There are thousands of books available on the art of photography – even digital photography is a well-trodden subject area despite its relative newness. The first thing to do is to familiarize yourself with the manual (either supplied with the camera – or available on-line as a download) – this will give you the basic information you will need to understand the functions available on your camera.

Luckily, mid-range digital cameras suitable for digital research come with a number of automatic presets designed for specific lighting and distance situations. For Nikon users, there is a ‘copy’ preset ideal for our purposes (essentially it optimizes the camera’s settings for fixed photography directly over a subject). For Canon and other camera brand the Auto function works well with the close-up function turned on. Most digital cameras in this class will also have a multiple image capture mode – called BSS – that allows the user to hold down the shutter release and take multiple shots, the best of which the camera will chose to save based on image quality (the longer you hold the shutter release, the more shots are taken – this feature is extremely useful for those of us unable to use a digital remote cable release.)

The key to getting consistently good images under typical lighting conditions encountered by the electronic researcher is to use a tripod (the ideal is to use a copy-stand – but even portable copy-stands are heavy and bulky, thus not part of our digital kit.). This is because the tripod makes it possible to use slower shutter speeds to compensate for poor lighting conditions because the camera is held absolutely still (any shutter speed slower than 1/30 th of a second is too slow to capture a clear image with a hand-held camera.).

To begin with, the tripod needs to be made as stable as possible while the camera is set-up on it with the lens facing straight down over the subject. The legs need to be set so as to be out of the field of view (and to make room for the subject). With compact tripods it may be necessary to use a counter-weight (a beanbag will do) on the leg opposite to the camera mount to prevent the tripod from tipping over. Depending on the size of the subject, it may be necessary to lift the camera and tripod up higher than a mini-tripod alone is capable of - in this case it is possible to place it on a platform (of books or whatever is available) above the subject – just make sure the platform is stable!

Once you have the tripod and camera set up it is time to place the subject in place and take your pictures. It is best to practice using your camera in a variety of light settings with a range of different subjects (books, yellowed documents, etc.) to get an idea of how it works and how you can adjust the camera’s settings for specific situations before you go out into the field. Until you do become completely comfortable with your camera and adjusting it for whatever conditions you may run into in the field, carry your manual with you and take multiple exposures of each subject by using your aperture setting and moving it up one stop from the camera’s auto setting and one stop down. This technique is called ‘bracketing.’

Short of adding light the most important user control on the camera is the aperture (how wide the lens opens to take a shot – also known as f-stop, which is expressed in numbers typically from f/2 through f/16 on digital cameras. The lower the f-stop, the wider the aperture and the more light gets into the lens, and the better it will work in low light conditions – the down side is that the lower the f-stop, the less depth of field you get in your image. Luckily this is not too much of a problem for the Electronic Researcher since most of our subjects are two dimensional – but it means that we need to keep the subject as flat and parallel to the plane of the camera lens as possible in order to keep the whole image in focus.

Once you have taken your photographs it is time to download them to your computer and save them for future research. Manipulating the images you have acquired through scanning or photography is beyond the scope of this paper – there are many sources for more information on this topic, including those to be found at George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media website at