"Art should be part of your life, not just something that sits in museums." Unknown
Photographing Your Artwork
© 1999 Nita Leland
It's important to have slides and/or photographs for insurance purposes, brochures and PR materials, exhibitions and galleries. Here are some tips that should help you. Just take your time and learn what works for you. Believe me, if I can do it, you can, too.
- Use a 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) camera or a digital 4-megapixel or higher camera, manual or automatic with manual override and 50-55mm lens or zoom lens. Read your instructions!
- Use a sturdy tripod with tilt and rotation and a cable release or self-timer to reduce risk of camera shake.
- Shoot indoors with two 500-watt photo flood lamps (3200K) mounted in reflectors.
- For slides, I use 3200K tungsten Ektachrome Professional films, ISO 100, which can be processed in 3 hours. If I need to re-shoot, I can often do it the same day. For prints indoors with lights, I use an 80A conversion filter and ISO 200-400 film. For digital I set the white balance for tungsten lighting.
- Fasten art to a flat, black background with double-stick tape, tacks or use a black mat. Place on the wall or on an easel. The art must be parallel to the camera lens, the center of the lens pointing at the center of the art. Use a bubble level to be sure camera and art are level. Tape a gray/color scale next to the art if your slides are for reproduction.
- Lamps should be 4-5 feet away from the art, behind the camera at 45 degree angle on each side and at the same height as the camera. Check to be sure there are no hot spots, shadows or shine reflecting off the art. (An artist on the Internet says he places plastic wrap over the painting so he can check for hot spots. He removes it before shooting his slides.) The room should be completely dark when you shoot. Cover the windows and turn out the lights. For textured work like collage try raking the light, using just one light from the side and adjusting the exposure accordingly.
- Fill the viewfinder or LCD (digital) with the IMAGE ONLY, centered and absolutely square to the sides, top and bottom. Move the camera or zoom lens, not the art.
- Focus carefully in the center of the art.
- Take a meter reading using an 18% gray card or a large piece of 18% gray mat board. Set the f-stop at f8-f16 and adjust the speed according to the instructions with your camera to get the best exposure. When you shoot a picture, take three exposures (bracket exposures), one at the setting, one a half-stop above and one a half-stop below. Take three shots at each exposure and you should have 3-6 good slides to choose from. Record the settings for each slide as you take them, so you can tell which ones work best. In my experience with my equipment, watercolors or light-value artwork need to be slightly overexposed for better color saturation.
- The best combination for me is a slow speed setting (1/8, 1/15, 1/30 sec.) with a high f/stop (f11 or f16) for color saturation and sharp image. Since my digital camera has only an f8 stop, I can't photograph at such a low speed.
- Check camera batteries and make sure ISO setting matches film. If your digital has ISO settings, use a lower setting for less &noise&. Load your film or your media card.
- Outdoor light is inconsistent in most areas, but you might experiment with it in a pinch.
- I recently got good results shooting indoors under full-spectrum fluorescent lights, using outdoor print film (Kodak Gold 400). I set up with the artwork facing the open door on a bright day. This may also work with a digital camera if it has settings for color-corrected fluorescent lights.
- Once you get the hang of it, you won't have to shoot so many slides. Try to shoot as many originals as you can, especially if they might be used for reproduction. Duplicates are never as sharp. For best results, always take your film to a professional color lab, not a one-hour photo processor. For digital media find a shop that can make slides from digital files.
- Group your artwork by size and shoot the same sizes in sequence, so you don't have to adjust the camera or easel so much. If your pieces are a standard size, place tape on the floor to mark the position of the camera, lights and easel or art stand and also the placement of the art. It will save you time when you shoot again.
- The best reference I've found is Photographing Your Artwork by Russell Hart. I haven't found anything yet on shooting art with digital cameras.