Photographing Tibetan Texts

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Photographing Tibetan Texts

Contributor(s): David Germano, Than Grove, Bill McGrath, Will Rourk, Steven Weinberger

Generally we recommend using a flatbed scanner to scan Tibetan texts. However, if scanning is not an option or you need a higher-quality image, you can photograph texts with a high-end digital camera. Set it up, illuminate it, use the remote control and Canon software and click away using autofocus.

THL photographed about seventy-nine volumes of the Dege Kangyur in the Library of Congress holdings in this way:

Camera: Canon EOS 1DS Mark II (16.7 megapixel): for specs, see external link:, or purchase at external link:

Lens: 50mm Compact-Macro fixed lens; for example, external link:

File format: create both a RAW file (*.cr2; 5010 x 3336; approximately 13.1 MB) and a JPG for reference (we used the highest quality setting: (1) L (Large): (4992 x 3328; approximately 8.5 MB)). Use the JPG to check the image quality. Unfortunately these JPG files are much too large to use temporarily in the page viewer connected the catalog records.

Compression: set this at 10 (lowest compression and highest quality).

ISO: set this at 100.

Focus: we use the auto-focus setting.

White Balance: use the "Tungsten light" setting (icon resembles a light bulb) which renders the color temperature at approximately 3200K.

File Naming Convention: we want the file names for TIFF files converted from the RAW files and JPG files derived from the TIFF files to have the format files kt-d-v###-p###.jpg (kt=Kangyur-Tengyur; d=Dege version; v= volume #; p=folio side number in that volume). So for volume 21, kt-d-v021-p001.jpg, kt-d-v021-p002.jpg, and so forth. However, the camera itself only numbers files beginning at 0001. You can, however, create folders in the camera. Create a folder for each volume. You need to take care that you do not mix up which files go in which folder, since every volume will have files 0001, 0002, 0003, and so forth.

Downloading files from camera: in order to download files from the Compact Flash (CF) memory card in this camera to a computer, you need a USB memory card reader (available from electronics stores as well as stores like Best Buy). We use a Dynex External USB 2.0 Multiformat Memory Card Reader, model DX-CR121.

Use a Copy Stand: this has an arm to mount the camera so it is directly above the page of text being photographed. Copy stands also have two banks of lights, one for each side, to light the photo. THL has used a copy stand from the Art Department at UVa. We mounted the camera at a height of 95 centimeters. To repair lights on the copy stand in Charlottesville, call Jim Holladay, 123 S. Main St, Gordonsville, 540-832-0552; the dropoff point is Artful Lodger on downtown mall.

File Formats: RAW files are very useful because they aren't compressed and they come with a ton of metadata that can be manipulated further in a tool like Photoshop. In fact Photoshop is the best tool for importing RAW files whether they come from Canon or Nikon cameras due to native import ability in the most recent versions of the software. But if you don't have Photoshop, Canon provides free downloadable software from their support site for the Mark II DS which you can access here: external link: You might also be able to work with RAW files in GIMP but have not tried that one yet: external link:

Convert RAW files into TIFF files and then derive JPGs from the TIFFs: TBA

Provided for unrestricted use by the external link: Tibetan and Himalayan Library