I must shoot rare books / manuscripts on different locations, some of them hard to reach (monasteries etc.). When I'm there I don't have much time at disposition. I must shoot as quick as I can.

I have the camera (Canon 5D Mark III), I have a tripod, I have also a stand (which I think that's a better solution - please confirm) but I'm thinking mainly about lighting.

I think that it isn't practical to carry a bunch of strobes and, also, it could be somewhat difficult to set up the entire thing (lack of space etc.).

I'm thinking now at a LED ring flash (or a LED panel?) to do this (a normal flash won't do because of recharge time (too long) besides other things).

Are there any other solution(s) and/or tips regarding lighting and, more generally, the entire process in order to accomplish my task?

Which do you think that would be my best workflow / equipment?

  • 1
    Sounds like you need a copy stand. You need light coming from the side from multiple directions, but they don't need to be exceptionally bright because the copy stand holds the book and camera together, so you can use a long exposure. By "long", I mean maybe 1/2 second, not so long that it interferes with your workflow. That's still many times less light required than for hand holding. Feb 3 '13 at 17:27
  • I believe there are answers here already for photographing art work, which may be helpful.
    – MikeW
    Feb 3 '13 at 17:33
  • Are you shooting the books as objects, for the purposes of preserving appearance of the pages, or for the purpose of preserving the text?
    – mattdm
    Feb 3 '13 at 20:21
  • 1
    Other solutions sound superior to the following - but this worked for me. I photographed a largish number of historical records that could not be removed from a library. Room was lit with high fluorescents giving good diffuse lighting. I set up a tripod with camera pointing down onto a table surface, fixed focus and zoom, stopped down somewhat to ensure DOF OK. Shutter speed to suit 0 slow does not matter as long as vibration low enough for exposure time used. Colour balance to suit. Results were very acceptable. Feb 3 '13 at 20:27
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    @mattdm: In the most cases I shoot the books for their text. There are also cases (let's say 15-20% from the volume) when I would like to stress the appearance of the pages. (miniatures etc.) Feb 4 '13 at 7:17

If there is often sufficient natural light, as John points out you have a tripod/stand and can do longer exposures.

You would want light on at least two sides to avoid dark shadows. If you are using window light, you could use a reflector to provide fill.

If you want to capture the feel of old paper, you would want to place lights low, raking across the paper to bring out the texture, but if you're just interested in preserving the contents you might position the lights higher. The book Light, Science and Magic is a good source for more in-depth information on photographing different surfaces such as paper, and eliminating glare.

I don't think a ring flash is going to work well - I think you'll still end up with a lot of glare. Two off-camera strobes will do a good job when natural light isn't available. Small inexpensive table lamps would also work, but from the sounds of it you might not always have electrical power.

  • There are battery powered table lamps available, although at a quick glance they don't seem particularly cheap. They would probably be easier on the books than any camera flash, however. A pair of flashlights and some sort of diffuser might work too.
    – user
    Feb 5 '13 at 12:31

First my advice to you is to use the tripod. Second 580exII is fast enough but in old places with old gravings and painting you can not and should not use flash light because it damages them. 2 Leds will help you out with a reflector in the hardest situations. Also I think you should not use ring led since it's to homogenous. About long exposure you'll get graining whether your processor lowers it or not(custom setting). Avoid high backlights and top lights. You can use 50mm 1.2 or 35mm 1.4 for close distances because mostly some of the books wont be moved from their isolated areas mostly.

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