Family history can be found in the artifacts that belonged to our ancestors and that are in our homes or those of older living relatives. Do you have a digital camera that’s sitting in a box somewhere and you’re afraid to use it? It’s time to grab that camera and take some beginner shots of your treasures.
The two things you’ll need are a lightbox and a light source. I have found it easier to photograph my smaller treasures in this fashion. Now, in these photos, I show the power of a DIY lightbox, though you can purchase a lightbox from Amazon for about $40.
Depending upon the season where you live, your first attempt may involve natural light. I placed my lightbox on a bed beside a large window on a Sunday afternoon. I turned off my flash and switched my Canon Powershot to its macro setting. On a DSLR, you should use the AV setting.
For these photos, I read my owner’s manual to learn how to set the white balance. There is a reason to keep your owner’s manual handy, and the white balance configuration is one of them.
Finally, place your camera on a tripod and your object inside the lightbox. Now, I’ll walk you through what is possible when you’re just starting to use your camera. How do I know this? Because this is me starting to use my camera with limited photography training. If I can do it, you can do it.
Exposure: 1/125, Exposure bias*: 1.0 Aperture: f/4, Focal Length: 9.1 mm ISO Speed: 800, Metering; Center Weight Average
Look at that beauty! I am impressed with my amateur skills but things can improve.
Exposure: 1/200, Exposure bias*: 1.0 Aperture: f/4, Focal Length: 11.5 mm ISO Speed: 800, Metering; Center Weight Average
At first, I tried repositioning the light and zoom in on this military bracelet. The white background is less gray, but I was hoping the clarity of the name on the bracelet would improve. It hadn’t.
Exposure: 1/200, Exposure bias*: 1.0 Aperture: f/4. Focal Length: 11.5 mm ISO Speed: 800, Metering; Center Weight Average
I repositioned where I focused the camera and discovered this enabled me to read the name on the bracelet better. Hooray!
Thus far, the quality of the photographs improved by moving around and zooming in. Next, you want to play with how your camera evaluates light. It’s a very simple switch that has a dramatic impact on your photography.
For this bracelet, I switched from Center Weight Average metering to a Spot metering option. Notice how quickly the photographs improve.
Exposure: 1/100, Exposure bias*: 1.0 Aperture: f/3.5, Focal Length: 12.8 mm ISO Speed: 800, Metering; Spot
Now, if I had this artifact to photograph again, I would drop the ISO. With a stationary camera (one on a tripod), a constant light source and an unmoving subject, you can lower the ISO to 100 (or as low as your camera will allow) and take this photo one step further.
When you are stuck with your genealogical research or if you’re in a relative’s home, take out your camera and photograph the treasures that tell the little details about your relatives’ lives. Even if your photography skills are limited, you can take amazing photos.