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Subject: Photodocumentation


From: Robert Espinosa <rje>
Date: Thursday, March 23, 1989
hello bobbie,

I read on the net that you were looking into photo doc setups.  I have
put some time into this for my shop, and will outline what I've done.  I
really am a fan of stobes, for several reasons:  they put out less heat,
they allow me to hand hold the camera (very important to get the right
shots of books without hanging by your toes), allow me to use daylight
film (which is cheaper, and arguably better), have more accurate and
consistent color temperature, are very fast, and now are much more
compact and reasonably priced than they used to be.

I should preface this by my approach to the photography of books.  I see
the book as mostly a three dimensional object, so the copy stand is of
limited use for our purposes.  True, there are times when all you want
is a two dimensional shot of a cover or an open page, but for the most
part, I feel that treating the book as an object conveys the most
information about it.  Therefore I look at photographing it as I would
any object:  I want a modeling effect, to give lights and shadows, not a
copy effect.  I often keep the image of the portrait studio situation in
my mind--the challenge to photograph a face to give it light and shadow,
without distortion or harsh effects.  And I have taken my cue for my
lighting setup from just these studios.  Ideally, north daylight coming
from a skylight or window to the upper right or left of the subject
casts the perfect light:  it models the subject, but also surrounds the
subject with light, and produces a very full effect.  In the portrait
studio, there are now some very good strobe setups that give this

Now to the kill.  Here is what I am using.  I have a monolight, which is
an all-in-one studio strobe, i.e. the power pak is included in the
strobe head.  I researched this quite a bit and have what I think is the
state of the art strobe monolight--the White Lightning Ultra 600 made by
Paul C. Buff, Inc. (530 East Iris Drive, Nashville, TN 37204,
800-443-5542).  Price:  $395.00 plus $49.95 for the mount for the
softbox, see below.  This is a very lightweight (4.3 lbs) strobe unit
which puts out a great deal of light, and this is the least powerful of
three models they make (U1200 and U1600 are the more powerful models).
It has continuously variable strobe power, which means you can cut your
exposure by any amount over 5 f stops.  It has many features which can
only be appreciated by comparing to other monolights (there are quite a
few on the market, with a growing number all the time, as these will
probably dominate strobe photography very soon), suffice it to say it is
built with great care and is the most compact of any available--about
the size of 1/2 gallon milk carton.

I have this mounted on a boom arm which is mounted to the wall, and
allows me to move the strobe up and down and all around if I desire,
although I rarely move it.  It is positioned up over the surface place
the book on, at about 1 to 2 o'clock, the light coming down on the
object almost from above.

Now for the finesse.  The crucial element here is the addition of a
"softbox" to the front of the flash head.  This is the standard studio
lighting diffuser which looks like a big square black umbrella with a
white translucent cloth over the front.  There are many of these
available (by the way, get the Calumet Photographic catalogue, 890
Supreme Drive, Bensenville, IL  60106, 800-225-8638, if you don't
already have one) and I have tried two:  Chimera  16" x 20" and the
Plume 30" x 40".  The Plume is the best, but also the most expensive:
$299.95 for the Plume as opposed to $119.95 for the smaller Chimera.  I
would stick with one in the 30" x 40" range.  This combination of
softbox with strobe head produces what is in effect a window of daylight
that virtually surrounds the object, and if placed correctly, produces
soft shadows that give good modeling. You really only need one of these,
and if for some reason you feel you need more even lighting (although
the softbox creates a very even effect in some ways, but is directional)
you just put a white reflective card on the opposite side of the object
to bounce the light and give more fill-in.  I use this for taking copy
slides of individual pages also, by just using an easel which tilts the
book or individual sheet toward me, so I don't have to move the light,
and can stand more or less in front of or over the page.

This is my setup.  I have used virtually everything:  quartz lights,
photo floods, studio strobes with bounce umbrellas and separate
powerpak, but I find nothing as versatile as the above setup.  To be
sure, I have photofloods and a copy stand for those times when this is
exactly what I need and nothing else will do, but if I were going to
just have one setup (which is hard), I would go with the
monolight/softbox setup.  As for beauty, there is nothing that can touch
the lighting effects save mother nature.

As for exposure, if you have the bucks, it is nice to have a Minolta
Flashmeter around, but after one roll of film, you know what the correct
exposure is going to be, with a one half to one stop differential for
very light to very dark subjects.  Here we shoot all book pages at f/11
to f/16, and  dark bindings at f/11.  This of course assumes you stick
with a standard placement for the lighting, which is the best way to go.

Total price of my lighting setup:  Ultra 600  $395.00, Plume Wafer
Medium $299.95, Mount for Plume (use Balcar mount AF2084) $49.95,
Calumet Wall Mount Boom $99.95, for a grand total of $844.85.
Everything except strobe ordered from Calumet. It ain't cheap, but
nothing else in this business is, and it's a one time investment.  I
also think it is close to perfection!  Have you priced copy stands with
strobes--$2000+.  If I may be so bold, I think conservators of all
specialties and others responsible for the photography of art and
artifacts will be going to these monolights in the future, so why not
get in at the ground floor.

Yours in light, Robert Espinosa.

                  Conservation DistList Instance 2:14
                 Distributed: Saturday, March 25, 1989
                        Message Id: cdl-2-14-002
Received on Thursday, 23 March, 1989

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