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Copy photography, Part 3 (06/25/2006)
By Tom Hirsch

You're still with us. It's obvious, then, that you are definitely interested in copy photography. Well, so much for the preliminaries. Now you're ready to begin copying.

Place the camera on the tripod or copystand, and arrange the lights on opposite sides of the baseboard. They should be aimed toward the baseboard at no more than a 45 degree angle. Any higher than that and the lights are likely to cause reflections that will show up in the pictures.

Aim the camera straight down at the baseboard. But this alone isn't enough. You have to make sure that the camera is lined up so there is no horizontal or vertical distortion. If there is, the pictures will also be distorted. To square things up, get a sheet of graph paper or paper with a large grid (I made one on my computer with a free program called Graph Paper Printer). Place the grid on the baseboard and focus on it. While looking through the viewfinder, tilt the camera until horizontal and vertical grid lines are parallel with the viewfinder frame.

Getting the correct exposure in copy work is different from normal photography. Photographs are more contrasty than a typical scene. If you were to determine exposure from a photo, you would probably underexpose the film. Incorrect exposure would also be the result if you were photographing bright objects such as shiny jewelry.

To get proper exposure, find the largest photo or object that you will be copying, place it on the copystand base, and set up the picture as you plan to take it. Now replace the copy material with the 18% gray card you purchased at the photo store. Set the lens aperture at f/8 or f/11, turn on the copy lights and adjust the exposure with the shutter speed dial. If you don't get a precise exposure reading, fine tune it with the aperture (f/stop) ring. You can then use that exposure for all pictures taken at that degree of magnification.

Actually, the gray card is more important with film than with digital because with a digital camera, you can examine the image on the LCD monitor. If you're not satisfied with the result, you could increase or decrease exposure with the exposure-adjustment setting. Nevertheless, a gray card can be used for getting proper exposure with digital also.

If you have several photos or items to copy, arrange them by size, and plan on working from largest to smallest. It will make the job easier, but if you use a macro lens, a more important reason is that as magnification increases, more light is required for proper exposure, so it'll be necessary to determine a new exposure setting with each change in image size. This is not necessary, however, with close-up lenses that are attached to a normal lens. The reason is that the lens is not extended.

Sometimes you'll encounter photos that curl up at the edges. There is no problem if they curl away from the baseboard no more than an eight of an inch. If they curl more than that, you can hold them flat with a piece of anti-reflecting glass.

Another thing. With many SLR cameras, what you see in the viewfinder is about 10% less than the image recorded on the image sensor. If you were to crop a picture very precisely in order to eliminate the borders of the print, the borders would show up in the resulting photo. To avoid this problem, crop the picture just a little tighter than you would like it to be, and it will turn out just right. Again, when composing a photo using the LCD monitor of a digital camera, this will not be a problem.

And one last thing when copying with a film camera. To reduce (or rather, to not increase) contrast, use a relatively slow film; an ISO 100 film will do very well. This speed film is appropriate whether you want color prints, black-and-white prints, or color slides. With some digital cameras, contrast can be altered within the camera.

Copying can be easy, fun, and rewarding, but only if you have the equipment on hand, and that includes the knowledge. You have the knowledge, now go out and get the other stuff. 


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