The basic requirements for good copy photography are that the camera and subject remain stable and that the light intensity over the subject is even and consistent. The basic tools for our digital tool kit are: a compact tripod, an 9" x 12" piece of 1/8 inch non-glare plexi-glass, four small bean bags to use as weights, and a book ‘snake’ bean bag.

Image of a Slik Mini tripod

The tripod should have the following features—it should be lightweight, capable of placing the lens of the camera to within 6" of the subject and be capable of taking the camera up off of the subject at least 8", have a secure adjustable camera mounting plate capable of holding the camera securely with the camera lens held vertically over the subject, and have adjustable, lockable leg extensions for stability—often, mini-tripods also feature a central leg that can serve as an additional stabilizer for close-up photography. Recommended tripods include the Slik Mini produced by THK Photo Products, Inc., the Bogen Mini, and, for those with a larger budget, the Bogen 3021 Pro (which includes a side arm extension enabling an extension of the camera over a larger subject area).

The non-glare plexi-glass sheet will be useful for flattening book pages—often pages cannot be flattened enough to get good images without some form of help. With the use of the beanbag weights this should make photographing books much easier and not put nearly as much stress on the bindings as photocopying does. Non-glare plexi-glass is available at custom frame shops, hobby supply stores, and some hardware stores.

The beanbags are available in some larger bookstores, and almost any toy store (recommended because they are cheaper)—often libraries or archives will have them available as well. In situations where the plexi-glass sheet is not appropriate, the traditional researcher’s old book ‘snake’ bean bag can provide the perfect solution—holding pages reasonably flat and staying out of the way of the camera. Again, these items may be found at some bookstores and many toy stores—or you can make one for yourself.

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