Photographing a vinyl record label with camera and stand set up

How To Make 100 Usable Images of Record Covers in 1 Hour

I produce a lot of images of record covers, sleeves, inserts, and discs. I started developing this method of photographing my collection after reaching something of a bottleneck for scanning. It simply takes too much time, especially for images of record covers. There are no consumer grade scanners that will take a full LP jacket in one shot. For a few hundred dollars, you can get within about a quarter inch of the goal. The next size up costs about as much as a new car. Needless to say, unless you get lucky and find one used or work in the blueprint digitizing industry, this isn’t a realistic investment.

So, with a consumer-grade scanner, you need to take multiple scans and then stitch them together using ICE or something like that. This can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes a side. That’s not great if you’re adding 50-100 LPs a week. It’s my hope that by using these instructions as a base, you’ll be able to develop your own system that will allow you to digitize your images of records covers and materials for the Discogs database a lot faster.

Required tools for creating images of record covers:

Copy stand
SLR Camera w/ Software & Power adapter (I am using a Canon Rebel T3I)
USB cable

0: Pre-Gaming

0.1 – Sort your record covers and materials by size. labels (all sizes), then 7” sleeves, 10” sleeves, 12” sleeves.

Notes: This is actually pretty crucial. You’re not going to want to adjust the camera per photograph. I do images of record covers first, and then labels second. I had it listed the other way around above. I’m not sure how much of a difference that actually makes. Use sticky notes to mark if certain images are already in the Discogs database or if there’s inserts and stuff that need imaging. Place a poly sleeve on the platen when doing labels to prevent your records from getting potentially damaged as well.

1: The Copy Stand

1.1 – Construct Copy Stand as per instructions provided. Screwdriver/Patience required.
1.2 – Install both light bulbs and plug both power cables of copy stand into power strip and plug into wall.
1.3 – Mount camera to copy stand and run USB cable to laptop. Plug power adapter in to strip.
1.4 – Use bubble level to make sure copy stand platen is level.
1.5 – Use bubble level to make sure camera is level. These are to minimize keystoning.

Notes: I have since removed the arms off my stand and replaced it with two gooseneck desk lamps on top of milk crates. This was done because the length of the light arms that came with the stand where too short for use with LP jackets, causing an unusable amount of glare.

The copy stand itself is now pretty basic and could likely be constructed from off-the-shelf materials. Pole mounted to a piece of wood with a camera mount attached to a clamp.

2: Camera

2.1 – Install Canon software. Specifically drivers, Photo Professional and EOS utility.
2.2 – Power camera on and remove lens cap after connected to Computer and start EOS utility
2.2.1 – Make sure lens is set to AF (Auto-Focus) but with the Stabilizer off.
2.3 – Select ‘View Live Shoot’ to start live shoot mode.
2.3.1 – Place Grey Card on platen and photograph this. This will be used for white balancing later if need be. White balancing can also be done from live shoot mode. Make sure “apply to shots” is checked.
2.3.2 – Make sure to clear the shot of anything which may obstruct light or is of a confidential nature (keys, paperwork with confidential information, etc)
2.4 – Position victim on platen. Make sure it’s relatively squared up on live view.
2.4.1 – Use bluetac/tape to create a template of sorts to assist in squaring up your item.
2.4.2 – Lower camera mount to lowest point possible to shoot full image. This is to ensure time sharpness. (labels ~21cm/24mm; 7” sleeves ~35cm/24mm; 12” sleeves ~54cm/24mm)
2.4.3 – Adjust zoom on lens to fit subject being photographed. Labels should be as close as possible to get best possible image.
2.5 – Power light sources on and position them to remove any glare on your subject and provide the most evenly lit image.
2.5.1 – and go get yourself some cheap sunglasses (because there will likely be a lightbulb 6” from your face)
2.6 – Adjust F-Stop, Shutter speed and ISO to provide best image.(Currently using 2″, F14 and ISO 100, but some adjustment may be needed)
2.6.1 – Make sure camera is shooting in RAW format.
2.7.1 – Select output directory that works for your project (I suggest YYMMDDNameOfCollection)
2.7 – Under Shooting Menu and Detail Set, set Sharpness to 7
2.8 – In Live Shoot, position white square to section of subject closest to center with the most amount of detail and press ON under the Focus function. This will autofocus the image
2.9 – Press shutter button (top right of main camera control)
2.10 – Repeat from 2.4 until done, power camera off.

Notes: Obviously, your camera and bundled software will vary here. I made the instructions for the camera I have. These should be able to be adapted to what you have. Any advice here for open source or otherwise non-proprietary software appreciated.

3: Digital Photo Professional

3.1 – If not already done in 2.1, install software
3.2 – Copy Stand should be painted 18% grey which should make all images automatically whitebalanced, if not, use software to adjust whitebalance and other colors.
3.3 – If light source did not change during photo shoot, you should be able to export the recipe and bulk apply it to the rest of the image set.
3.3.1 – Select all and use Trimming Angle to rotate and create crop lines around edges of labels/jackets. Copy and Apply To All on first image to create template.
3.3.1.1 – DO NOT CLOSE THE WINDOW EVER. ALWAYS HIT OK OR ALL IS LOST.
3.4.a – Select all images and use Batch Process to convert to TIFF images.
3.4.b – OR Select all images and use Batch Process to convert to JPG images.

Notes: Again, any advice on non-proprietary software would do wonders here. Especially if someone can come up with some form of automatic rotation / edge detection to remove a good chunk of the work from this process.

4a: The Gimp (Manual)

4.1 – If not already done, install the gimp
4.2 – Load TIFF image exported from 3.4. Select the First page if import dialog box appears.
4.2.1 – Skip 4.3/4.4 if following 3.3.1
4.3 – Rotate image until it’s as perfectly square as possible. I use the edge of the dialog box as a square.
4.4 – Crop Squared image and paste into new window.
4.4.1 – Skip 4.5/4.6 if doing anything other than LP jackets
4.5 – to reduce barrel distortion (LP Jackets only) Open the Filters Menu => Distorts = Lens Distortion (I usually use -3 under Main)
4.6 – The Perspective tool may be used to reduce keystoning, but feels weird and is a lot of work. Use only if absolutely necessary.
4.7 – Use Scale tool (Make sure the chain icon is pressed to lock perspectives) reduct image to 1100 pixels wide.
4.8 – Cut, Paste into new window, save at 90% JPG file, upload to Discogs.

Notes: More for reference. Batch method below is better.

4b: The Gimp (Batch)

4.1 – Install Gimp, Install BIMP if not using a version that has batch processing built in.
4.2 – Separate any LP Jackets or others that need barrel distortion removed to a separate folder.
4.3 – Start up Gimp, File => Batch Image Manipulation
4.4 – Add Resize: “Set Exact Size In Pixel” and “Preserve Aspect Ratio” and 1100 pixels
4.5 – (If necessary) Add Other GIMP Procedure: Unsharp Mask, 5.0 Radius, 0.5 Strength, 10 Threshold (Note: Experiment with this. May cause undesirable graininess)
4.6 – Add Other…: Lens Distortion, -2.5 Second-Order Distortion
4.7 – Add Change Format/Compression: Jpg, 85% quality. (Experiment around to find largest quality at under 600k. May also help to reduce below 1100 pixels)
4.8 – Add Folder containing LP Jackets
4.9 – Choose the output folder for finished images that will be added to Discogs.
4.10 – Apply.
4.11 – Remove directory, replace with directory containing rest of images (labels) and remove Lens Distortion procedure as set in 4.6
4.12 – Apply, Upload your photos to Discogs if satisfactory.

Photographing a vinyl record label with camera and stand set up

That’s all there is to it! These processes can help you digitize images of record covers, labels and inserts, but also documents, photographs or any other flat material that requires a lot of digitizing in a short period of time. If you need something a little less involved, please also check out our post on using your phone’s camera. Share your tips down below or in the forums. Let us know what you think!

 


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Diognes_The_Fox
msuci appreciator
7 Comments
  • Oct 3,2019 at 21:33

    We need to be able to zoom in to see the text on these high res images. I use an A3 scanner which with auto crop and captures everything up to 10″ in one shot and 12″ that has plain backgrounds due to cropping. But the detail is lost on the larger formats when scanning. Extra text closeups become necessary without the ability to zoom high res images.

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  • Mar 22,2017 at 23:21

    I use an iPhone camera too. You can set it to take a square picture. I found a selfie stick camera holder that mounts to a standard tripod adapter thread. I can then position the cover very accurately, no cropping necessary. The lighting is the tricky part. Getting the lighting right without reflections or hot spots takes some experimentation. If you tap on the screen it will focus and set the brightness/contrast at that point. After capturing some fuzzy images, I always tap the screen to focus before taking a photo. The images are now on the phone for convenient reference, and usually upload automatically to My Photostream, but sometimes I have to fiddle with that to get it to work. From there is is an easy post to my favorite vinyl groups on FB, or slotting into artist/categories to keep track of my collection. When you are hunting, it is especially handy to have pics on your phone to remember what you have and to show record store salespeople what you are interested in. That signed Bowie cover gets them every time! :)

  • Feb 2,2017 at 11:52

    Clearly the quality of the phone picture is now better than year ago, but you still need to follow the guidelines… e.g. crop it properly & so…

  • Feb 1,2017 at 23:09

    Oh my! I just take a square snap with my phone (sleeve on floor or holding record in my hand), it pops onto laptop automatically with Photostream then drag it into Discogs on the browser. It’s not perfect but surely as good as you need!

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