Learn how to use your digital camera to "photocopy" family documents and pictures.
Q. I've heard of using a digital camera to “copy” documents at
libraries, but my pictures never seem to turn out. What's the best way
to do this?
A. Some libraries frown on photocopying old documents and
books because the light and handling can be damaging. Or maybe you're at
Great-aunt Nellie's house, and she won't let you borrow the family
album to scan it. Though it's not ideal, taking a picture may be your
only option. Improve your results with our advice:
• Some libraries don't permit cameras or allow reproducing records with a camera, so check the library's policy before you head out.
• If possible, use a digital camera so you can review your shots.
Take lots of different exposures: with and without flash, close up and
farther away, from a variety of angles.
• Flash photography may be against library rules; even if it's not,
it can create “hot spots” of glare. Turn off your flash for a few shots
and take the picture where light is natural and even, such as near a
window. (Or see if Aunt Nellie will let you photograph the album
outdoors in the shade.) Ask library staff for permission to remove the
item from reflective enclosures such as plastic sleeves.
• Shooting in low light without a flash means a long exposure. A
tabletop tripod (shown above), which you can purchase at photo-supply
stores, eliminates the “camera shake” that causes blurry pictures. (Take
your camera when you go tripod shopping.) If you don't have a tripod,
brace your arms at your sides and steady yourself against a wall as you
shoot. Or place the item you're copying on a bookstand and set your
camera on a stack of tomes, then click the shutter or use the timing
• Cameras have a minimum focus distance: Usually, it's 12 to 36
inches. Get any closer and the photo will be blurry. Instead, use the
optical zoom feature. (Digital zoom will enlarge — and potentially
distort — your image. See your camera's manual for instructions on
• Set a digital camera's resolution to the highest number to capture
the maximum amount of detail. This lets you enlarge the photo on your
computer without losing image quality.
• If you're photographing a document at a faraway library, transcribe
it before you leave. That way, if the pictures don't turn out or you
drop your camera in a puddle on the way home, you'll still have the
information you wanted.