I am trying to photograph the silver case of a Torah scroll(which is Hebrew scriptures written on parchment). It is estimated to be over 400 years old. The case I am told is made of silver and has a beautiful handcrafted design. There is an area approximately 6 inch rectangle that has text on it and part of it is hard to read. Any suggestions how to photograph this area to bring out the text. I have either a 50mm, 105mm lens that I could use. What suggested settings (indoors) and what PS C6 processing technique should I use I’m a novice with PS. Any advice would be appreciated. Ben
Hello Ben. I think the proper lighting is the key. If the text was inscribed into the metal then side lighting may form enough of a shadow to bring out the detail. Then use either of your lenses with an extension tube to get in close. Of course you will want to use a tripod to get as sharp an image as you can. Also stop down the lens to about f8. In PS6 all you want to do is increase the sharpening from the drop down filter menu to enhance the image.
As both you and Howard pointed out, I now understand the key is in the lighting. I don’t see using extension tubes,(though I will try it) since the area is not so small and there is no need for a macro shot. Yes, I will use a tripod. Thanks for your input. Ben
You probably don't want to (and the Rabbi likely won't let you) place photo lighting or strobes anywhere near the Torah. At ~400 years old, it's best to keep heat sources and high intensity strobes well away from the parchment (covered or not). Same goes for the atzei chayim which are usually at least as old as the physical scrolls themselves before inscription. If the mantel and gartel are also as old as the sefer torah, you absolutely want to avoid any hot lighting or strobes when shooting as well. The kesser and yad are obviously less of a worry.
I assume you're trying to get a clean, readable shot of the breast plate attached to the mantel.
I think the best solution might be to use medium size, soft reflectors to put some of the existing room lighting to good use. Set up your tripod, set up a pair of soft reflectors - one on each side positioned slightly in front of subject, do a custom white balance, then make your shots. Note that one of the problems with polished silver is that it acts like the next best thing to a mirror, so do your best to keep a reflection of the camera out of the shot; experiment with shot angles to achieve that.
Tweaking levels and curves in post-processing will help the text pop out clearly.
The Rabbi, will give me leeway to do what I want, but off course I don’t want to do anything that might do any damage to the Torah. Though I want to photograph the reading of weekly portion to show the fonts of Sephardic style. Some of the letters of the text on the silver housing is difficult for even the Rabbi to decipher. Since this is on loan to our new Synagogue I want record its beauty and more important to document the text so it will be available in the future, since some of text it is hardly legible.. Guess after over 400 years of usage it has had it’s effect. Must admit I’m impressed of your knowledge of the Torah parts. I had to look them up. The mantel looks very new, but the beauty is the silver case that has the text. I was thinking of experimenting using a polarizing filter, though it will make exposure more difficult, but think it may help with the reflection and give it more contrast. Thank you for your advice. Ben
The scroll was probably inscribed in sta'm k'tav ashuri as most of them are. I heard about a really old piece of scroll allegedly written in k'tav ivri about thirty five years ago in the collection of a man in London, England. Turned out to be a false alarm though - the guy had been fed a bunch of nonsense and sure wasn't an aramaic or hebrew script expert; just a wealthy collector who thought he'd tumbled onto a real find. I got a couple of shots anyway, but it turned out to have been scripted the year before. Waste of time.
The most interesting thing about the Torah you're going to photograph, specifically if it originated as a real Sephardic scroll created ~400 years ago in or around the Iberian peninsula or the adjacent continental sub-region, is that while they all have the exact same number of letters and the correct number of column rows, etc., etc., some of the soferim back in the day managed to get in some slight modifications to the k'tav ashuri which were acceptable to whomever commissioned the Torah. If it turns out that you're photographing one of those, there may be a number of the Jewish historical archivists, historians and whatnot who'd also be interested in your photos.