The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
If you want to take a digital copy of a family photograph or an important family document, you could simply hold the camera in your hand and snap a picture. I have done that successfully many times. However, I’ve also had some useless, blurry results. As frustrating as this can be when you’re at home, it can also eat up precious research time when shooting old documents and photos at a library or other repository. You can almost always get better results if you place the camera on a camera stand or possibly a tripod and then use some sort of remote shutter or a tethering arrangement that will squeeze the shutter for you – and maybe do even more – with no hands touching the camera.
The problem is your heartbeat. It is impossible for a human to hold a camera perfectly still. If your heart is beating, there will always be imperceptible movement in your hands. As we age, some of us tend to "shake" a bit more. It is physically impossible for anyone to hold a camera perfectly still when it is in your hands. You can improve the results by taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly as you lean up against a wall or some other solid object and snap the picture. However, no handheld camera will ever take a razor sharp picture that compares with those taken by tripod-mounted or copy-stand mounted cameras.
Did you ever see those gorgeous scenic photographs in Life Magazine or similar, large-format glossy magazines? How many of those do you think were taken by a handheld camera? Perhaps a few, but not many. Most of the super-high-resolution photographs were taken with the camera firmly mounted on a stable tripod or copy stand.
NOTE: A copy stand is a device used to copy images and/or text with a camera. The stand consists of a board onto which the media is placed and a camera mount above it, usually with an adjustable height. Light is provided by either sunlight or bright lamps mounted on either side of the media at forty-five degree angles. This provides uniform lighting and reduces specular reflection, keeping glare low. Copy stands can be used for reprography (that is, to copy documents). To do so, the camera is mounted onto the stand, usually with a standard 1/4" tripod-mount screw, pointing the lens down at the base, where you would place the document to be copied.
You can purchase copy stands at any major photo store or from dozens of online merchants. For examples of various copy stands available, look at http://www.google.com/products?q=copy+stand&aq=f
The intent is to produce a photographic image that is razor sharp, something photographers call "tack sharp." Even the slightest bit of motion will induce some fuzziness. By having the camera firmly mounted to an immovable tripod or copy stand, you can take tack sharp photographs.
Of course, squeezing the shutter release ever so gently will also induce movement. Watch a professional photographer at work when he or she is taking a close-up portrait shot in the studio. The pros never squeeze the shutter directly; they use a remote shutter release.
NOTE: You can see many examples of remote shutter releases at http://www.google.com/products?q=remote+shutter+release&aq=f
Digital cameras may optionally have a mechanical shutter release, and many of them also have an option to connect the camera to a computer (via a USB cable) that controls the camera remotely.
Features will vary from one camera to the next. Typically, you can control everything from the computer except for pointing the camera at the object to be photographed. A laptop computer is more practical for most situations. See the picture at the beginning of this article to see what is involved.
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