Testing out my SHOTBOX

shotboxopenLast fall I blogged about SHOTBOX, a portable light studio that was part of a Kickstarter campaign. I was excited about the prospect of using it to take pictures for my blogs as well as photographing delicate documents for my genealogy research. At $149 for the studio plus the SideShot attachment that allows well-lit photography from the front, it seemed like an answer to a problem I’d had for a long time. (Just take a look at many of the photos on this blog or on my organizing blog to see what I mean. There’s room for improvement!)

My SHOTBOX arrived in December, literally at the same time my puppy, Bix, joined our family. So I haven’t had the chance to use it as much as I will. But I did set it up right away and take a few shots.

Here’s my overall impression:

  • The packaging was excellent. It arrived safe and sound from China with no damage at all.
  • The instructions are good and hardly necessary because the product is simple and intuitive.
  • I was able to get it up and running within minutes. I’ve since used it one other time and it’s remained easy to set up and use.
  • The neoprene carrying case is excellent. I paid an extra $25 for it and I’m glad I did–all the components fit securely in the case and the stored SHOTBOX takes very little room to store.
  • I’m delighted that it comes with four different colored backdrops (white, black, green and blue), which are very easy to switch out.

Here are some photos created by the SHOTBOX team that show the connectors and also how everything fits into the neoprene bag. (They also provided the photo above.)

shotboxsideshotsetup

shotboxincase

How are the pictures I’ve taken with my SHOTBOX?

Bear in mind that I’m not much of a photographer and I have some learning to do. I intend to look for camera apps other than the one that came with my iPhone so I have a little more control. (A reviewer on the SHOTBOX website recommends camscanner app for documents and camerapro for three-dimensional objects. I’m going to check those out.) But these quick photos are so much better than what I would have taken without the SHOTBOX!

Here’s a photo of my grandmother’s autograph book, given to me by my father in December. It’s taken from above.

beasbook

Here’s a photo of a small needle-felted replica of my departed poodle, Kirby. (It was created by Janet’s Needle Felting if you’re interested in having one of your own made.)

needlefeltedkirby

On my organizing blog, I wrote about organizing my coloring supplies recently. So I took some photos of my coloring supplies using SHOTBOX. Here are a couple of examples. The first was taken from the front, the second from above.

reds

boxofpencils

SHOTBOX gives me much-needed assistance in creating viable photos for my blog, with minimal effort. I love the that it gives me a blank backdrop. And, of course, I love the fact that the photos are well lit. A bonus: It takes up so little space when not in use.

I look forward to using it more!

Full disclosure: The links above are affiliate links, which means that SHOTBOX gives me a percentage of the sale, but doesn’t affect the price. And it doesn’t affect my opinion of the produt.

SHOTBOX can help you digitize documents

One of the RootsTech vendors I was most excited about was SHOTBOX, a tabletop photo light studio. This portable lightbox makes it easy to use your phone to take good-looking, well-lit photos of three-dimensional objects, which is great for those of who blog. It would also be really useful for folks selling items on eBay, etsy or craigslist.

What’s great for the genealogist, though, is that it provides the ability to easily take photos from above, which can be very useful for digitizing documents or photos (or photo album pages). If you have delicate documents you wouldn’t want to put through a sheet-fed scanner, or if you don’t have a scanner at all, SHOTBOX might be the tool you need to use your phone to digitize documents without risk of damage and without shadows.

Right now, SHOTBOX is running a Kickstarter campaign while they work with the factory to finish the manufacturing and ship by October. I pledged and pre-ordered the SHOTBOX plus the SideShot Kit (a lighted attachment to hold the phone or tablet steady for photos taken from the front), for a total of $149. Once the product is in production, the anticipated retail price will be $149 for the SHOTBOX and $89 for the SideShot. [Note: The Kickstarter campaign is over, but you can now pre-order at a discount directly from the SHOTBOX website.]

Go to this page to see examples of photos taken with SHOTBOX.

I’m really excited to receive my SHOTBOX this autumn and put it to use!

Another note: The links above are affiliate links, which means that SHOTBOX gives me a small percentage of the sale, but doesn’t affect the price at all.

Don’t take photo labels at face value

When I was at the Brown family reunion the last weekend in June, I was given a bunch of old family photos that pertained to my branch of the family. Some were duplicates of ones I already had (from the big box of photos my mother gave me). Some I’d never seen before. I was delighted to receive them.

One photo in particular brought home an important lesson: Don’t take the labels on the back of photos as the gospel truth. When a picture has an identifying label I tend to assume that the label is accurate, in the absence of any information to the contrary. But that’s not necessarily the case.

I was given this photo of a little girl.

My mother as a young girl

I know that it’s a photo of my mother, because I’ve seen many photos of my mother as a child. She also recognizes it as a photo of herself. My mother’s name when she was a girl was Betty Sue Brown.

This is what’s written on the back of the photo.

Labels aren't always accurate

My mother’s grandmother was Alice Jeffries. I’m assuming that the label was some sort of direction to share the photo with Alice. But it sure seems like it’s identifying the photo, doesn’t it?

Now, I think most people would assume the girl in the photo isn’t married and therefore isn’t Mrs. Jeffries. But what if the label had said “Alice Jeffries” rather than “Mrs. Jeffries?” Then someone who didn’t know what my mother looked like as a child might assume the little girl in the photo was Alice Jeffries.

This is an important reminder to apply critical thinking when looking at photo labels. Don’t take  them at face value; rather, try to find a few other clues to help verify the accuracy of the label, if you don’t know the people in the photos. In this example, Alice was born in 1885, so the attire in the photo would be a clue that it’s not a photo of her. Taking that extra step might help avoid misidentificaton.

Learning to like my contactless scanner

At the end of 2013, I purchased the Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600 contactless scanner. I blogged here about how intrigued I was by a scanner that scans from above and doesn’t need to touch the (potentially delicate) items being scanned.

It arrived, I set it up without much difficulty and almost immediately I hit a trouble spot. The first things I tried to scan had curled edges. First, there was the letter that my grandfather had written my grandmother. It had been stored for 87 years in the envelope in which it was mailed At 36 pages, the letter didn’t lie flat in the envelope, so the folds were rounded. I had hoped I could flatten the image with the included software, but gave up pretty quickly.

Here’s tdaveslettertobeapg1withoutglasshe first page of that letter. While it’s legible, the folds and curves troubled me. And it took several tries to get it to look that good.

I found myself really disappointed and even looked into returning it. But I’d waited too long and it was after the 30-day deadline imposed by the seller.

That was actually a blessing in disguise, because when I was at RootsTech in February, I had the opportunity to talk with a Fujitsu representative who gave me a great idea: Buy a piece of non-glare glass to put over the objects I want to scan that have curled edges.

It took me awhile to get that done, but in the meantime I started appreciating how great the scanner is for non-curled documents and photographs. I just lay them down on the mat and push a button. (I can even do more than one item at a pass and they’ll be saved into separate documents) The process is quite simple and I don’t have to worry about damaging the photo by putting it through my sheet-fed ScanSnap S1500M (a precursor to the current iX500). I don’t have a flat-bed scanner.

page 1 dave's letter to bea testI finally got around to buying the non-glare glass and that idea turned out to be a stroke of genius. Here’s the first page of the letter scanned through the piece of glass. It’s not perfect–the folds are still visible and a would take a little bit of effort to lift the glass for multi-page documents. But the pesky curvature is gone and the light is uniform.  It’s a simple, low-cost (under $20) solution.

I love my sheet-fed scanner, which is very fast and will scan both sides of the page simultaneously. But for delicate items and for books or magazines that can be scanned without pushing down on their spine, the SV600 is pretty swell. I haven’t experimented with scanning books yet, but for magazines, I’ve seen that it does a nice job of flattening the image so that the pages don’t slant toward the middle of a double-page spread.

I don’t know that I will use it as much as I anticipated when I purchased it–it’s unclear that my needs merit the $600 price tag. But now that I have it, I’m looking forward to getting to know it better (and appreciate it more). I know it will come in handy.

Now that I think about it, a Flip-Pal mobile scanner might have served much the same function, at much lower price point–and had the advantage of being portable. I’m tempted to purchase a Flip-Pal one of these days. (I’m turning into a scanner collector!) If so, I’ll be interested to see when I choose to use which scanner. And I’ll report here, if you’re interested too.