What is Copy Stand Shooting? Filming Photographs & Other Clips to be Included in a Video

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Copy Stand Shooting

What Is Copy Stand Shooting?

Copy stand shooting is used to capture pictures (such as old family photographs) and newspapers (clippings and headlines), etc. in order to transfer them to video and incorporate them into a documentary or slide show, video, etc. For example, imagine watching a documentary of someone (talking head) relaying a childhood memory, them as a child in grade school, riding a school bus. Too much of a talking head shot calls for a cutaway, or a copy stand shot(s)!

So, in this particular example, we need to cut to an old photograph of them on or near the school bus, given that one is available (just make absolutely sure that their expression correlates with the subject matter and tone. If they’re talking about something bad that had happened on the school bus, don’t show an old photograph of them smiling as if they’re having the time of their life on the bus). Copy stand shooting serves to show real life footage and documents, and to cut into extended shots of talking heads. No one wants to watch someone talking for an extended amount of time without other images to look at! That’s called B-O-R-I-N-G!

How To Set Up A Copy Stand

To shoot a copy stand shot, a filmmaker sets up a copy stand (platform with camera mount attached) or any flat object perpendicular to a sturdy and flat table top. A music stand comes in handy when copy stand shooting because it has a tilt mechanism, it’s easy to carry on location and it’s affordable.

Next, the camera is set on a tripod, or a sturdy platform directly across from the copy stand. Then, the image to be shot is placed upright so that it is perpendicular to the camera lens. You may need to tape the image in order for it to stay in place, but please get permission first, especially if this belongs to someone else. Images that are original or any archival footage needs to be handled with special care. You may be asked to wear gloves.

Get more tips on filming a copystand on the next page


Lights are then set up (usually at about a 45-degree angle) to light the image accordingly and can be flagged in areas on the photograph that may be overexposed. Some photographs, especially ones that have glossy surfaces, may be a challenge to shoot since they have hot spots (light that reflects into the camera lens). There is always a way to get rid of hot spots, even if it’s by slightly angling the copy stand or the light source. Setting up the light source(s) can be the most strenuous and time consuming part of a copy stand shoot, but once it’s set up and if there are other photographs or subjects to shoot, it’s just the matter of taking one photograph down and repositioning the next one to shoot, and so forth.

More Tips

If you have a number of images to shoot and/or in order to make it convenient for later, don’t forget to do a name slate on each photograph. Name slates are off-camera audio cues, simply stating who and what the photograph is. Sometimes even a date being slated will be helpful. The main purpose for doing a slate is for file management. Your editor will thank you!

Once the photograph to be shot is positioned and lit accordingly, the filmmaker needs to be sure the camera is set to manual focus and that the camera is at an appropriate distance and angle from the copy stand. Some may find it helpful to ZOOM OUT first to get an idea as to how the image appears in the frame.

Next, ZOOM IN all the way to the image, focus, then pull out to the desired frame. For copy stand shoots, the filmmaker may choose to use either static shots, zooms, tilts, pans across the photograph, but it is always a good idea to shoot each individual picture using different types of shots with each one. By shooting several different types of shots with each image, the editor, in post production, may choose the shot that will fit most appropriately. If the image(s) to be captured are too small and areas of the copy stand are in the frame, an editor can matte out the undesired portions of the frame.