I sometimes like to scan old photos, scrapbooks and out-of-copyright books at home. My husband, a woodworker, recently made me a photography stand to help me take the pictures. This is for when a flatbed scanner would be too slow.
We researched the photography stands available (mostly made of metal), and I showed him photographs of a few I’ve seen here and there at libraries. None of that helped much, and a lot of the advice was conflicting, so we pretty much made up our own design.
I knew I wanted to use my smart phone, rather than my camera, mostly because I can command the smart phone by voice to take the picture, and don’t have to touch or move it. I give 100% credit for this idea to Jenny Lanctot, whose post on Are My Roots Showing? about using a locker shelf to make a photography stand clued me in to the fact that saying “shoot” would snap the picture on my Android smart phone. Yes, I needed that help despite the fact that my phone camera, when in operation, has the words “You can take pictures with voice commands like Smile, Cheese, Capture, and Shoot” displayed across the bottom at all times. I tried Jenny’s system, and realized the power of that simple voice command to speed up photographing a large number pages – you can go as fast as you can turn the pages.
However, I wanted a system that would accommodate wider books, and take two pages at a time, if desired. There were several problems my husband and I puzzled over along the way. This is how we resolved them.
Although I don’t plan to take this anywhere, I do plan to move it from room to room, and there will be long periods where I don’t use it at all, so I want to store it compactly. For that reason, he made it in pieces that simply fit together when assembled.
One or two pages at a time?
Most professional set-ups for book scanning (for instance, this example) put the book in a cradle with about a 90 degree angle that the book rests in. Cameras are above on each side, shooting one page, then the other, then the page is turned. The pictures are integrated into one pdf. Since I wasn’t very interested in setting up two cameras, that wouldn’t work for me. I thought, in general, I would be happy shooting two pages at once.
Size of the book
Of course, shooting two pages at once could require a fairly big surface, so hubby worked with the measurements of the biggest book I might want, say, a page measurement of 9″ by 12″. This required significant flexibility for the height of the camera, since I might want it farther up for a large book, but be able to lower it to get close to a smaller book. He put the camera holder on a slider with a knob closure.
Taking the pictures
If you scan a book lying open on a flat surface you get this:
The curve in the page would get annoying. To flatten it, glass is a good choice. I purchased a large piece of quarter inch glass, with a finished edge for safety. Hubby framed it and added sturdy handles for lifting. If I had it to do over, I would have put one of the handles on the long edge, to give another option for lifting it. With the glass, pages look like this:
If I use the glass, I am lifting it each time to turn the page. It’s not that bad, but not ideal. With the camera relatively close, we didn’t think there was enough room to hinge it, and, that would have made the glass a permanent fixture in this process.
I was concerned about the tone of the pages – old books can easily appear yellowed and even sepia. I examined the options on the phone’s camera, especially the AWB – adjust white balance – settings. In the end “auto” AWB worked best.
The only option I saw for the pictures in my camera was jpeg, although perhaps there are others. I used a fairly large size (2048 x 1536), which seemed to work well.
Lighting. Ah, lighting
When I first started trying this out I quickly realized that lighting would be the big problem. There were shadows everywhere, and I had two clip-on lamps that I thought I would use, but they could not get high enough above the surface to stay out of the reflecting glass. I read up on lighting and there is a reason photographers use those giant white umbrellas and enclosed boxes – they want to diffuse the light source. Light, apparently, should come from a wide source, not a narrow opening. I chose to deal with this by buying two flexible table lamps that had wide light openings – “Sunlight Desk Lamps.” They work quite well, but on the other hand, if you look around on the web there are many homemade ways of widening a light source. I think these lamps will stay on my desk when not in use.
One of the things I required in this system is an auto-upload of each picture so I don’t have to bother with that. My phone’s camera was already set to upload to my DropBox account. So after taking the pictures I could see them right away on my computer. I noticed the camera stopped uploading when power got to only 25% in the phone, but as soon as it was plugged in, the rest of the pictures appeared in Dropbox.
At this point, some edits were in order, and unless they could be done in bulk, that could be difficult. The first thing I did with sets of page pictures was to rename them in bulk.
Using “Rename” under “File” will allow you to give a name (such as a shortened title of the book), which is then assigned to each document you have selected in the folder, with (2), (3), (4) after each one, in order. That would help for keeping them in order. To batch crop the pictures and eliminate the unneeded edges, I think you would need to download some software.
At this point, there is a folder full of jpeg images, in order. I have Adobe Acrobat and that would make compiling the pdf book from the jpegs fairly simple. I think it would be good to photograph the covers and add those. To assemble the book I could either select ALL my pages and right-click to “Combine supported files in Acrobat” or open Acrobat and under “File” – “Combine” – “Merge files into a single pdf” open a box where I could drag all the pages in.
I like the stand, lighting, and optional glass plate. For other glimpses at hubby’s woodworking, see the bookcase he made me last year.
For woodworkers only
What follows are some details my husband provided me about the construction of the stand, and a few more pictures. There are no detailed plans; I’m afraid this is all we have. The stand was made from scrap wood, but my husband says strong wood like oak is important for something like this.
The platform is white oak plywood trimmed with (I think) poplar. Its outer dimensions are 13 x 21. When assembled the surface of the platform is 2-1/2 inches off the table.
The stand is made out of cherry on the bottom and the rising part is red oak; the top of the riser is 18 inches off the table.
There is a slit in the riser, it measures 12-1/4 inches.
To attach the box to the riser, he used a fender washer, and there is a T-bolt assembled into the box. When assembled, the knob (purchased at Lowes) will allow me to adjust the height of the box, and therefore the height of the camera.
He carefully fit my phone to the inner edges of the box – he tested this several times. I believe it is red oak with poplar edges. I like the fact that there’s only about an extra half inch in there – I can line the phone up against the edge and be sure it is straight. The box arms extend out about 12 inches over the platform.
The base of the stand extends from back to front about 13-1/2 inches. The platform fits over it.
The glass in the tray is 1/4 inch think, with finished edges for safety. The outside measurements of the tray are 14 x 20.
For further information, consult my husband’s blog at AccidentalWoodworker.blogspot.com and search for “camera stand”. It’s best to leave questions about the construction there.
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