Saturday, April 28, 2012

Photographing Pastels

Getting accurate digital photographs of paintings is so important for any artist wishing to share his or her work on almost any level. Whether you intend the work to be shared as a hobby/passion with friends and family or as a professional to be presented to galleries and or be entered into competitions, having good photos of your work is just, well, imperative. The method I use is fairly simple and certainly not the absolutely the perfect way to do it, but for 90 percent of the use we need our images for, it's perfectly adequate. When we want to photograph an image for reproduction, we take the pieces to a photographer here in Portland, Pixel Point Artistry, who does wonderful work and has a Hasselblad camera to do the job! Tell David I sent you!

With just a little practice, this isn't as daunting as it sounds and is easily worth the investment in time and money to do it yourself rather than paying a professional to be doing it for every piece. Shooting pastels is fairly easy because they don't have the added hassle of dealing with a reflective surface.

The photos need to have accurate exposure, color and be in clear focus. They need to be free of distortion and carefully cropped. They should show just the art, with no framing.

You'll need:

  •   digital SLR (mine is a Nikon D60) or a camera that will shoot at a high resolution
  •   a tripod
  •   two lights with tungsten bulbs on stands
  •   Photoshop software or similar to crop and make adjustments to your photos

Additionally, a printed gray scale to judge the white balance of the light and a level to make sure your camera and art is level are both good things to have on hand.

The first thing I do is make sure the art is exactly as I want it. If I'm entering a competition I do not sign it yet, otherwise I make sure it's signed and is in good shape. I always shoot it unframed with no glass or mat.

I pin the work to the wall. You can use an easel, but you must make sure the camera lens is at a right angle to the art to avoid any distortion. This is very important!

I set the camera up on the tripod. The tripod is important so the photo with be in focus and square. Positioning of the tripod is very important. Again, making sure the camera is at a right angle to the artwork and the camera is positioned on the center of the artwork. I make sure the the tripod is close enough to the art so that I'm not zooming in with the lens and not getting too much of the surrounding wall, but still all of the art in the frame.

I set the white balance on the camera to incandescent. If you shoot outdoors you just have to set the camera to daylight. This can work too, but I've found that using the tungsten blubs and the incandescent setting on the camera is the most consistent way to capture the color accurately.

Next, I set up the light stands slightly behind and to the sides of the camera lens. I set them up so they are equidistant from the camera. The light stands have tungsten bulbs in them.

I shoot on fine mode, so I get the best resolution and I shoot at least two exposures of each piece.
I'll typically shoot a number of pieces at a time and give them an inventory number when I shoot them, that way when I import the images to my computer and save them, I can give them an inventory number right then.

I import the pics to my computer and bring the files into Photoshop. The camera shoots jpegs which we first save as tifs. Then cropped, adjusted and made into the files types and sizes I need for the web, print and other usages. You want to make sure the horizon of your piece is horizontal, (blue lines). You may have to adjust this in Photoshop.

Screen shot of uncropped image in photoshops

Final cropped and adjusted image

Once you get a routine going for this, it's not so bad and is a wonderful skill to have!


Nancy Van Blaricom said...

Thank you Marla, I loved this blog post. I'm not sure of a few things you mentioned ... will you clarify please. You said you shoot on 'fine mode' I guess I'm unfamiliar with 'fine mode' what is this? Can you explain, maybe my camera doesn't have this mode? Also, how do I use the gray scale with my camera. In Photoshop what are the blue lines called so I can find them to use them... Thanks Marla, what a great post.

Anonymous said...

A really great, post. I scan most of my small watercolours on a tabloid size scanner, but have been contemplating how to photograph larger work. Thank you for clarifying things.

Jana said...

Ah, using a level - now that would help, although I often shoot at an angle since I prop up my paintings on a bookcase on the front porch... Any devices out there to make sure the lens on the camera is parallel to the painting surface?


Lindo seu blog!
Amei a postagem!

Abra├žo do Brasil!

Marla Baggetta said...

Hi Nancy,

"Fine" mode just refers to the highest resolution that your camera will shoot at. My camera calls that"fine". Having the grayscale pinned next to the art lets you judge the "color" of the light to make sure it's not too warm or cool, dark or light. The blue line is photoshop are at the edges where the ruler is. You can just pull the from the top and sides. I have the full version of Photoshop, though and I'm not familiar with the other versions. Hope this helped!

Nancy Van Blaricom said...

Thanks Marla, it helps a bunch.