Copy Stand

Home Up Field Photography Film Copy Stand Aesthetics Exposure Telephoto Wide-Angle Macro Photomicrography U/W Techniques Troubleshooting    

The Copy Stand


Think of a copy stand as a very specialized tripod, and think of copystand work as specialized macrophotography of still things.  Once you've done that, copy stand use is simple.

The primary use of a copy stand is to photograph pages of books, photographs, and other rather small, flat objects.  Of course, much of this work is being done these days by using a copy machine or a scanner.  Still, there is a role for the copy stand even in this digital world.  For instance, even if you could copy a page from a rare manuscript on a scanner, if your final presentation will be made using 35mm slides it is better to photograph it in the first place, rather than digitize it and print a slide on a film recorder.

At the basic level, a copy stand consists of a few parts.  There is a base, a column, and some sort of camera attachment on the column.  There may or may not be lights.  That's pretty much it.

Copy stands vary in price depending on their size and features. You can spend anywhere from $40 to over $1,000.  If you don't do much copy stand work, you can often get away with a tripod, a table, and some ingenuity.  If you decide to get a copy stand, look for these features:


  1. Solid base and column.
  2. Camera support that will accept your camera.
  3. Overall design strong enough to support your camera and the lenses you will be using.
  4. Smooth/easy column movement - this is your focus control.
  5. A grid on the base to help align objects.
  6. Some way to hold curved papers flat:
    Non-reflective glass plates

A set of lights for the copy stand is a very useful accessory.  Look for these features:

  1. 4 lights.
  2. Adjustable arms so that you can aim the lights to minimize glare

You can get a number of different bulbs for use with the copy stand; some are color-balanced so that you can use them with normal (daylight) film, others will require you to use tungsten film.

Other considerations:

  1. Lights get hot, so you will need to position your copy stand where there is adequate ventilation.
  2. To reduce glare from other sources, you need to be able to control the room lights and/or light coming in from windows.
  3. Good copy work can often be done with light from a nearby window, preferably one that is north facing (south facing for you austral types).  Be sure you can block the window light, however.
  4. The copy stand should be mounted on a low table so that the camera controls and eyepiece are at a comfortable height.

Some useful copy stand acessories:

  1. Gray card for metering (it is particularly difficult to meter printed pages; a gray card helps).
  2. Angle adapter for camera eyepiece.
  3. Macro slider for precise positioning/focusing.
  4. Reflectors to fill in shadows or alter the color of the light.
  5. Diffusers to soften harsh light.
  6. A macro lens.
  7. Ring flash.
  8. Grid-type focusing screen.
  9. Remote shutter release.
  10. Automatic (motor-driven) film advance.
  11. Auto exposure bracketing.

Lenses for the copy stand:

While many lenses will work on the copy stand, macro lenses are perhaps the best.  This is because they are sharp and have good close-focusing abilities.  Any lens which can focus closer than the length of the copy stand column (minus the height of the object being photographed) will work, however.  Zoom lenses with a "macro" feature may be particularly useful because the zoom feature allows you to frame the subject without moving the camera.  Wide-angle lenses capable of close-focusing may also be useful.  For small objects, you may need a macro lens + extension tubes or a bellows in order to get the required magnification.  


Camera Mounting Detail for the Bogen Copystand.  Yellow Arrow - camera mounting screw.  Blue Arrow - camera alignment plate screw.  Green Arrow - camera mount locking handle.  Red Arrow - camera mounting height adjustment knob.

Using the copy stand:

  1. First, mount the camera securely on the column using the tripod mount on the bottom of the camera (see figure above).  Many copy stand mounts have some sort of device to make sure that the camera is aligned pointing straight down (see figure to right). If so, use it, if not, take particular care to endure the camera is pointing straight down and not off to either side.  Tighten all fasteners.
  2. Next, attach the lens, remote shutter release, and other accessories to the camera.  If possible, you may want to remove the camera strap to ensure that it does not get in the way or cast a shadow. Set the camera to manual.  If mirror lockup is an option, turn it on to reduce camera shake.
  3. Place the subject on the base and align it with respect to the grid.  If there is no grid, try to align it so that it will appear level in the camera.  If necessary, cover the subject with glass to hold it flat.
  4. Looking through the viewfinder, align and frame the image.  You will have to focus first, then move the camera up and down using the height adjustment knob on the column.  On most copystands, there is some sort of locking device to make sure the camera doesn't move accidentally (see figure at right); you will need to release this before moving the camera and tighten it when the camera is in position.  Moving the camera will change both the image size and the focus; you will need to refocus each time you move the camera.  
  5. Check to make sure that the subject is lined up properly, and that nothing is intruding into the frame.
  6. Turn on the lights.  Check to make sure that the illumination is even, that all deep shadows are filled (use a reflector or adjust a light) and that there is no glare from the lights.
  7. Place a gray card on the subject and take a meter reading.  Set the camera manually to this exposure (if you leave the camera on automatic, it will change the exposure reading when you remove the gray card.  Be sure to use at least f/8 if possible, f/16 or better if you can without getting really slow shutter speeds (try to keep shutter speeds above 1/4 second).
  8. Remove the gray card and take a final look through the viewfinder.  Check the image and focus.
  9. Step away from the camera and copy stand.  Make sure that no part of your body is touching the copy stand or its support.  Be sure that all cords are out of the way of the lens and the lights.
  10. Snap the picture using a remote; if no remote is available use the camera's self timer.
  11. Bracket the exposure 1/2 to 1/3 stop above and below. Change the shutter speed rather than the aperture.
  12. Whenever you recompose the shot, or move to a different subject, turn off the lights to avoid burns and keep the temperature down.  You don't want to cook your camera.