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Author Topic: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera  (Read 8191 times)

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Offline KaineZ

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KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« on: April 29, 2014, 06:22:42 PM »
I was talking to soothsayr on DC++ last week and he asked if I could post a picture of my setup.  I thought I'd give a quick tutorial on how to best use a digital camera to photograph comics instead of scanning them.

I previously used a scanner, but I got tired of the rough handling of some of my books with the constant flipping around while scanning.  I had the covers on a few become detached which royally ticked me off.  I think the ideal solution to using a digital camera is to go with something like rangerhouse (and now soothsayr) uses.  Here's a link to rangerhouse's system: http://digitalcomicmuseum.com/forum/index.php/topic,4081.0.html which is just a fancy digital camera setup even though at first glance it might not look like that.  His system has the 3 things you need to get good photo's:

1) An excellent camera (I'm not sure what's in it) located up top
2) Good lighting source (this is crucial!)
3) a good way to hold the comic flat so you get good pics without the pages having a slight bulge/ripple from lying open

I don't know how much that archival "scanner" is that he has, but since photography was already a hobby of mine I had most of the tools to create a station for photographing my comics without too much additional expense.  The trick was to learn the best settings and lighting technique to get the best photos.  This took me about a month and a dozen or so comics to get down pat.  The lighting is the secret.

So, first, here's a photo of how I have my station setup.  Right now I'm building a bookcase for the room my station is normally setup in so I have it temporarily sitting on the floor of my library/pinball machine room.  Pardon the mess and the piles of books on the right side!

http://i60.tinypic.com/2rfq42c.jpg
The components (if you wanted to copy EXACTLY what I use) are:

  • A good DSLR camera (an entry level DSLR is fine, something that will shoot at least 300dpi is the bare minimum).  I use a Nikon D7100 so you can benchmark from there.  My lense is the kit lense that comes with the D7100 which is an 18-140mm.  You can use a larger focal length, but you'll just have to keep moving the camera up higher and I like having it within reach.
  • A remote trigger is desirable.  This let's you sit at the table or on the floor and use a switch in your hand to take the photos rather than having to use the camera's clicker.
  • A couple of soft boxes (the two black square things on the little stands to the left and right of the camera tripod).  Inside the soft boxes are two "remote flashes" aka strobes.  You put them in the box so that a fabric cover (not seen in the above photo due to the direction they're facing) diffuses and spreads the light from the flashes.  If you didn't diffuse the light and just used a regular remote flash you'd get a bright spot of light on the pages which would be bad.
  • A remote flash trigger.  This device has two parts: transmitter and receiver.  Since there's no flash attached to the camera the soft boxes act as remote controlled flashes.  The transmitter attaches to the camera where a flash would normally go.  It is paired via wifi to one of the soft boxes which has the receiver plugged into one of them (the other soft box is slaved to the first one optically).  When you take photos now the camera remotely triggers the soft boxes and they fire their flash simultaneously when I press the button on the remote trigger mentioned above.
  • A decent tripod.  The one I use here is dedicated just for comics.  I use the camera for many other things, but with the dedicated tripod I can get the head (what the camera attaches to) situated in the precise direction needed for a straight on photo and never have to touch it again.  Just slide the camera on and I can immediately start taking photos.
  • A small piece of plywood cut a little larger than an opened golden age comic book.  I took the dimensions I wanted to Lowe's, picked out a small piece of thin plywood and had the guy at Lowe's cut it for me for free.  The board just gives the comic something flat to lie on.  See the issue of Fighting Yank in my photo above lying on said board.

To keep the board from moving around I have a couple of decent sized hardback books to hold it firm.  On carpet the board has a tendency to slide fractionally as I flip the pages of the comic books.  Without keeping the board anchored it would eventually slide out of the camera's frame without me even knowing.  Additionally I use blue painter's tape on the carpet to mark the precise location the board should be so the comics are lined up straight in the photos.  When they're crooked I have to take the time to adjust the photos in my imaging software to straighten them.

I've never timed myself, but I can photograph an entire 64 page comic in just minutes.

The biggest problem I have with my setup is holding the pages down flat.  When they aren't held down they'll bow up towards the spine (put an open magazine on a table in front of you to see the obvious bowing that occurs).  When they bow up the page will look distorted when photographed.  There are two solutions: 1) edit them in imaging software or 2) hold down the edges.  Using software is mind numbing and fixing distorted pages is what I least like to do (use Transforms in Photoshop to fix it).  Holding a couple of corners down with my fingers is the solution I use, but it isn't ideal.  The Rangerhouse archival system fixes this problem with the way comics sit on the "shelf" of the camera station.  Watch the video found somewhere on DCM for how that part works.  I have an idea of how to better deal with keeping a book flat without damaging, but to date I haven't had the time or inclination to make what I envision.

One final note about lighting...  If you can't get your lighting system figured out you'll never have a good photographed/edited comic.  The best way to tell a scanned comic from one that has been photographed is from the lighting used.  A photographed comic with good lighting will be practically indistinguishable from a scanned comic.  I think I can easily spot a digicam comic even with ones that have been done excellently (which is why I'm so hard on myself over the lighting).  The lighting you want needs to be as close to true sunlight as possible.  Sunlight gives the best lighting.  When I was first getting into using a camera the first couple comics I shot were done outside in direct sunlight.  The problem with that is that the book needs to be shot at specific times of the day (because of the angle of the sun) and on days with no wind (to keep pages from flapping around) and on days with little cloud cover and obviously on non-cloudy days.  Getting all these things perfect whenever you desire is impossible!  So, you can move indoors and try using sunlight coming in through a window (I did this a few times!), but you don't get good consistent sunlight all day long.  The best solution is to use some type of photography lighting kit.  There are many variations on my setup and I could have done it quite a bit differently.  I just happen to like the soft boxes.  They're easy to setup and maintain.  What you DO NOT want to use is any light source that a photographer wouldn't use.  This means no light stands from Home Depot or Lowe's like a painter or construction worker would use (the yellow ones that use the halogen bulbs).  If you want to do it right then spend the money at a camera store on a couple of good flashes/soft boxes.

« Last Edit: April 29, 2014, 06:49:51 PM by KaineZ »

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KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« on: April 29, 2014, 06:22:42 PM »

Offline Yoc

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2014, 06:38:52 PM »
Wow!
Thanks for sharing all this with the gang K.

Lots to digest here gang.  I know another member has designed his own such set-up and might have something to add.

-yoc

Offline tilliban

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #2 on: May 04, 2014, 06:30:40 AM »
Thank you for sharing your valuable experiences.

I can confirm all of it. I shot two dozen horror books with a digicam and Ė was not happy with the results.

I had almost no equipment, though, used a normal family camera, a tripod, daylight on a table (no flashes) and coins to keep the book flat.
Light from outside will change every other minute and affect your photography. In not a good way. You will scream for professional equipment!

My amateurish efforts, however, produced readable material. It just doesnít look that NICE like how we are used to by now.

I like to differ from your point of view in one aspect: A scan seems (to me) to be always of higher value and quality.
Canít beat the sharpness of a scanned image.
Photographs are prone to be blurry (if only in the minutest, slightest way).
Iím talking about that FEEL to a scanned page. You can see the grains in the paper and such. Havenít experienced that with a photograph Ė yet.
Pre-code horror aficionado and propagator of ACE comic books.
I run a number of websites about pre-code horror. Please follow the links.

Offline KaineZ

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #3 on: May 04, 2014, 10:13:02 PM »
I think Rangerhouse's scans, which use a camera, look indistinguishable from a scanned book, but his equipment was made for archiving magazines, books, etc so the lighting on his setup is optimized for it.  My gear uses studio lighting so yes, to someone who knows what to look for you can tell the differences.  I've only done 2 books that I would say are indistinguishable from a true scan and those were two books from my personal collection that are highly prized by me so I took the time to do them just right.  I've been working on a new technique in Photoshop to make the photos look even better without making the file sizes HUGE.  If I can get that perfected and automated (the hard part) I think my photos will really be hard to distinguish from a scan.

If people didn't mind a 64 page book that was 100 to 125 megs I could do something in Photoshop that would make the photos look just like a scan  >:D

Offline Yoc

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2014, 11:01:26 PM »
A huge scan like that is allowed but we would suggest it be shared in two parts if you do it ArKay.
Better yet a second 'normal' file size would be nice for those that prefer their scans not so huge.

Good luck on the Photoshop action creation!
-Yoc

Offline builderboy

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #5 on: May 05, 2014, 06:11:13 AM »
KaineZ,

One of the things that I have started doing to speed things up, something JVJ tipped me off to, was the following. 

To use this technique, you have to make sure that all of your page image sizes are identical dimensionally.  My first operation after scanning raw centerspreads is to crop the individual pages, making rotation adjustments if needed.  I take the cover image first, and after using the rectangular selection marquee, then image/crop.  I then pull up the image/size box, and note the resultant images pixel dimension.  I then set the marquee tool to 'fixed size', and input the pixel dimension from the cover, and save it as a new tool.  Then, I use that tool to crop every page, rotating as necessary to end up with separate, uniform page files.

I then take one image, and create all the adjustment layers I like to use ( I use layers for correction, overlay, level adjustment, and color balance), then save a copy of that file as a template.  I keep the template file open, and open each of the other pages, one at a time, and drag all of those adjustment layers to the new file (holding the shift key, so that they register correctly), then save and close them.

Now, you have each file, ready to go with all adjustment layers in place.  While this is pretty fast, I am confident that if I recorded the process once, an automated routine could be used to copy all the adjustment layers into the files of a directory, using the Photoshops batch processing.

About keeping file sizes small, I am not sure about that.  My preference would be to work on the file without file size constraints, and use more compression in your routine to convert the files from photoshop to jpeg format.  If you bring down the individual files to ~ 650 - 1000 Kb, the CBZ file is not too large for public consumption.  I know there are limits to this compression, but I haven't hit them yet.

That's the essence of what I am doing, but I am continually looking for ways to improve productivity and image quality.

Offline Yoc

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #6 on: May 05, 2014, 01:59:44 PM »
Interesting.
I open, crop, manually correct as needed with clone tool and apply an action that adjusts size, contrast, levels and saves as a jpg.

-Yoc

Offline KaineZ

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #7 on: May 05, 2014, 04:42:49 PM »
A huge scan like that is allowed but we would suggest it be shared in two parts if you do it ArKay.
Better yet a second 'normal' file size would be nice for those that prefer their scans not so huge.

Good luck on the Photoshop action creation!
-Yoc

That was me (KZ) who said that, not ArKay, but I was only joking about 100 -125 meg files though.

Offline KaineZ

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #8 on: May 05, 2014, 05:03:21 PM »
KaineZ,

One of the things that I have started doing to speed things up, something JVJ tipped me off to, was the following. 

To use this technique, you have to make sure that all of your page image sizes are identical dimensionally.  My first operation after scanning raw centerspreads is to crop the individual pages, making rotation adjustments if needed.  I take the cover image first, and after using the rectangular selection marquee, then image/crop.  I then pull up the image/size box, and note the resultant images pixel dimension.  I then set the marquee tool to 'fixed size', and input the pixel dimension from the cover, and save it as a new tool.  Then, I use that tool to crop every page, rotating as necessary to end up with separate, uniform page files.

I then take one image, and create all the adjustment layers I like to use ( I use layers for correction, overlay, level adjustment, and color balance), then save a copy of that file as a template.  I keep the template file open, and open each of the other pages, one at a time, and drag all of those adjustment layers to the new file (holding the shift key, so that they register correctly), then save and close them.

Now, you have each file, ready to go with all adjustment layers in place.  While this is pretty fast, I am confident that if I recorded the process once, an automated routine could be used to copy all the adjustment layers into the files of a directory, using the Photoshops batch processing.

About keeping file sizes small, I am not sure about that.  My preference would be to work on the file without file size constraints, and use more compression in your routine to convert the files from photoshop to jpeg format.  If you bring down the individual files to ~ 650 - 1000 Kb, the CBZ file is not too large for public consumption.  I know there are limits to this compression, but I haven't hit them yet.

That's the essence of what I am doing, but I am continually looking for ways to improve productivity and image quality.

The cool thing about Photoshop is there are 10 ways to do just about everything.

I pretty much do my first step as you describe although with an Action.  When I photograph I shoot 2 images of every "folio".  Ie., with the cover open I'll make two shots of the double page of the inside front cover and first story page and so on so when I finish there are, in a 36 page book, a total of 36 images.  This makes the photographing part really quick.

So, in PS my first step is to crop every image to individual pages (although I usually do 14 pages at a time since on one screen I can see 14 tabs (images) if I have the whole issue opened at once).  Then I use the rectangular marquee and set my page size (I hate all the wasted white space from most borders so I crop that out when I make my selection).  My Action does the following:

1) Crops page
2) Sets page width to 1800 pixels
3) Opens Curves dialogue

I don't like the foxing so I turn all but the worst of it white via curves.  You have to be careful with it obviously or you'll get some washed out colors.   :-[

I rarely mess with color balance or levels because for what I find attractive in a comic adjusting curves *normally* gives me all the level adjustments I desire.  Once in a blue moon I might go for those options though.  If it really came down to it I can still adjust RGB through curves anyway.

What I've been working on is trying to figure out a way to *quickly* eliminate even more foxing than I do now.  I've had people suggest channels (don't have experience with that), adjustment layers (I played around with that for HOURS last week and couldn't figure out a solution), using a graduated curves filter mask (need to play around with that idea, but I like the sound of it) as well as a few other manual techniques that appear to be far too time consuming.  There's only one publisher I'd use something that took me 2 hours to do one book, but they aren't in the PD  :-\  :P


Offline builderboy

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2014, 06:27:51 PM »
SO very interesting to hear of your techniques!  Thanks for describing KaineZ & Yoc.  Two color balancing moves that I find effective are setting the tone to 'highlights', and the first is moving the cyan/red slider toward cyan to reduce the reds, the other, 'highlights' again, but the yellow/blue slider toward blue to reduce the yellows.  If you don't go too far, it renders tanned paper back to cream tone, like fresh newsprint.

Thanks for sharing, guys...keeps my appetite for continued Photoshop experimentation alive.

Offline Yoc

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #10 on: May 05, 2014, 10:34:38 PM »
Thanks for all the suggestions guys.
I'll be trying some of them on my next edit job.

Offline KaineZ

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #11 on: May 06, 2014, 10:12:37 PM »
SO very interesting to hear of your techniques!  Thanks for describing KaineZ & Yoc.  Two color balancing moves that I find effective are setting the tone to 'highlights', and the first is moving the cyan/red slider toward cyan to reduce the reds, the other, 'highlights' again, but the yellow/blue slider toward blue to reduce the yellows.  If you don't go too far, it renders tanned paper back to cream tone, like fresh newsprint.

Thanks for sharing, guys...keeps my appetite for continued Photoshop experimentation alive.

I've been out of town since last week, but I'm going to work with that a little when I get back.  Sounds interesting.  I only recently started playing around with adjusting Yellows to try to reduce foxing.  Maybe with CMYK it works better?

Offline KaineZ

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #12 on: May 07, 2014, 06:38:06 PM »
Got back earlier today and I've been playing around with color balancing CMYK and all I can say is wow!  I like what this can do, if I can get it sped up a little bit I'll be happy.

Offline KaineZ

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #13 on: June 29, 2014, 10:42:40 AM »
I was just looking through Shutterbug magazine this morning and they had an ad with the link to a company that makes stands for making photographic copies of things.  While looking through their website I came across this book cradle:

http://www.kaiser-fototechnik.de/en/produkte/2_1_produktanzeige.asp?nr=5631

Here's a picture of the cradle holding a book:

http://i59.tinypic.com/a3jdco.jpg
It looks like it solves every conceivable problem I've encountered with photographing comic books.  They've got a US sales rep so I'm going to contact them about pricing on this item as well as the cost of the camera stand (found elsewhere on the website linked above).  I'll report back with the pricing.

Offline KaineZ

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Re: KaineZ's setup: how to "scan" with a digital camera
« Reply #14 on: June 29, 2014, 10:50:42 AM »
Yeah, that's not going to work.  It's $16,000.