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Photographing Artwork

I feel fortunate that I am often complimented about the quality of the images of my artwork on my website, and those submitted for shows. Most are pretty good.

In the 1980's while in graduate school at The Claremont Graduate University CGU a friend of mine, Christian Monger (who now is a retired professor from Otis Parsons in Los Angeles) did a seminar (as a student) for all of the students as to how to photograph your artwork. Now remember that this is analogue photography days, so we're talking 35mm SLR cameras and film. If I remember correctly, we used Ektachrome 64 with tungsten lights. I bought a nice light meter and some inexpensive clip on lamps and the correct tungsten bulbs and had at it. You really needed to bracket your images (Shoot a couple of stops higher and lower than the "correct" setting) and hope it worked out. Off to the film processing house for developing. Remember the standard for the time was slides (positives) I actually became pretty successful at taking pictures of my artwork, and found a great source in Chicago to duplicate my slides for a bargain rate.

Fast forward 25 years and it is now a completely different game. For a long time, I set up exactly like my film days, just now with a digital camera, typically a SLR with a short lens. Then I had an epiphany. When not creating art, I am in fact, a public school teacher and taught photography for 12 years. I was fortunate to have some student teaching interns during that time and one of whom, Nikki Allen, was doing a unit with the kids of lighting. I remember her saying, "By living in Seattle, we're in the perfect region for photography. A cloudy overcast day is the perfect neutral, no shadows and no glare."

I stopped dead in my tracks, "the perfect neutral, no shadows and no glare". I thought what have I been doing all of this time lighting, when I could just shoot my work outside? My setup now is typically my front driveway on a cloudy day. I just lay them down on the cement and shoot. No tripod, hand held. I will use a paper, wood or fabric backdrop if the artwork is an irregular shape to make the digital end easier later. I'll end up dropping the background out on Photoshop later anyway.

Though I own a DSLR I don't even shoot art with it, I just use this Canon G11. Now this is not a cheapy point and shoot, and actually is a fairly decent compact camera. It is vintage 2009, and I picked it up used before a trip to London for the 2012 Olympics.

Here is a before shot on a paper background.

Here is the resulting edited version.

Another before.

The resulting edit.

As you can see here, I'm was not quite perpendicular to the image, and the G11's lens does "barrel" the image a bit. Nothing that Photoshop can't fix. I'll post some screen shots as to how to compensate for this distortion in a later post. The point being, at least for smaller works the exterior low light, overcast conditions go a very long way. I'm sure I've photographed an artwork, corrected it in Photoshop and had it posted on my website is less than 30 minutes.

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