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I need to photograph a few dozen hand-written calligraphic greeting cards in exquisite detail so that a calligrapher can try to combine the style. While I have reasonable experience in personal photography, including natural-light portraits and landscapes, I have no idea what studio setup I'd use to photograph these greeting cards. The most important priorities are consistency across the bunch and capturing the fine detail of the cards, including the paper itself, followed by low cost.

What studio setup would I use to photograph a few dozen greeting cards?

Unfortunately scanning is not really an option, because the cards are embossed so they sit at an angle in the scanner bed, casting slight shadows across the letters

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    I wouldn't photograph them at all. I'd scan them. – Michael C Mar 26 '18 at 6:05
  • @MichaelClark Unfortunately not really an option, because the cards are embossed so sit at an angle in the scanner bed, casting slight shadows across the letters – TheEnvironmentalist Mar 26 '18 at 6:41
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Photographing the cards is the wrong way to go. Scan them with a flatbed scanner instead. This gets around issues of focus, even illumination, and resolution for you.

This is the kind of problem scanners are specifically designed to address.

  • It seems the OP has tried using a scanner and found the results unacceptable due to the lack of flatness of the surface of the embossed cards. – Michael C Mar 26 '18 at 18:36
  • @Michael: Yes, I see you just added that to the question, 6 hours after I wrote this answer. – Olin Lathrop Mar 26 '18 at 19:35
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    The user posted it in a comment to the OP 13 hours ago. The information was available to you when you wrote your answer. – Michael C Mar 26 '18 at 19:53
  • @Michael: Comments aren't content. You can't expect people to read the comment chain. If it's not in the question, then it's not there. – Olin Lathrop Mar 26 '18 at 21:16
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If you really want to do it right, use a reproduction stand similar to an enlarger. The key is to insure the camera's sensor and the cards are exactly parallel to one another, otherwise any angle between the two will distort the shapes of the lettering.

If you're too concerned about the shadows cast by the embossing to use a flatbed scanner, you'll need several diffuse light sources from around the sides of your platform. For consistency's sake, use stable light sources that don't flicker or vary their color output.

For continuous lighting, good old incandescent bulbs combined with umbrella reflectors or shoot through umbrellas are ideal for this. Just be sure to use the same type of bulb in each light. More modern CFL and LED bulbs can have issues with flicker and limited spectrum output that can make accurate color reproduction impossible.

For strobes/flashes you also need to insure that all of your lights can output the same amount and color/spectrum of light. In addition to the modifiers suggested for continuous lighting, flashes are usually bright enough that you can also reflect them off neutral colored walls and ceilings if the room is the right size and shape.

Ideally you would set this up in an area with no natural light that can vary from one moment to the next depending on the weather, time of day, etc.

Large commercial reproduction houses use large format style cameras with digital scan backs to do very high resolution reproduction work. Short of that, use the highest resolution camera you can combined with the flattest field lens you can get your hands on. Most macro lenses have very flat fields of focus. So do many (but certainly not all) normal prime lenses.

For example, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II is a very expensive lens that is prized for the "look" it gives certain styles of portraits. That look is a result of the lens' field curvature. Even though it is a $2,000 lens, it would be totally inappropriate for serious reproduction work. The $350 EF 85mm f/1.8 would be far more appropriate as it has a flatter field of focus. The EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro would be even better, as it is optimized to perform at very close distances with a very flat field of focus.

A normal lens is one with a focal length roughly equal to the diagonal of the image format/sensor size.

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One option is to consider a mini studio for Marco work.

I have just such a set-up, it contains the studio lightbox itself two lights and a small range of backgrounds with different colours. I have used this for photographing a lot of different things and always been very happy with it.

The light get defused through the lightbox and, assuming you position them correctly, you get a nice even effect of the product being well lit.

If you have white cards, then a black background is probably best for this.

Use this with your camera on a tripod with remote shutter release and you can set the ISO to 100 and the aperture between f9 to f16 and get really good results.

I have something very similar to this

Mini Studio

Although there are similar products some are without lights, so then you have to use natural light but this would be cheaper.

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