Copy Work without a Copy Stand
Updated: Sep 12
If you don't have access to a copy stand, no worries. Follow these simple suggestions for solid copy work.
Location: The trick is to do the copy work (picture of a picture) in soft even lighting. This eliminates shadows and glare. I recommend finding shade in a covered area. A porch, patio, an opened door, or garage door would also work perfectly. Be sure to avoid direct sunlight, think shade. Since you'll be bending over to take the pictures it helps to use a raised flat surface like a patio table, box, or step stool. The higher the better depending on what size prints you are photographing. Less strain on the back. Larger prints (8x10" - 11x14") will likely be taken placed on the ground. Position yourself so you don't cast a shadow on the print you are photographing (rotate around the print to see what works best). It may also help to wear a dark shirt in case there is glare from glossy prints.
Start with these settings and then evaluate your first picture and make changes as needed.
ISO 400, Shutter Priority Mode (Tv on Canon, S on Nikon & Sony) @ 1/125 second (based on a 18-55mm kit lens). Shoot on RAW if you are comfortable post-processing RAW files; otherwise, choose Large for image quality. In Shutter Priority mode the camera selects the corresponding Aperture setting for proper exposure. These settings in even shade should provide an Aperture from f5.6 - 11 (depending on how bright your shaded area is). The shutter speed of 1/125 second will prevent any camera or body shake and give you a crisp sharp focus.
Zoom in tight on the picture allowing approximately 1/8" - 1/4" surrounding it. This will maximize the file size and quality of the copy image and give you room for a complete crop. On the first few I typically take 2 pictures of each, but once you get the process down and feel confident with your focus then take 1 of each. If the prints are all the same size, like a stack of 4x6s", you may place a piece of tape as a reference where to position the picture. Definitely helps and seriously speeds up the process to have an assistant place and remove pictures as you are taking them. Perfect for the kids or a partner and some time to reminisce as you go through the project. Sometimes prints are curled, which may require placing a piece of matboard or straight edge down to hold it flat and then crop it out during editing.
Editing Using Your Favorite Software
Crop the image, adjust the Exposure accordingly, I almost always add several points of Contrast, tweak the White Balance (warm and coolness of the image), then add a little punch to the colors (Saturation or Vibrance). This would be a good time to save these settings as a Preset, which will allow you to apply the edit to your other pictures taken under the same lighting. You will need to adjust the Exposure and Crop according to each photo.
A few tips for exporting your edited images. There are a few things to consider when exporting your pictures. If you know there is a chance that you want to make prints at a later date then you should export JPGs at 300 dpi. The print size is up to you, but I typically select 8x10" for family photos. If you know that you are only going to share them electronically or on social media then export JPGs at 150 dpi (this allows for sharper pictures when someone zooms into them when viewing on a device) with a max size of 12" (to allow for zooming in to image w/ devices). Apply a Medium amount of Sharpening upon Export (using Lightroom). These are the settings I use and they've been very solid. In some cases, I will export a version for printing and a version for online. And finally, be sure to backup to an external hard-drive or the Cloud. You may have your own workflow or have discovered a better way. Please share your workflow in the comments for a positive discussion.