table so the camera controls and eyepiece are at a comfortable height.

The main points to remember when using a copy stand are that you need to control glare, shadows, and the level of lighting. Reflectors that fill in shadows, diffusers that soften harsh light, and lights can all assist in accomplishing this goal. While good copy work can be done with ambient light, you must watch out for shadows and reflections; more consistent results are obtained by using enhanced lighting.

Have a grid on the base to help align objects.

Colored with an 18 percent gray scale to set the exposure.

Sandbags: These will keep your C-stand, light stands, and tripods from tipping over if bumped.


-- No flash is necessary if your subject is well illuminated with 2 to 4 high-watt bulbs (e.g., 150-300 Watt, 120 Volt flood lamps) I found that with 4 50W bulbs my camera set the exposure to 1/640 @ f3.2 with an ISO setting of 100 which should be sufficient.

One or two on each side, should be illuminating the work evenly at 45 degree angles to the work, sweeping the artwork so that it is evenly lit. Move the lamps back and forth to achieve the most even lighting without glare spots, but keep them at 45 degree angles. If using daylight, make sure that the work is evenly lit and has no shadows or glare spots. Do not obstruct the light with your camera or body.

An piece of non-glare, a quarter inch thick, to place over the photograph. Note: Be careful to adjust the lighting to remove any glare from the glass.

Standard incandescent light bulbs which use a tungsten filament. Also called "Tungsten-Halogen" and "Quartz". Affordable lights that operate at 3200K, usually. They take a lot of electricity and generate a lot of heat, but did I mention that they're affordable?

(Hydrargyrum Medium arc-length Iodide) operate at 5600K, usually, and are about fives times more efficient than tungsten lamps. A 200W HMI lamp will put out about as much light as a 1000W tungsten lamp while only generating one-fifth of the heat. The catch is that they cost about 3 times as much. "

An efficient soft light source that generates less heat than tungsten lights, but is more expensive. These are not the same as consumer fluorescent lights because the spectrum is more even (less green and less holes in the spectrum), and the ballasts provide more steady current, reducing flicker and audible sound problems. Fluorescent lights can come in different color temperatures. Professional lamps can come in 3200K, 5600K or other temperatures. Consumers lamps come in may temperatures, but a common type are 4500K, which is in the green light range.

Fluorescent light sources can appear to oscillate due to differences between the frequency of the light source and the frequency of sampling of the CCD.

Diffusion material
Translucent material placed in front of a light source to soften the light. This can be small, sitting just in front of a lamp, or on a frame, as big as a '59 Chevy Impala. These are often called silks. You can also use frosted glass on the light fixture.

All lamps should be the same color balance (3400K or 3200K for photo lamps) and brightness in order to provide uniform results.

Light level should be about two stops stopped down from max aperture.
It is far more important where to block light than where to put it. Lights that are too diffused end up with slightly unsharp and less brilliant pictures. You may want to span a piece of black cloth above the object and use barn doors around the lights to make sure that they hit only the object and *not* the camera or anything else in the room.

If you are photographing an oil painting use a polarizing filter to reduce glare due to different reflecting properties of pigments.

White Balance: This important setting is easy to forget. A digital camera can adjust colors according to lighting so that colors that appear white to the human eye also appear white when viewed in the final photograph. If you use an incandescent light source, you will need to set your camera for such to improve color reproduction. Unfortunately, even if you set the white balance accordingly, the colors may appear "off" (usually too red) if you use a polarizing filter. This will require you to hold the specimen in front of the image as it is displayed on a computer and adjust the color balance and saturation levels using imaging software like Adobe Photoshop (see image manipulation techniques).

A SLR will allow you to focus and align thru the lens for better results.

A normal lens will have less aberration and distortion than a telephoto which has more complex optics.

Use a remote shutter release to minimize camera movement.

Camera Settings:
For small objects requiring zoom, a higher f stop (4 to 6) will give you greater depth of field, since depth of field is reduced with zoom.

Use low ISO (50) film for higher contrast and sharp detail.

  • Keep the material being photographed as flat as possible. Use non-glare glass or straps to hold the page.
  • If the whole scene is not needed, use your lens to zoom in close or lay a mask surrounding the image. This will save you from having to mask your slides after they are developed.
  • Use a blue "80A" filter on your copy stand lens if you are using a regular incandescent light bulb.
  • Use a polarizing filter to minimize glare if glass is placed over the copy.
  • Hold a pencil or similar object up in the middle to check for even shadows.
  • To avoid unwanted reflections, align lights at a 45-degree angle to the work being copied. Remember to turn off overhead lights.
  • Use your camera's built-in light meter to determine proper settings. Most modern SLR cameras have automatic modes of operation. Always shoot at f/8 or f/11. This will ensure sharp, well-focused images.
    Another web site says light level should be about two stops stopped down from max aperture.

Copying from documents: (Source: Somerset County Photography Club)

APT BookScan 1200 automatically turns pages 5-10 sec. page - $125,000
Google books & libraries use it

Bookeye -  $10,000
Copy stand split base one side higher so book sits flat and is same distance from camera

Artiz scanner for rare books
   Mini $5,000 plus cameras

Digital Cameras and Genealogy - Copying Family Photos
My Photograhy notes
Taking Slides of Artwork
Types of Lights
Cameras and Techniques at Digital Researcher
Digital imaging tips for fish at the Academy of Natural Sciences Planetary Biological Inventories Project Catfish page.
Photographing Tombstones

last updated 12 Nov 2007