Sunday, March 03, 2013

PhotoProject :: Photographing your Art Works

I have seen and read a lot about how to photography your art and/or why you shouldn’t. Most of it seems wrong to me, or at least all overly complicated. There is really no reason that your should not be able to get very good results, even with a mobile phone

Keep it Simple but Precise.

IMGP9597-001It really doesn’t matter weather you will be taking the photo with a very basic point and shoot camera, a smart phone or an expensive DSLR camera. There are a few basics you need to understand to get a clear, well exposed and undistorted image. Firstly you need to make sure that the art work is well lit by even light. inside that means on a wall opposite a decent sized window and out of direct light. If outside it may be better in the shade or waiting for an overcast day. If you want to use artificial lighting make sure you understand the next section. It is important that the artwork is normal (at right angles) to the axis of the camera lens. This gives the photo the best opportunity of everything being sharply in focus and avoids much of the possible distortion. Hanging or taping the work to the wall and setting your camera on a tripod of nearby bench can help you get this right. The camera should be pointing straight at the art work not pointing up or down. I have a nifty little level that plugs into my flash hot-shoe which makes checking the alignments very easy. The autofocus mechanism of most cameras are very reliable these days especially when you are pointing at a single subject in one plane. so I would suggest you go with auto focus, usually that requires half pressing the shutter key. The other important aspect about keeping the image clear is avoiding camera movement as you take the photo. If you have your camera on a tripod or sitting on a form service is is best to use the cameras timer. If you have to hold the camera try using the fastest shutter speed (better than 1/60 seconds). The next step is upload your photos to your computer, but leave the camera and art work set up. Whilst you can preview the photo on the LCD panel on the camera back you will be able to check details better on a larger screen. If something needs to be change everything is still set up.
There is a tendency to get as close as possible to the artwork and use the zoom in to get a wider angle view, However this can distort the edges of your work (they start to look curved) and introduce depth of field issue so that while the centre of the work is in focus the edges are not. Step back a bit use and no zoom or just a little zoom in (rather than out), or better still use the prime (single focal length usually 50mm) lens are this will be the least distorted. If the side of your art work diverge you are probably not alighted with the centre of the artwork and at right angle to it. It the sides diverge out and up you viewing angle is to low. If they diverge out and down you are to high, move the camera down a little Obviously curved edges you will be too close.
Normally it is best to photograph your art without a frame (unlike my example here) and it the art work is framed behind glass you will have to deal with the problem of reflections. The can generally be avoided by angling the light source. If you are using natural light that might mean angle the artwork against the wall, but remember to also tilt the camera so the axis of the lens is at right angle to the art works surface. If you are using artificial light use two but angled at 45degrees to the art work.

Strive for Accurate Colour

IMG_9674Colour is probably the area that most people stumble when photographing art. The auto exposure in cameras is trying to expose everything to an average grey, art work is usually move vivid and vibrant. Colour calibrated screens are not going to help if you have the white balance wrong. White balance is an attempt to make surethat parts of your subject that are white or close to white are also white in the photo. The temperature of light is quiet deep issues, and I will skip the theory here and just comment that different light sources (particularly artificial lights) can introduce significant colour casts into a photo. Most modern cameras do have white balance settings, typically marked sunny, overcast/cloudy, Incandescant, tungsten etc according to the light source some go further and allow you to adjust by the colour temperature (specified in digress Kelvin) of your lights (better brands of flash and strobe lights will give you these temperatures). If you suspect colour matching issues it will be best to do some test shots, such as including a colour wheel in the picture and look at these photos after you have loaded viewed them on your computer screen. Leave your camera set up and if necessary, make an adjustment, take a new photo, upload it and look at it. Once you are happy remove your colour test and take the final Image.
Cameras, computer screen, and projectors and printers are not capable of reproducing the full dynamic range of light our eyes are capable of seeing. Again this a deep topic and I wont cover it here, but adding a tiny amount of contrast and saturation in post processing may help lift the colours, but keep the image looking natural, particularly for smaller thumbnails of the work.
One final bit advice of colours, is for those that want to reproduce their work as a smaller thumbnail on a website for sale. Don’t get to carried away with colour management as it likely to make your photo image look dull when the viewed on typical users screens. When you want to prompt your art on the net have a look at your photo on a variety of screens and devices (for example colour calibrated images can look very dowdy on apples new retina screen which get a lot of their appeal from their rendering of saturated colours). If you are photographing your image to have it reproduced, such as printed on canvas or art paper (or even sold via Red Bubble etc) then of course colour calibration becomes very important.

Do Not Over Post Process

Whilst it is unlikely that you will want to “publish” your photo un-edited it is wise to consider that also keeping the post processing as simple as possible with  also be import. The key steps being crop the image to the edges of your work (that normally means don’t have boarders showing), perhaps some white balance adjustment (its better done in the camera, see above), a light tweaking of contrast (raising the contrast just a little) and possibly a very little lifting of colour saturation. However be retrained, some of the “zany” filters in phone apps and the filters on web album sites can go too far and ruin an otherwise honest photo of your art, moving any of the sliders too far to the right, in photoshop, lightroom, iphoto and picasa can also undo your good work,  If there are blemishes (like dust stops) retouch them out, but do not try and retouch things in the art work. Finally consider the size to export (small thumbnails for a web site or full size, high resolution for a canvas print). You don’t need elaborate software for these steps (for example Picasa, free to download, will do all these steps) or alternatively you can look at on-line apps like Aviary.
“Da Vagues”, pastel sketch on craftboard prepared with gesso and acrylic background paint. 20 by 45cm.

The following video, from YouTube, by does go through most of theses steps is a straightforward easy to follow tutorial by Tyler Stalman, of SatchiOnline.
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