Photographing Historical Negatives Questions

KevXmanKevXman Always grinning!Registered Users Posts: 945 Major grins
edited November 9, 2013 in Technique
Hi All,
I have been asked to accompany a project archaeologist when she goes to the National Archives and to photograph some historical aerial negatives. The negatives are 10”x10” and will be laying on a light table. I Googled this and the only info I could find said to use a macro lens and place a thin sheet of white paper behind the negative. Of course this person was using a window for their light source. Has anyone here done this kind of work and do you have any suggestions or tips? I will be limited to what equipment I can take into the viewing room. Basically, just the camera and a tripod are allowed. Any and all help on this will be greatly appreciated.
Thanks!
— Kevin
Enjoy today, tomorrow is not guaranteed.

My Site, My Book

Comments

  • aj986saj986s Major grins MarylandRegistered Users Posts: 1,100 Major grins
    edited November 7, 2013
    I've tried photographing a number of negatives, though none as large as 10x10. The biggest challenge will be getting a even balance of light through the negative. A piece of white paper can work, but make sure it doesn't have any watermarks, or other imperfections that will be evident as the light shines through. If daylight is present, using the window can work, too. But be sure to check for imperfections in the glass, especially in older windows (like will probably be the case at the National Archives Bldg). The closer the glass & paper are behind the negative, the more visible will be any imperfections in the glass and/or paper.

    I've not done this myself, but if the negatives can hang flat, perhaps you can place the white paper on the window, and then make a simple rig to hang (with clothspins or such) the negative a couple of inches in front of the window. That way the camera can focus on the negative surface, and the glass/paper can be less dominant in the depth of field. If you have a suction cup holder, maybe you could attach the hanger rig to the window. Or maybe something that attaches to the tripod.

    I'd be curious to find out what your eventual solution ends up being.
    Tony P.
    Canon 50D, 30D and Digital Rebel (plus some old friends - FTB and AE1)
    Long-time amateur.....wishing for more time to play
    Autocross and Track junkie
    tonyp.smugmug.com
  • arodneyarodney Major grins Registered Users Posts: 2,005 Major grins
    edited November 7, 2013
    The light source and 'purity' of the paper (how spectrally neutral it is) will play a role if you end up in color! If you are dealing strictly with B&W, not an issue (but evenness of the light across the neg will be important).
    Andrew Rodney
    Author "Color Management for Photographers"
    http://www.digitaldog.net/
  • pathfinderpathfinder Drive By Digital Shooter western IndianaSuper Moderators Posts: 14,602 moderator
    edited November 7, 2013
    Could these negatives be scanned on a good flat bed scanner? That would solve the lighting issues introduced by using white paper as a diffuser.

    I understand the larger pixel count offered by high grade DSLRs, but a good flat bed scan of a 10x10 inch negative will give pretty good results too, and is easy enough to do. Just an alternative. My Epson V700 scans flat documents and negatives very nicely.
    Pathfinder - www.pathfinder.smugmug.com

    Moderator of the Technique Forum and Finishing School on Dgrin
  • aj986saj986s Major grins MarylandRegistered Users Posts: 1,100 Major grins
    edited November 8, 2013
    KevXman wrote: »
    ......... I will be limited to what equipment I can take into the viewing room. Basically, just the camera and a tripod are allowed. ......
    pathfinder wrote: »
    Could these negatives be scanned on a good flat bed scanner? That would solve the lighting issues introduced by using white paper as a diffuser.

    I understand the larger pixel count offered by high grade DSLRs, but a good flat bed scan of a 10x10 inch negative will give pretty good results too, and is easy enough to do. Just an alternative. My Epson V700 scans flat documents and negatives very nicely.

    Scanner would be nice, but sounds like he's limited as to what he can bring on-site.
    Tony P.
    Canon 50D, 30D and Digital Rebel (plus some old friends - FTB and AE1)
    Long-time amateur.....wishing for more time to play
    Autocross and Track junkie
    tonyp.smugmug.com
  • KevXmanKevXman Always grinning! Registered Users Posts: 945 Major grins
    edited November 8, 2013
    Thanks for the tips everyone! Greatly appreciated. Yes, a flat bed scanner would have been the best solution and the National Archives would have allowed me to do it that way. Except, these negatives are of aerial photographs and are on long rolls which makes it impossible to use a scanner. So I was stuck using the camera. Here is the setup that I used.

    i-PJkNd8Q-L.jpg

    Turns out the viewing tables have frosted glass on them so the need for "diffusing" paper was not necessary. I set up the tripod as best as I could. I could tell instantly that I really needed a tripod that has a head that telescopes out horizontally. I'll have to do some research and see if I can get my workplace to buy me one. Not likely. I don't have a macro lens so I was going to rent one for the day. However, after talking to the "expert" at the camera shop it seemed that I would do better with my wide-angle or my standard 18-70mm. Ended up sticking with the 18-70 this time. I also connected the laptop to the camera so that I could do a quality check as I went along. I'm sure that I could have done a better job but I learned a lot and the quality that I got should be good enough for what the archaeologists needed at this time. Definitely going to need some more practice. It was interesting stuff. We were shooting aerials from 1941 of the Passaic, NJ area. We also looked at some from 1933. Couldn't find our "spot" but if was neat to see how the area has changed over time. Here is one of the shots from 1941.

    i-K2Dd3T5-L.jpg

    This is just south of the Teterboro Airport. North is to the left. If you were to follow the waterway running through the middle of the image downstream (left to right) you would in up in the Hackensack River.

    The coolest thing is that I am now a card carrying RESEARCHER at the US National Archives. :D

    Thanks again everyone.
    — Kevin
    Enjoy today, tomorrow is not guaranteed.

    My Site, My Book
  • aj986saj986s Major grins MarylandRegistered Users Posts: 1,100 Major grins
    edited November 9, 2013
    Thanks for sharing how you set up the shoot. Interesting that you had to work from rolled negatives.

    A possible tripod solution is to find out if your tripod can accommodate camera attachment under the center column. If so, you might be able to attach a ball head underneath, and set up the tripod legs to straddle the work space.
    Tony P.
    Canon 50D, 30D and Digital Rebel (plus some old friends - FTB and AE1)
    Long-time amateur.....wishing for more time to play
    Autocross and Track junkie
    tonyp.smugmug.com
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