Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Using a Digital Camera to Copy Documents


On September 19, 2012, Legacy Family Tree offered one of its series of webinars. The subject of this webinar was how to use a digital camera to make very good copies of documents, presented by Mary E.V. Hill.  You can purchase a CD of this webinar at Legacy Family Tree.

But why would you use a camera when portable scanners, even hand-held ones, are now available? In many archives and libraries, scanners are not allowed. On the other hand, digital cameras, if you turn off the flash, are accepted by most research institutions as safe to us on fragile documents. And in some instances, such as when you need to copy many documents on a microfilm reader, using a camera can make the job go fast.

Ms. Hill begins her presentation with a description of the basic features you need in a digital camera if you want to make excellent image copies. Perhaps the most important feature you need is a function wheel which allows you to turn off automatic mode and to make changes to the auto settings.  Leaving your camera on automatic setting does not result in good quality document copies. Later in the webinar Ms. Hill explains that genealogists need be concerned with just a few settings, thereby reducing performance anxiety in some of us less technical people.


Ms. Hill states that there are only four basic functions that you will need to control (using function wheel) in order to make great copies, and she shows you how to set each one (great visuals):

  1.    Flash on/off
  2.    Macro or Tulip (close-up)
  3.    Film speed -- International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
  4.    White balance (to get the best possible color)

After the function wheel, there is another feature Ms. Hill recommends if you are in the camera purchase mode. And that is a flip-out LCD preview screen. This allows you to easily shoot from the different angles. 

Finally, Ms. Hill suggests several accessories to make your digital camera document photographing go very smoothly. First, a copy stand can give you stability and hands-free, close-up, stable picture-taking. Second, a camera clamp (such as the Sunpak ClampPod Pro) allows you to a fix your camera on to a microfilm reader in order to photograph the projected  image. Ms. Hill goes through this process in the webinar, showing you where to clamp the camera for the best shots. A third recommended accessory is the tripod. Ms. Hill suggests that you consider selecting a tripod with a reversible center pole which allows you get closer to an image in certain situations while keeping everything in focus.

While researching where to purchase some of the accessories mentioned above, I came across a helpful hand-out from Harold McClendon on this same subject of photographing documents with a digital camera. Mr. McClendon reviews the same features needed in a camera, as Ms. Hill does, and explains each one. I find reading about the same subject by several authors helps my learning. Mr. McClendon also demonstrates how to use photo editing software to enhance document copies taken with a digital camera.

After listening to Ms. Hill’s webinar, I felt energized and ready to outfit myself to take some digital document photos at the Family History Center near me. This presentation took me from knowing nothing about this subject to feeling confident in my ability to take on this project.


Categories: genealogy education, genealogy tools

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