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Lighting tips for photographing old photos?

Discussion in 'Lighting Forum' started by FirstAscent, Apr 22, 2019.

  1. FirstAscent

    FirstAscent Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    117
    Nov 7, 2017
    Alaska/Oregon
    Hi everyone, I think the lighting forum may be the best place for this.

    My mom asked me to help her with something; we have some really old original photos from a photo album my grandmother put together. My mom would like to preserve these photos as well as make copies for the other siblings.

    We don't feel scanning is an option due to how old some of the photos are and are concerned about damage to some of the photos and paper. Although a flat scanner probably wouldn't cause too much damage, if we did go that route then it would just be the time to go to a scanning company to get that done. not sure what that would cost though.

    The option I'm leaning towards is to photograph each page of pictures then print those out to create copies.
    If I go this route I'm looking for any tips on how to set this up. I haven't yet played with different setups but I'd imagine I'd want the camera straight above the existing photos then one or two lights on either side. maybe two lights to prevent shadows.

    Has anyone here had experience with this that could provide any input? I've attached an example of a complete page I'd be taking a photo of so you can see what I'm working with.

    Thanks all!
     

    Attached Files:

  2. AussiePhil

    AussiePhil Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 1, 2014
    Canberra, ACT, Aust
    Phil
    I've scanned quite a few old photos from albums and even with having the lighting set that may work if i had to do more i'd pull the flatbed scanner back out and set it up.
    if your careful you leave the photo's in the album and just scan with the lid open, the weight of the album pages will ensure the photo is flat.
    Otherwise a simple light tent to soften the light from flashes, camera at 90 degrees above the image and ensure the image is flat.
    If the photo's were loose and could be quickly placed flat under the camera and you shoot tethered then it would be quick and simple. Album based you need to deal with page curvature and focal distance changes.
     
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  3. ac12

    ac12 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 24, 2018
    The pics with 'corners' you can remove to shoot flat or use a flatbed scanner.
    The pics left in the album will require you to figure out how to hold the page FLAT, or you will NOT get a good image. As Phil said, I would use a flatbed scanner, much like photocopying a book.

    Decent flatbed scanners are not expensive. Though with so many all-in-one printers, it is harder to find than before.
    With a decent all-in-one printer, you have the scanner and printer all-in-one unit.

    Standard Lighting for copying is at 45 degrees angle, to minimize reflection back to the camera.
    However, having done this, the paper texture plays a HUGE role in how well the image shoots. Textured paper will show texture and shadows when shot, and that will limit the degree of magnification you can print the copy at.
     
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  4. Bushboy

    Bushboy Mu-43 Top Veteran

    613
    Apr 22, 2018
    Aotearoa
    Charlie
    Should be piece o cake. Just take pics of the album. There won’t be shadows, watch out for reflections. Shouldn’t need any special lighting. If you think it necessary, I’ve noticed, led cob torches, put out a decent bright white light...
    I scanned a whole bunch of crazy old family pics, with a cheapo canon pixma printer. They came out beauty! Super easy to fix em up in the computer later to, if you need.
    It worked so well.
     
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  5. AussiePhil

    AussiePhil Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 1, 2014
    Canberra, ACT, Aust
    Phil
    Older photo's as a general guide were printed/developed on on non textured papers so i agree shadows generally don't come into effect. avoiding lighting reflections though is important especially if you use things like led torchesas the papers can be quite reflective.
    BTW a LED torch tends to put out a rather blue light that actually has a very unbalanced narrow color spectrum that can be a pain to fix in post if your using the camera to photo the photo.
    Now if you then have any photos that got printed on the rather popular "matte" papers they have significant texture to them and can get shadows from 45 degree side lighting. they either need direct above lighting, hard to achieve when the camera is in the same spot or very soft diffuse lighting.
    All of this adds up to just use a scanner, likely both cheaper and easier.
     
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  6. Hendrik

    Hendrik Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Feb 27, 2015
    Wayland MA
    Hendrik
    I've done several projects like this. For the family photo album (brittle paper, too large for the scanner, a few photos ~100 y/o) I set a tripod up with the center column inverted and shot straight down, as you envision. This was done in a large, mostly unfurnished room with a fairly low light level that had the advantage of even, diffused lighting that didn't display much falloff across the page. This was shot only with ambient light.

    When I photographed my sister's and niece's art, I used two flashes, one on either side.

    Copying an old book of shop notes that I didn't want to subject to scanning, I had the use of a copy stand and a couple of constant lights. In this case I had to take the color temperature of the lights used into account and set custom white balance for each pair of lights. Each setup also involved positioning lights to cast a relatively even field with no shadows (think tripod legs), specular highlights or glare.

    In every case, it is critical to maintain the relation of the photo to whatever text there is. You can dismount the photos later to make better copies or scans if you wish, but having the pages appear just as they were created will be much appreciated by future family members. I also try to photograph (or scan if I am scanning) the rear of each photo if there is any information at all (a lab batch number, a caption, whatever) so that a rough timeline can be constructed.

    Projects such as these are best shot stopped down a bit from maximum aperture and with optimum exposure at base ISO to produce the cleanest results. Use a remote release or a shutter delay and watch out for shutter shock. Your 12-100 Pro may be a very competent copy lens – the 12-40 certainly is. So is the O30mm/3.5 Macro.
     
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  7. Bushboy

    Bushboy Mu-43 Top Veteran

    613
    Apr 22, 2018
    Aotearoa
    Charlie
    Phil, I didn’t know about the blue light narrowed spectrum thing. Cheers for that. I use my little AA powered cob heaps too. Ignorance is bliss... :) 
     
  8. FirstAscent

    FirstAscent Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    117
    Nov 7, 2017
    Alaska/Oregon
    wow thank everyone! maybe tomorrow I'll setup a little table area and test with the camera 90 degrees up looking straight down with two flashes side by side to see what results I can come up with.
    would it be best to use soft boxes or will the bare flash do OK at a low power? I have a couple Profoto B10's I'm going to borrow and see how they work, they also can do continuous light so I can compare that against the typical flash burst. Although I wouldn't have any softboxes for them.

    btw, all the pages in the album are currently all "tore out" (or just ripped out with age) so there wouldn't be any issues getting anything to lie flat if I used a scanner. we are also not wanting to remove the individual photos from the pages and want to capture the complete page as is since each picture has a hand written caption next to them.

    Also, since all the pages in the album are ripped out they are all slightly different sizes +/- 1/4-1/2" so I'm thinking I would end up cropping the final result so they are all the same size and not print the torn edge of the paper.
     
  9. AussiePhil

    AussiePhil Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 1, 2014
    Canberra, ACT, Aust
    Phil
    I'll expand slightly on the wording and reference this article Defining the Color Characteristics of White LEDs | DigiKey
    LED tech is getting better all the time but generally a cheaper white led tends to be blue biased in colour temperature and tend to be spiky in the spectrum outputs.
    you can certainly get good spectral output Leds but i'll bet not in most torches :) 
    We (people) have got used to seeing cool white (more blue) lighting hence most things that emit cool white seem to look right and the daylight (warm) white stuff tends to look orange to people.

    I did a lot of work with RGB LED's for xmas lighting and you would think it didn't matter but when your chasing specific colours for an effect it matters lots :) 
    Looking at the three screens in front of me at lunch time the right one is maybe at 5.5k the middle around 6k and the laptop on the left is closer to 5k.
    this would annoy the crap out of me at home
    As Hendrik said above you even should measure the colour temps of the lighting used and if not colour corrected hope that it's not too spiky.

    Having said all that i'm sure 99% of people may not notice and except for art archival work post processing can hide a multitude of sins including crappy colour balance .... besides after you put the originals away who is to say what the correct colour balance is :) 
     
  10. AussiePhil

    AussiePhil Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 1, 2014
    Canberra, ACT, Aust
    Phil
    Well that changes some of the thoughts. as your not dismounting photos and doing whole pages then it would be good to avoid shadows around the slightly raised photos on the page, unless used artistically.
    here's just one of thousands of links to simple diy lightbox/tent. in your case camera firing straight down and light coming from the sides How to Make An Inexpensive Light Tent - DIY

    I hope you give us an update and examples and any hints/lessons from this so we can all improve
    Cheers
     
  11. AdamK

    AdamK Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    40
    Dec 3, 2012
    San Francisco Bay Area
    Adam
    I too have been trying to sort out a reliable, repeatable technique for the same purpose, though mostly for digitizing new photos that I take with my film gear. The tripod method with reversed center post and photographing straight down at the photograph is the camera setup - a standard prime or the 60mm macro seems to work well.

    The lighting is the tricky part - dual flashes, low power and diffused ought to and is supposed to work well, but I still struggle to get results. Now that it’s warmed up here, I intend to give a try outside on a sunny day out of direct sunlight.

    I also bought a couple of sheets of Tru Vue anti-reflective museum glass to ensure my photo is absolutely flat.
     
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