reproducing old documents
July 16, 2005 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I've been asked by my library's genealogy department to make copies of documents that are too delicate and/or unwieldy to place on top of a copy machine or scanner...

we can't afford to purchase any new equipment for this project (thanks bush tax), but I do have access to a pretty nice 4.0mp digital camera and photoshop cs2. all we need is for the text that's already legible to remain legible once it's been printed.

would taking pictures of the documents with a digital camera and then touching them up in photoshop be the best solution? what sort of things would I need to consider when taking the photos themselves? what I'm really curious about is the lighting. the pages are pretty yellowed from age and I'm curious as to whether a certain type or color of light would help maintain or improve the legibility of the text.
posted by mcsweetie to Technology (11 answers total)
I haven't taken pictures of aging textbooks, but I have taken pictures of text that does come out quite legibly. For certain, you need a tripod, and preferably some sort of remote shutter release so that you are not moving the camera at all when the picture is taken. For lighting, you'll have to use trial and error with exposure modes, and lighting types.

One other possibility, depending on the availability of the software, and whether the text you're photographing is cursive or typed, is to try optical character recognition (OCR) on the photos you've taken. If most or all of the text from a certain book is the same, you may be able to tweak the OCR to quickly transfer the text to editable data. Good luck.
posted by birdsquared at 2:49 PM on July 16, 2005

At McGill university they have a digital camera mounted on a stand so that it is facing downward, with appropriate lighting behind it. They use this setup for scanning delicate documents since no pressure is applied to the docs. I can't find an image of the setup but it looked liked like something out of a photolab when they are magnifying images.
posted by furtive at 2:52 PM on July 16, 2005

I belive this is what you mean odinsdream, no? I use one at work to mixed reviews. I think it would work in this case.
posted by Pollomacho at 3:55 PM on July 16, 2005

The Levels tool is really handy for reducing noise in images of printed text.
posted by Leon at 4:38 PM on July 16, 2005

I don't think a tripod will work well because it is very hard to position material with all those legs in the way. However, it would be very simple to build a little stand out of wood or metal available at Home Depot for very little money. This way you could even mount some lights, external flash, whatever you find you need.
posted by Chuckles at 4:52 PM on July 16, 2005

What you are looking for is called a copy stand. A quick Google shows a bunch of homemade ones. I bought this one, and hung two Luxo lamps next to it for lighting.

A quick look at Ebay shows about 20 simple ones under $20, which is probably the best way to go. One hint: if your camera has a cable release, or some way to trigger it remotely, you'll get much better results. Mine doesn't, I ended up leaving it hooked up to my computer and using Cannon's software.
posted by Marky at 5:26 PM on July 16, 2005

You could also pick up a cheap microphone boom stand and find an appropriate threading for the end of it.
That way you can position the stand next to the light table or whatnot with the boom arm over it.

Possibly with proper positioning, it might be easy to use stitching software to put together composite images of very fine illustrations with an inexpensive digital camera.

Just a thought.
posted by Vicarious at 5:54 PM on July 16, 2005

If you happen to be affiliated with a university, there may be a 'photographic services' department that can help you. At my school we had a copy stand set up with lights (polarized so there is no glare on the page). Back in the day, universities would make slides from books in this fashion, and often they still have the setup available.
posted by xo at 12:01 AM on July 17, 2005

I'm a genealogist - and use the hand held scanner. But I don't see why your camera and photoshop wouldn't work. Good luck, and thank you for helping preserve our history.
posted by LadyBonita at 12:33 AM on July 17, 2005

Marky wrote:
One hint: if your camera has a cable release, or some way to trigger it remotely, you'll get much better results. Mine doesn't, I ended up leaving it hooked up to my computer and using Cannon's software.

Or you could also use the timer feature. I don't really know what it's called, but you know when you are with a group and no one's around to take your picture, so you put the camera on a stable surface and press a button and then you have a certain amount of time before the picture is taken? That feature :)

My Canon has one that you can set for 2 or 10 seconds. When I take pictures in situations that the camera can't be moved even just a little, I set the timer to 2 seconds, press the button, then hold the camera firmly against a hard surface. Works every time and is sort of the equivalent of the cable release in certain ways.

You can prop your camera above the document, set all of your custom settings, press the button, wait a moment, and then have it take the picture. I've done this with foreign money that I really wanted to keep but was too expensive to hold on to while traveling . Also with developed photographs that the owner only has one copy of (and you have no time to develop pics from the negatives).
posted by redteam at 5:00 AM on July 17, 2005

In my library, scholars that come by to use some of our more crumbly collections often use digital cameras to make copies. Your camera should work fine. Just take your time, adjust the images in PS, and make sure you make backup copies of the files for offline storage!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:45 AM on July 17, 2005

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