Taking Pictures of Photos, Microfilm, Slides, and Film
Posted on Feb 15, 2012
This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Digital Photography for the Genealogist
Sometimes the easiest way to copy or preserve an image, document on microfilm, or slide is by taking a picture with a camera. Consider the following:
Common experiences (challenges) of photographing photos
- Photos are tucked away in a trunk or glued in an album, etc.
- Access to the photos requires owner to be there with you.
- Sometimes photos are already in a book or magazine.
- Photographs are best captured with a scanner. When scanner is not available, digital camera is next best thing.
Type of photos
- Often black and white.
- Tintypes and sepia toned portraits.
- Color photographs.
- Old negatives.
- Printed in book/magazine.
- Cut out from/printed in newspaper.
Best shots are captured using a mobile studio set-up (better lighting with copy stand):
- Mount your camera on a copy stand (if available), in a shooting position.
- Use a white sheet of paper/copy stand.
- If you are using a cookie sheet as your platform, place your photo in its position and anchor it with magnets.
- Select the camera’s macro mode if necessary.
- Zoom in so photo is properly framed.
- Check to make sure the focus is clear and sharp.
- Press the shutter. If you are using the camera’s self-timer, set the timer and press the shutter.
- View the picture on the LCD and zoom in; check for the proper focus, exposure (brightness and contrast). Make sure you don’t see any reflections, hot spots, etc.
- If the focus and/or exposure are incorrect, make the camera corrections, and re-shoot the document/photo.
Note: These are the backlit or rear projection readers that shine a light through the film and use a series of mirrors and/or lenses to display an image of the film on a vertical or flat surface. The image displayed on either style can be easily photographed.
- Depending upon your circumstances, you may or may not need to mount your camera on a tripod. I have been able to raise my camera up near the projection lens and click the shutter button and gain a clear photo with no distortion. If you choose to use a tripod, place your camera on a tripod located in front of the reader screen.
- Place a white paper on the reader surface as the target area for shooting. Try other blank sheets of colored paper (e.g., pink, blue, yellow) to see if these colors help you with readability of the image.
- Adjust the camera/tripod position so that the information you want to copy fills the LCD frame, not the viewfinder.
- Set the macro mode if necessary. This will depend on your camera model and how far away it is from the microfilm reader.
- Make sure the flash is turned off.
- Set the camera’s self-timer if needed.
- Gently press the shutter button halfway to lock the exposure and focus.
- Press the button completely down. If using the self-timer, move away from the camera and wait for the self-timer to trip the shutter.
- Take several shots. Consider using the “best shot selector” and/or auto bracketing your shots if your camera has these features, or manual bracketing if it doesn’t.
Photographing slides and film
Copying slides and film with your digital camera is possible and can be a great way to convert your files to digital images without noticeable loss of clarity from the originals.
First you will need to find an adapter—which usually fits on front of your camera. Check out www.specialtyphotographic.com. This company manufactures adapters for copying slides with a digital camera. When you speak with the company, they will ask you questions that will help them find the right attachments for you.
If you are able to secure the adapter, try the following:
- For best results, mount your camera on a tripod.
- Mount your adapter to the camera.
- Place the camera in front of a light source that will provide consistent steady light. Examples of such light that can be used include the slide projector (light is cooled by the projector fan) or the light stand from Photo-studio-in-a-box from American Recorder http://www.americanrecorder.com/.
- Insert the first slide/film and click the shutter button.
Note: When you take pictures of the first few slides, download them to your computer and review them to make sure you are getting the quality you desire. Quality variations can be due to the intensity of the light. If you are not getting the desired image quality, try adjusting the distance of the light or changing light sources.
If you are unable to secure an adapter for your camera, I strongly suggest using scanners equipped for slides and film.