Yesterday, Audrey Sebastian of Carol Stream, Illinois wrote, “I have been using a digital camera for documentation and posting work on my website. It’s hit or miss at best. I’m trying to be consistent with my images. I want to have good images for later use — merchandising and possibly limited edition prints. What is your take on the whole digital generation? I am discovering I really miss good old-fashioned photography. Slides were never my thing either because of the costs.”
Like it or not, digital is here to stay. Only a few years ago publishers were telling us to send slides — now they are insisting on digital. It’s become such a big part of the art game that it’s difficult to see how we got along without it.
Just as we learn the technique of drawing, we have to get over the “hit or miss” business and learn digital. It’s nice to have an “Andrew,” but most of us can learn to do it ourselves. You need a dedicated, vertical “stage” where you can take your work for even-light shooting. Mine is just outside the studio door in pretty consistent open shade. Night-owl artists need an incandescent one that can be adapted to various sizes. Two, down-raking, colour-corrected bulbs at 45 degree angles generally do the trick. Glare, reflection and texture rendition are managed by testing. I always take more than one of each. It’s handy if size and title are built in to the filename. We archive on CDs as well as on the main computer’s hard drive. It’s not good to leave too many images on your hard drive as they can be lost in a crash. The most difficult thing is often just remembering and taking the time to do it.
You need a camera with 4 megs or more — set on “high quality” for publication and superior archiving. Photographing in “HQ” still leaves the option to reduce file-sizes later for ease of email passage — it’s difficult to stuff an elephant down a two-inch pipe. A useful trick is to have the alternate of a few pictures with the camera zoomed out and lots of surround. With digital there’s no need to feel constrained by costs or wild duplication. Until you actually print them out, digitals are free.
With regard to the use of digital images for limited edition prints — the “state of the art” is big expensive scanners. For real quality, leave it to the pros.
PS: “Adapting to technology is a matter of confidence; one’s true willingness to explore and learn is sufficient to be ‘in on it.'” (Andrew Niculescu)
Esoterica: Digital as reference-source has both problems and blessings. As well as Kodak Carousel slide projectors, I use a Canon LV-S3 digital projector connected to an old Toshiba laptop. From across the studio these blow-ups look great. They zoom out to a very large, sharp-focus bright-image with playable contrast. Up close it’s like you’re looking through a screen door — distracting if you’re tracing. Replacement lamps, unfortunately, cost about $500 on this baby. The joy is instant, however — in seconds you can connect right off your camera to take advantage of a wave that needs to be ridden.
by Mary Klotz, Woodsboro, MD, USA
The great advantage to digital photography is that it can so easily be scaled, cropped, filtered, color adjusted, inserted into literature and even made into notecards right on your desktop. I need to write an article on how playing with your own paintings in your computer can help you see how to fix problems and move your work along by being able to quickly try things out without doing something irreversible to your original.
Digital camera tips
by Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel
I have been using for the past two years an Olympus 510 Zoom, 2.1 megapixels with which I am very happy. The images in my web site are from that camera, after having been reduced in size and resolution for the Internet. The image produced by the camera easily gives a full resolution print-out for an A4 (equivalent to 8-1/2″ x 11″) page. I suppose a new 4 megapixel camera would do well fo a double-size print out, yet I’m perfectly satisfied with what I have.
As for photographing art work… I was given this tip by a professional art photographer who I met in a gallery and at the time was at the time photographing works with a flash mounted in an umbrella reflector arrangement. He said the naturally light method described below is best. I adopted it and over the years have experimented with it and got the feel of it… experience is the best teacher, so these tips are just for starters:
The best light is sunlight as it is evenly distributed across the spectrum giving best response to all colours. Take your pictures at high noon on a clear day with the sun overhead and the painting standing as vertical as possible leaning on a wall or on an easel. Little shadows will be formed below the paint protrusions and cloth weave, so that the texture of the work is very much apparent in the photograph. Taking a photo in the shade, you won’t get much of this texture , altho’ sometimes the texture may work against the picture, especially when it is overpainted on a textured background, so you may have to take photos of these overly textured paintings in the shade.
When the light strikes the work from above at a high incident angle, as with a billiard ball, the reflected light will go down to the ground, and not cause glare in the camera. (The same principle is used in gallery lighting of paintings.) Yet sometimes, when there is a problem with glare that you can’t get away from, then you may have to find a different angle from which to photograph the work, and then correct the skewing of the pictures edges with software (of course you can’t do this with an analogue picture).
Another tip is to photograph a colour strip along with the painting, so you can correct colour inaccuracies with software, by comparing the image of the color strip to itself. I use the rainbow from a package of “Centrum” vitamins, which has all essential colours on it, altho you may be able buy professional colour strips with shading areas at a professional photographers supply outlet.
More digital tips
by Peter Shulman, Richmondville, NY, USA
I use a digital camera now as most of us have learned to do. These cameras have become an accepted tool in our profession. The pictures go straight into the computer from the camera and can be saved in many sizes and formats using any good application from companies like Adobe. Converting the images to Tiff format for printing is easy and far less restrictive than it used to be with the old cameras.
My comment on this letter involves the writer’s statement about posting pictures of her work on her web site. An artist has to be aware of the ease in coping pictures from a web site and reproducing them. I am sure she is but others may not be. Taking steps to prevent this violation of your copyrights has to be a paramount consideration when posting pictures of work on the web. The code for disabling the right click function is commonly used but is easily overcome. Water marking is a good way to prevent useful copying but also can be overcome fairly easily if a person has an economic use intent in coping your work. One of the best protections is to ignore ones ego and publish pictures that are not quite as clear as you might like them to be. I never put new work on web sites only older work that is either in museums or notable collections so that if I have to defend authorship it is easier. I started doing this after a friend sent me a T shirt with my work on it and I had to sue in court to stop the plagiarism. This letter is meant only to make artists aware of the problem because the space available is too short to adequately discuss how totally solve it.
(RG note) Thanks, Peter. For educational purposes on this site we pick up work from the internet. For the most part we avoid files that are blurry, lossy, small, marked or copyrighted over. We have not as yet been asked by an artist to be removed from our site. We get asked to change an illustration once in a while—but no one has as yet challenged our use of their images. By studying our stats we find that a common action is for visitors to go from these illustrations to our links pages and then on to the artists’ sites.
Using a light meter
by Mike Hammer, Toronto, ON, Canada
I just wanted to comment on shooting artwork. I have spent six years learning through various courses, etc using indoor and outdoor setups. But, recently, by far what seems to have been the most important element in getting me great results was the purchase of a light meter — an incident one that costs about $250-350. Not a reflective light meter. Generally, cameras choose the incorrect exposure (the meter is housed within the camera and is thus a reflective meter gathering light that bounces off the artwork). I don’t know all the ins and outs of the reason, but the incident meter gives correct readings 100% of the time — and you can check various areas of your canvas to ensure even lighting which is another major issue. Despite its high cost, these things last forever (apparently) and for me, they have been the missing link to perfection in shooting my own work, digital or slide.
(Andrew Niculescu note) For more information on light meters, see Sekonic’s Metering Techniques and Friends in Photography articles. Before you buy, read light meter reviews from BetterPhoto.com, PhotographyReview.com and Amazon.com
Digital photos are one thing. Getting them web-ready is another one. Most people post their digital images on the web in high resolution without compression. I have dialup Internet service, and I can’t be bothered waiting for high resolution images to load, so I never get to see them. The computer screen does not register the high resolution anyway. So unless people are going to invest in Adobe Photoshop or MGI Photosuite or at least get the free version or Irfanview, they should stay away from publishing their digital photos on the web. I don’t want to wait for a 600 KB image when a 10 KB image will do just as well. Some web servers refuse to upload an image that large anyway. Good!
I have thousands of slides from many years of travel and mountaineering which I will never do again, but I invested in a photo/slide/negatives scanner. It costs more than an ordinary scanner, but it does not take up much room. It certainly is a good investment.
Still more digital tips
by Nick Rosal, NJ, USA
I photograph my art in outside in natural light on an overcast day between noon and 3PM. It is at the “inconvenience” of nature’s bidding, but the light is pure and a sunny day washes out color. Even when I do capture my work exactly, there is no tool as helpful as Adobe Photoshop because of the following reasons.
Other than color correcting and correcting slight lens distortions, the program allows you to save each image as a TIFF file (I usually save it at 400dpi/CMYK/ 11x14in). The importance of this is JPeg files get “lossy” or lose detail and become pixelated if it gets reworked or compressed (which happens on some e-mail programs to save file space). TIFF files retain image quality so you may want to save your master in this file and make “copies” of it in the JPeg format (I save these at 72 to 100dpi/RGB/600 to 700px at the image’s longest dim).
The beauty of saving your work as a TIFF is that it’s also the format offset printers and designers use for printing, so if you ever need to design a postcard or brochure, you have a file ready.
In regards to sending CDs of images to galleries and publishers, I still take slides of all my images. Unfortunately, there still are some galleries that still use this expensive format, but it is usually because they have to present the work to a panel or a board in a slideshow. The best way around this as far as cost goes is to shoot one whole roll per image. Processing one image per roll of 24 is cheaper than taking one existing slide and getting a dupe done at 24 times. Call your lab and do the math!
As far as digital imaging for limited edition prints, the best thing to do is spend the money on a high quality 8×10 transparency (or 4×5 – 8×10 preferred) for a drum scan. A giclee reproduction is only as good as the source it is scanned from. A good transparency from a quality lab can start at $125.00.
Finally, if you are interested in reproducing your art via giclee, read the following Wall Street Journal article, When Art Imitates Art: The Giclee Debate, July 21, 2004 in the Personal Journal section. As an artist and one who was formerly in the art publishing business, it is food for thought on what the current trade is thinking as far as digital technology goes and how it affects the commerce of our trade.
New tricks for new artists
by Dave Kellam Brown, Dallas, TX, USA
A few comments on using digital imaging in the production and documentation of fine art:
1) It is definitely worth the effort to learn some aspects of this “new trick”, particularly for the up-and-coming new artist. If you don’t learn well from books, or need a “jump start” take a course designed “for credit” at a local junior or community college (continuing ed courses rarely have enough “meat”) or get several really good tutorial books on the subject. Research cameras and get a good “pro-sumer” model, these can function in a fully automatic mode but features such as automatic bracketing are worth some additional cost and learning. Get a good quality photo viewing and editing package — I use a combination ofACDSee and an old copy of Adobe Photoshop (PS Elements doesn’t do it because it doesn’t have layers or objects capabilities).
2) Don’t edit or “fiddle with” images that you want to use for prints any more than absolutely necessary; if possible make all of your adjustments in one pass through a good program like Adobe Photoshop. Major or multiple adjustments (other than simple cropping at a fixed pixel density) will usually result in very noticeable artifacts in the final print. Almost all digital photos of art work need to at least have their levels adjusted in order to boost the color intensity and contrast. Level adjustment is a preferable tool to the brightness/contrast adjustment. Watch out for restrictions on adjustments to digital photos to be submitted to competitions. Always keep a copy of the original, un-adjusted digital image file.
3) You can produce very serviceable images for note cards or small prints from a 3 or 4 mega pixel camera if it has a good lens, remote shutter control or timer, and you use a tripod in bright open shade or with color balanced artificial light. Watch out for reflected light from surrounding surfaces such as grass, colored walls, or pools.
4) One of the greatest values of digital imaging is for creating reference images. It’s cheap to take many images from various angles and distances. I also make extensive use of compositing to bring together objects and environments that never existed together. I also use reference and guides in Photoshop to quickly determine or adjust the alignment of elements in a composition. I frequently isolate various parts of a scene as floating layers and adjust their relative size, value, focus, and position to envision just the composition that I want. This is useful for me as the artist, but it is even more useful for my client in commissioned work to help avoid surprises. The reference image does not have to be perfect or even of acceptable print quality in order to be extremely valuable as a composition or value study.
5) The subject of digital images for the web can and does fill text books. The simplest points of advice are:
a) An image will look very different on different computers, so trying for perfection is pointless.
b) Browser display does not support high quality images, so usually, medium size images (no bigger than 1000 pixels in either dimension, usually 640) with at least 16 bit color depth are the best bet.
c) Use thumbnails with links to larger images, most photo editing packages provide a tool to generate such “photo albums.”
d) A web site is not usually adequate for finding customers or marketing but, today, it is absolutely necessary to present a professional image and as a “first impression” portfolio.
e) If you are creating a professional web site, a professional web designer who is a competent graphic designer can make a tremendous difference both in terms of appearance and ease of use and reliability.
Digital sets you free
by Joseph Gilland
I have been using my trusty G-1 Canon digital camera for several years now, and it opened up my photography potential incredibly. I do so many things that I never would have or could have with a film camera, although I am old school myself. I have been in the animation industry for 30 years, and I hated to see the old animation cameras go, and the fantastic effects you could get with real film. But my digital camera set me free. Art for art’s sake. I bought an underwater housing and started taking underwater photos as well. With the right camera/computer combination, if you get comfortable, it is just liberating, how easy it is to sort through photos, archive them, delete bad ones. It also makes it easy for the average Joe to take the hundreds of pictures it takes to get that one good one. Until now it was out of the question cost wise with a film camera. Only people making a huge investment in film and developing time could take thousands of photos. Onward and upward. Digital cameras are fantastic!
by Todd Plough, Napoli, NY, USA
My advice is to use both 35 mm slow speed (100 or slower) and digital as long as you have it set up. Also as suggested do archive on at least 2 CDs preferably not rewritable (RW) as they often do not work in some devices. Digital can still fail. Often the galleries I deal with want photographic prints before committing to showing work. Computer monitors are all calibrated differently. Just because it looks great on your machine doesn’t mean the gallery has the same color calibration. Digital or from 35mm doesn’t seem to matter – just clean sharp and as perfect color as you can manage.
(RG note) An excellent tutorial on photographing flat art, using film or digital, is on Rick Lee’s Copying Flat Art with a Camera.
Even more digital photo tips
by Warren Criswell, Benton, AK, USA
I’m delighted that digital is finally being accepted, because slides are such a huge pain in the butt. However, there are many galleries and museums which still ask for slides, and I’ve found the solution. I upload my digital files to Slides.com where David and Kay Sieverding convert them into perfect 35 mm slides and mail them to me. If I’m in a hurry they can do it overnight. It’s a little more expensive per slide than film, but you don’t need to do as many at a time since you can always order duplicates. I used to shoot a dozen or more of each image with film, but now I just order four of each. Also, with digital you don’t need a special black wall to hang the paintings on as with film. I usually just shoot them on the easel and crop them in Adobe Photoshop. Another advantage is that the image in the digitally produced slide is always perfectly framed in the mount — unlike the often lopsided creations I used to produce with the old 35 mm camera. The files I upload (you can also send them on a disk) are 300 dpi with the longest dimension at 6.5 inches print-size, the same size files I use for publications.
I’m now using an 8-megapixel Sony camera, and I get the best results with the RAW setting. This records the actual data with no editing by the camera. Photoshop has a plug-in for processing RAW files, and then you convert them into tiffs. I guess Adobe Photoshop is the most expensive part of all this, but it’s indispensable. So those are my documentation files and the ones I use for slides. For the web site I reduce them to 96 dpi jpegs in the various sizes needed for the pages and for emailing.
For lighting I just use my fluorescent studio lights for works in progress, but for shooting completed works I use four 500 watt halogen lamps, which I just noticed are marked “For outdoor use only!” Hmm… Two each on opposite walls, at a very small angle to the surface of the painting to minimize reflections. As with film cameras, you can get polarizing filters for digital cams too, and if your paintings have any gloss or satin finish, it’s a great investment. I have the best luck with the linear type. Just turn it until the reflections disappear.
(RG note) There’s more technical info on the FAQ page of Slides.com.
If an artist has good digital pictures in jpeg they can browse up to this site and have slides made. I have used them and the slides come out great, avoiding the use of slide film and my 35mm camera. I have a Sony digital 4.2 megapixels and get good quality photos of my artwork. My printer is an Epson 925 and, on heavy mat paper, I get excellent quality reproductions in small sizes that sell well.
After doing our research, we decided to get a DVD burner as DVDs apparently have a longer life than CDs. We got a high end DVD system, and with a bit of reluctance and hesitation, I started transferring my extensive and large folders over to the DVD for storage. The catch came when a few weeks ago I tried to access my photos in the DVD and became aware that somehow that whole drive system and possibly my hundreds of photos on the DVD had become corrupted. I may have lost everything. This all in spite of the fact that we do our utmost to prevent any sort of virus, worm, whatever, that might get into our system (and indeed it may be an internally generated problem with our computer). At this point we are still trying to figure out whether or not there is anything left on my disc. I almost don’t want to know as I don’t want to have to deal with the depression of all those one of a kind shots being gone, not to mention the documentation of my last year’s art output.
by Richard Brown, Arbutus Ridge, BC, Canada
Mr. Anonymous, the guy who took displeasure with the exquisite photograph of the “Female Form” by Robb Debenport, never heard the quote by the Industrial Designer Raymond Lowey who stated that there were only two things in the world that he could not improve on the design — “The Egg” and “The Female Form.” Also it’s a pity Mr. “A” will not have the opportunity to read this note, should you choose to publish it, because he will have been deleted from receiving the best art site on the web. Pity! His Loss.
(RG note) Thanks, Richard, and thanks to the several hundred artists who wrote with a similar sentiment. Mr “A,” incidentally, is a Ms, and is perhaps not familiar with Industrial Design.
Sovereign Of The Seas
Photoshop and Wacom Tablet painting
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.
That includes Kim Rody who wrote, “For digital bulbs try Topbulb. I buy my bulbs there for at least half price.”
And also Adele Coache of Las Vegas, Nevada who wrote, “I was in our local Best Buy and found out that not all of the digitals on the market now are compatible with Windows 98.”
And also Tania Bourne, Victoria, B.C. who wrote, “You need DVDs. There are four flavours: single-sided 2.6 GB discs and double-sided 5.2 GB discs as well as double-sided single layer 8.7 GB and double-sided double layer 9 gigabyte. While you’re learning digital, might as well learn state-of-the-art digital storage.”