Time passes by

by clabacchio

submit your photo


Hall of Fame
View past winners from this year

Please participate in Meta
and help us grow.

Take the 2-minute tour ×
Photography Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional, enthusiast and amateur photographers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

As far as photography goes, I'm less than an amateur. I have a camera my friend (the head of the photography dept. at a local college) recommended to me that I really want to learn to use, but haven't had time (Nikon D90 - a gift from a relative). I used to do a little more work years ago with film, but I've forgotten more than I remember.

I'm a writer and when I'm working on a story, I use white dry erase boards of different sizes (from about 9x11 inches up to about 2'x3', but one or two are a little larger than that). This works fantastically well for me when I'm diagramming plots or doing scatter notes, before I sit down and do the writing. With the dry erase boards, it's easy to change things around by just wiping a section out and restarting.

I'd really like to be able to take pictures of these whiteboards and save the image when I'm done (and perhaps, later, print it out).

The problem is, with the larger boards, if I'm back far enough to get a photo that fits all of it into the frame, it's too hard to read what I've written on it. (Also, the surfaces are reflective.) I've been told there is software I can use so I could take a number of photos of sections of one board and have the software put them together in one big image. I don't know how well that works (and I don't know what that process is called), so I'm worried about the cost of the software as well as being able to keep the scale the same from shot to shot.

I don't mind building something to do this if it's not something huge, or if I can set it up quickly once I'm done. I just don't want to have to worry about lots of details when I'm in "work mode."

Is there a fairly simple way I can use my camera to take images of these boards that include the whole board and still let me see enough detail so I can read what I've written on them?

share|improve this question
3  
Could you confirm which lens you're using when you photograph these boards? The D90 will be more than capable of taking this photograph whne used with an appropriate lens. You also need to make sure that you're recording at the highest resolution possible, I'm sure a D90 expert will be along soon to advise you on this. –  Tim Myers Jan 3 '12 at 9:32
    
@ArthurDent: The lens says Nikon AF-S Nikkor 18-15mm 1:3.5-5.6G ED. I have two other lenses from my brothers Nikkor 35 MM film camera, but I'm told that those need some kind of slight modification to work with the digital D90. –  Tango Jan 3 '12 at 11:20
    
Hm... 18-15 doesn't look right. Is it perhaps 18-55? nikonusa.com/Nikon-Products/Product/Camera-Lenses/2170/… –  Guffa Jan 3 '12 at 12:42
    
@Guffa: 18-105. Typo. Oops! –  Tango Jan 3 '12 at 17:32
    
I'm very surprised that you can't read everything when zoomed all the way out on the larger whiteboards. Others have mentioned the image quality; do you have very small handwriting? Is there a sample picture you could post? –  drewbenn Jan 4 '12 at 7:13

7 Answers 7

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think you want simple, so I'd recommend using Program mode, which gives you the greatest control without making you learn about exposure. Program mode (the 'P' on the Auto-P-S-A-M dial) gives you these advantages:

  • it sets exposure correctly for the lighting conditions, so you won't get a too-dark or too-light image, and you don't have to think about shutter speeds or aperture values or what they mean.
  • it won't try to raise the flash, which would reflect off the whiteboard
  • you can set exposure compensation, which helps if the camera isn't guessing the exposure correctly.
  • you can set the ISO.
  • you can set the white balance.
  • if you really want to, you can change the shutter speed / aperture combination that your camera chose. For your particular use case, you want to spin the dial all the way to the right (I think) to get the fastest shutter speed.

So, with all that, I'd follow this checklist:

  • set your image quality to the highest possible. Don't use RAW.
  • set into Program mode.
  • unless you're using a very small whiteboard or can't get closer to it, zoom all the way out (to give the camera the widest range of apertures to choose from).
  • set the ISO to 100.
  • set exposure compensation to 0.
  • set white balance to Auto.
  • take a sample picture (aim the camera, fill the viewfinder with the whiteboard, half-press the button so it will auto-focus, then while calmly breathing out, slowly and steadily press the rest of the way down).

Now look at the results. Apply any of the following corrections, as needed, and take another sample picture:

  • Zoom in to a sample of the text: if the picture is too blurry, raise the ISO and try to hold the camera steadier.
  • If the picture is too dark, increase exposure compensation (+1). If the picture is too light, decrease exposure compensation (-1).
  • If the colors don't look right, change the white balance. I know very little about white balance, so you'll have to get someone else to help with this.

When the "sample picture" doesn't have any problems, promote it to "finished picture" and you're done.

share|improve this answer
    
Sorry it took so long before replying, but I was slammed and I wanted to go through this before commenting or anything. Thank you for such a detailed explanation. Last night I finally had time to stop and work on this and it only took 20 seconds or so to snap a picture like you described and when I checked the file on my computer, it was quite detailed and I could read everything on my whiteboard -- including all my sloppy writing! –  Tango Jan 17 '12 at 21:33
    
Also worth having good lighting, by which I mean even lighting across the whiteboard, from a source off to the side/above/below (not from near the camera, and definitely not from the camera itself as drewbenn already mentioned). This might mean moving the board under a light, or near a window, or for the more advanced photographer setting up a remote flash or just a lamp or two off to the side (angled at say 45º, a few metres away) –  drfrogsplat May 7 '13 at 6:14

I've had to preserve whiteboard scribbles a few times. The problem is that you usually can't control the lighting and it's rarely good. The technique I've converged on is to take two pictures. With the camera on a tripod, take the first picture of the board as is. Then erase the board and take the second picture with exactly the same settings.

Now digitally subtract the two pictures and add offset and adjust gain to get what you want. The trick of subtracting the two pictures cancells out the inevitable uneven lighting accross the whiteboard.

For those of you thinking "yeah, right, that can't possibly work that well", here is a example I just dug up from over 10 years ago. These were all taken with the quick and dirty "office" camera, which was some Kodak point and shoot back then if I remember right. In any case, it had no special capabilities that any ordinary camera wouldn't have.

Whiteboard with scribbles:

Erased whiteboard:

Result:

Notice that the camera had nothing to focus on in the second shot so it was a little blurry. It still didn't matter since it's main purpose was to get the bacground "white" level for the first shot, which changed slowly enough to that a little blurriness didn't matter.

share|improve this answer
2  
This is an excellent idea! –  Jukka Suomela Jan 3 '12 at 22:30
    
The only reason that one's not perfect for me is because I take these boards all over the house while I'm working, so I'd have to be able to mount it and keep it still between shots. (I'm wondering if a shot of any surface of the same color would be enough to work, even if not quite as well.) –  Tango Jan 3 '12 at 23:34
3  
@Tango: No any surface of the right color won't work for this. If you could do that, you could just as simply subtract off the fixed color in post processing and not need a second image at all. The point of the second image is to provide the reference, with all its variations due to lighting and the like, of what a unmarked board looks like. –  Olin Lathrop Jan 4 '12 at 0:38
    
Very pretty result! But it may be worth mentioning that the first picture is already good enough for reading the content –  clabacchio Apr 16 at 11:05

I regularly take photos of whiteboards sized 3' x 4' or larger with my cell phone camera to record meeting notes, and it produces passable results. The D90 should absolutely kick butt on this.

The two factors you want to avoid are glare and motion blur. As Guffa mentioned, you want to avoid glare from ambient (room) lighting, so get into a position as square to the board as possible where you don't see a lot of glare. Next, you want camera settings that disable the flash and keep the shutter speed high enough to hand-hold the camera. Stan mentioned a tripod, which would certainly eliminate camera shake, but that's sort of a pain just to capture a whiteboard. Unless you need a super-high-quality capture for something, I think you're probably better off just bumping up the ISO setting to something like 1600 - this will introduce a small amount of noise in your image, but it should be inconsequential for your purposes. There's a button to set ISO on the back of the camera.

Now, you want to select a camera setting that'll give you a shutter speed somewhere around 1/60. You could probably get away with something a little slower (1/50, 1/40), and anything faster is fine (1/80, 1/100, etc.). The camera can manage most of this for you as long as you're not on full-auto (the green camera on the dial). There's a "vari-program flash off" mode that looks like it would work pretty well for you (a crossed-off flash symbol right next to the green "auto" setting), but feel free to play around with some of the other modes, too. The camera should show you the shutter speed it's going to use to take the photo, but note that shutter speeds are shown in "camera shorthand" -- "125" really means 1/125, and so on.

A final note -- if you can figure out how to post an example photo here (with the settings used for the photo, if possible), that'll go a long way toward helping folks identify specific problems.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 Good advice. I photograph (dimly lit) blackboards every week for a class. The best combination is close to your recommendation: ISO 1600, f/3.5, 1/30 sec handheld (with image stabilization). The f/3.5 allows reasonable sharpness (using a good f/2.8 zoom lens). It helps a little to darken the image and bump up the contrast in post. Any kind of spot illumination, such as the built-in overhead lights, is terrible: you want diffuse ambient light from the side/top/bottom to avoid variations in lighting and minimize the glare. The writing is legible even in a 1200 x 900 JPEG version. –  whuber Jan 3 '12 at 15:52
    
I actually prefer using my phone to take photos of whiteboards rather than my DSLR, because its so much quicker getting the photo to where I want it. Definitely a much noisier image though when the lighting isn't great, but most of the time there's enough detail to read what I wrote on the board. –  drfrogsplat May 7 '13 at 6:32

Your camera should definitely be able to capture the entire board without having to stitch images together, as long as you are using the highest resolution.

You should use lighting that falls at an angle on the board. Make sure that you don't have a light behind you, that would reflect in the board.

If you use the built-in flash, the reflection will of course be right in the board and ruin the image. If the light is dim, you might have to disable the automatic flash. (Consult the camera manual.)

Also, if the light is dim, the exposure time might be too long when you don't use flash, so that you get motion blur. Then you either need a tripod (or at least something to put the camera on), or simply add more lighting.

share|improve this answer

I don't want to skirt the question, but I take photos of white boards frequently but using a different method then you suggested. I use my iPhone to take the photo using one of three different applications:

My favorite is the Genius scan app. It is designed for doing things like this, and has adjustment features built right in for perspective corrections. It also auto recognizes the white board usually and only selects that portion. What is great is that you don't have to really worry about perfectly aligning the camera to the white board, the app really takes care of that for you. It also has nice output functionality to output to PDF or JPG, and send to a variety of apps.

You certainly can use a DSLR for higher quality, but you will have to do post processing that can become tedious if all you are looking for is to capture the whiteboard and back up your memory. The phone applications work great for me and I always have my phone with me.

share|improve this answer
    
You're not skirting the issue. The goal is a readable photo of the white board. I have a Droid, so it's not exactly the same app, but many times apps are on both OSes or there are comparable ones. So thanks for a different suggestion. –  Tango Jan 3 '12 at 19:04
    
I found a few android options - CamScanner, Document Scanner, Droid Scan Pro PDF, Scan to PDF, and PDF Scanner - As suggested here: mashable.com/2011/09/03/android-apps-document-scanner-pdf/… –  dpollitt Jan 3 '12 at 19:23
1  
I also found one called "ShareYourBoard" that I'm looking at. I had no idea there were apps like these -- I'm now considering buying a decent sized tablet, since I could use it in connection with this to take my work with me. –  Tango Jan 3 '12 at 19:37
    
Thank you for the suggestions on this -- the only reason I didn't select this as an answer was because the Android apps didn't give me a high enough resolution to read everything I wrote unless I watched my penmanship! I hope, in the future, they can enhance the resolution, since that would help me a lot. It turned out I had to use the D90 for pics. –  Tango Jan 17 '12 at 23:47

The technique you are looking for is called "panorama", which in the digital age normally consists of stitching together a number of image tiles into a single larger image. As long as you have the entire board covered with about a 20% overlap between the pictures, you should be able to get a single coherent image using any of the panorama software packages out there. (Photoshop includes a panorama function, but it's not so good for a two-dimensional set of tiles -- several shots high by several shots wide -- in versions later than CS3.)

For scenics, one usually shoots all of the pictures from a single fixed location, but for shooting a flat board, you'd probably want to move the camera between shots to keep the camera parallel to the board and at the same distance. Since the whiteboards are very reflective, you'll want to light them either from overhead or from opposing 45-degree angles. Since the text content and lines are what you're after, fall-off of the light shouldn't pose any major technical problems -- you just want to avoid having light coming from the direction of the camera so you don't get hot spot reflections that obscure the text.

There is another (non-photographic) alternative you might want to look at, though: Scrivener. The corkboard paradigm isn't too very far from what you're doing now. If you can make the transition (and I know a radical change in working method isn't easy), it can ease the process of going from rough-in to writing. (Happy customer, and it's just a thought, not an ad.)

share|improve this answer
1  
I've seen Scrivener, but I spend enough time sitting at the keyboard as it is -- one reason I like the whiteboards is I can work on them when I'm sprawled out, or standing, or in different places. –  Tango Jan 3 '12 at 19:38
    
A couple other questions about panoramas: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/14658 photo.stackexchange.com/questions/230 –  drewbenn Jan 4 '12 at 7:19
    
Thanks -- I found Hugin, an open source program, that I can use in the future. While it turned out not to be the best solution for this situation, I did test it last night on a bulletin board with a lot of notecards on it and it did quite well. –  Tango Jan 17 '12 at 23:48

Whiteboard Photo on a PC, or Whiteboard Capture Pro on iOS are very, very good at taking any picture of a whiteboard and turning it into a diagram like image.

share|improve this answer
2  
Just checking to make sure that you're not affiliated with them. It is ok if you are, just let us know. And welcome to photo.stackexchange! –  Paul Cezanne May 5 '13 at 16:52

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.