How to Photograph Documents With a Digital Camera

Directions on how to photograph documents with a digital camera include basic instructions for using the camera and a method to set up the document to take a useful image. Digital cameras present problems that traditional film cameras handle easily, but with a little extra light, clear images are a snap.

  1. Arrange the equipment. Put everything for the photograph duplication job in one place. This includes the digital camera, a light source such as a pair of lamps or work lights, a tripod and small chairs or boxes. You'll also need your document and a background such as a beige or pale blue colored bed sheet or large poster paper. The background should contrast slightly with the document but shouldn't be so bright or dark that the lighting needs to be changed. Select a neutral color without a pattern and you'll end up with a nice photo image. 
  2. Prepare the camera. A extension device to click the shutter release on the camera helps capture a steady shot. If you don't have one of these and don't want to spend the money, you'll need to take a number of images to make sure the photograph is clear and can be read easily. If you're photographing a large number of documents, the inexpensive purchase of the release device is highly recommended. It will save hours of work. Once the camera is prepared, set the digital camera to macro mode. If you're not sure how to do this, check the digital camera manual. It's usually a tick on a dial or lever push, but your digital camera may require working a software program located inside the camera. 
  3. Set up the shot. Indirect natural lighting is best to photograph documents. Don't set up in complete sun. This will add too much light and may add glare to the document making it impossible to read. Set up near a window on a bright day and your documents will be a breeze to shoot. If you have a professional copy stand, attach the camera to the adjustable arm and turn on the lights. Chances are you don't have this item, but it's easy to construct a makeshift copy stand. Put your background down first then place two small cardboard boxes, or child's chairs if available, on either side. The boxes or chairs hold the lights. Work lights with adjustable necks are also perfect for the job. This stand looks strange, but it works well. Before putting the actual documents into the professional or makeshift stand, test the equipment with a piece of mail or a page from the newspaper. Put the item on the background and set the lights to brighten the document. Place the camera tripod above the document with the camera base pointed downward so the camera lens looks directly at the document. 
  4. Capture the image. Once the stand is set up, take a practice photograph. Use the extension shutter release to take the photo. It keeps the camera still while the image is captured. If you're simply clicking the shutter, do it carefully, without moving the stand or the lighting stands. Take several shots to make sure the camera didn't move at all during the shooting process. Digital cameras offer the advantage of unlimited shots, so take tons of photographs to make sure you have a great image. 
  5. Check the image. Determining the quality of the image is an important part of the photograph process, especially for printed text documents. Use the enlarge feature on the camera, if there is one, or load the photograph images onto a computer to check the quality. Enlarge the document image to check for clear edges and clean text. If the photograph is a clear, clean shot, continue copying. If it's not, move the tripod or the lights to modify the shot. Bright patches on the photograph mean too much light. Dark spots where the text can't be read mean something is blocking the light. A fuzzy document indicates the digital camera moved during shooting.

Source: American Historical Association

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