Dear Artist, Yesterday, Kathryn Ikeda of the San Francisco Bay Area wrote, “Recently I was asked to submit jpegs of my paintings for an upcoming book. Requiring high quality digital images, what stopped me from hiring a photographer was that the paperwork included not just a signed release from me, but also a signed release from the photographer to use my images. I don’t understand why I need to get permission to use an image of my own painting. Further, I don’t want a photographer to change anything. I’m thinking about learning how to do it myself, though the investment in equipment may be more than I can handle. I would rather hire a professional, but I hate giving up the rights to my own images. What should I do?” Thanks, Kathryn. In lands where folks are regularly sued for inadvertently stepping on someone’s peonies, everyone, including photographers, pull out the paperwork. Too bad. It cramps everyone’s style. You need to learn to do the job yourself and you need to know, as the original creator, you can do the job just as well as anyone. A quick course given by a professional photographer can cost less than a single professional photo. Further, many of today’s inexpensive point-and-shoots take better, sharper photos than the top digital cameras of just a few years ago. Don’t be intimidated. The highest paid blue-collar job in Manhattan in 1909 was “chauffeur.” For a short time in history, people didn’t think they could drive their own cars. Here’s a quick guide for book-reproduction work: You need a camera with at least 8 megapixels. Check your camera’s handbook and set the camera at the highest resolution and quality possible in JPG. Hang your unglazed art vertically on a neutral-toned outside wall at eye level in open shade on a bright day between 11 and 3. Take several shots almost filling the frame from a few feet away at a medium focal length. In other words — not wide angle and not telephoto. When you look in the viewfinder, make sure the painting is not keystoned (off-square) or pincushioned (curved edges). You can submit these directly to the publisher (by camera card) or from your computer. You can elect to crop if you wish, but you need to save it, without any resizing, as a very high quality JPG before you send it by email. The idea is to gain self-reliance, get what you want, put another feather in your fedora, and avoid dependency, bureaucracy and lawyers. Best regards, Robert PS: “Self-trust is the first secret to success.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Esoterica: If you want to straighten, crop, brighten, or otherwise play around with your shots, I recommend you load them into a program called Picasa. There are other programs of similar design, but be clear it’s not always necessary or desirable to give your painting shots the full Photoshop treatment. Resist “warm up,” “cool down” or further saturation of colour. Colour truth and sharpness are job one and two in this type of photography. Unless you have a wonky camera, which is rare, you’ll make yourself look as good as you are. (RG note) As there are legal variations between countries, and a variety of iterations between various equipment — both cameras and computers — we’ve included some useful notes from our own art photography expert Yuri Akuney below.   Notes by professional art photographer, Yuri Akuney — The situation with copyright for photographs is quite different in the US and Canada. In the US photographer always holds the copyright for the photo he has taken and he licenses the use of the photo to the customer (artist has to ask for permission to use this photo). — In Canada if a customer hires a photographer to take a photo for valuable consideration, the customer holds the copyright (photographer has to ask permission of artist if he wants to publish this photo somewhere else unless a contract exists to the contrary). In reality it is a bit more complicated as Canadian copyright law was adopted in the pre-digital era of film photography in ’90s, so to avoid conflicts it helps to have something in writing that mentions who is the actual copyright holder when photos are taken by someone for you. — The situation in Robert’s first paragraph is only pertinent in the US. Canadian artists are in a somewhat better position which many of them are not aware of, but that’s not surprising as many photographers are not familiar with this law either. — I would suggest shooting in JPG with highest quality and highest resolution the camera can provide. Shooting in RAW format generally gives more flexibility but learning how to process them requires a steep learning curve. — Most publications will want images to be cropped to include just the painting, no frame or background visible. That’s why it is important to get the painting in the photo as straight as possible without keystoning to avoid cropping too much of the piece out. Practically, you will need a tripod as this process requires very fine adjustments of the camera position. — It’s worth learning how to use the custom white balance in your camera so that photos wouldn’t need to be warmed or cooled. It is a very simple procedure that helps to improve colours dramatically. — Also worth mentioning, looking at the photos taken by artists, way too often I see under- or overexposed photos as most people are not familiar with the concept of exposure compensation which is needed to be applied when photographing predominantly light or dark paintings. Well worth reading camera manual to learn more about exposure compensation and histogram.   Do it yourself by Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel  

oil painting, 29 x 36 inches
by Ron Gang

I have been photographing my own works for years, some of the images published in magazines and even for book covers. Robert’s tips are right on, and I’ll add some more: Before snapping, calibrate your camera’s white balance using a white canvas in the same light conditions, and your colours should be right on. You may want to experiment with direct sun-lit images with the light hitting the painting from the side. This will accentuate the texture of the impasto and canvas weave, which can be advantageous. There’s no need to pay big bucks when you can easily master this. I have not found “professionally” photographed images of my paintings I liked better than mine. After all, you know your paintings and how they should look better than anyone else.   Don’t do it yourself by Jose DeLaRosa, Fairport, NY, USA  

“From the bluff”
oil painting
by Jose DeLaRosa

I have to disagree with you on this particular subject. I have a relationship with a photographer who does all of my digital captures. His ability to capture my painting consistently and professionally has truly helped my career as an artist as well as boosted my print sales. It is more than just taking photos of your pieces and sending them in. It is the fact that a professional photographer has calibrated all of his equipment. The fact that his camera, monitor and print all work in sync. It is knowing and having the proper filters to capture a piece even after it has been varnished. It is creating multiple size files to fill whatever need you may have. My photographer even creates slide shows for me so I can run the show on a computer or run the show on a large flat screen. I also know that you are right, a lot of this I could do myself, but the time investment for less than perfect captures to me just isn’t worth it. As for the release for images, my photographer will release anything I ask. Some publishers can totally violate your rights as an artist. Most artists have never had intellectual properties training and may need to educate themselves before dealing with publishers.   Professionals know the ropes by Cathy Jonasson, Toronto, ON, Canada   The simplest response to this person’s problem is to sign a contract with the photographer that gives the client (the artist) the sole rights to the images. You should always have a contract specifying the ownership and use of the images in any case. Professional photographers are just that: professionals. They are familiar with contracts. There is 1 comment for Professionals know the ropes by Cathy Jonasson
From: Balaji — Aug 15, 2011

Valid point.

  Not all sensors created equal
by Brian Hohner, North Star, AB, Canada  

“First Duck of The Day”
pastel painting
by Brian Hohner

When purchasing a digital camera one should be reading as many professional reviews on the device as possible. This is made easy by either Google search or going to such sites as The reason for this is that cmos and ccd sensors are not all created equally — far from it, and some manufacturers have learned to pander to the amateur by offering very saturated colour and sometimes colour shifts. A good review of a camera should cover what its colour output is like by shooting a standard colour target and using a colorimeter to find whether it is oversaturated in some regard or has a warm or cool shift. Of course if you shoot in RAW rather than JPEG you get to adjust for those problems but then you would be straying into more technical software and colour management issues. Make sure you have a camera with reasonably neutral colour response. Coupled with your succinct instructions, they should be capable of near professional results.   Camera tips by Richard Woods, Sparks, NV, USA   As an Art Magazine editor, I can say double ditto, in caps, with exclamation points to the issues of over/under exposed, distorted, out of focus, poorly framed, low resolution images. One trick to eliminate keystoning: place a small mirror flat at the center of your picture, in the same plane as the art, both horizontal and vertical. When you can see your camera lens reflection right at the center of the mirror, your camera is properly aligned horizontally and vertically. Check your camera manual to determine what is a normal focal length: many are still using the old roll-film camera focal length of 50 mm as their equivalent standard. Set that and move the camera tripod toward or away from the art to fill the frame properly. You may have to turn off the power saving features of some cameras. Mine will turn itself off before I’m done with all the fiddling with hardware, if I don’t keep it switched on continuously. There are 2 comments for Camera tips by Richard Woods
From: veronica stensby — Aug 15, 2011

Love the mirror tip …. thanks!

From: Anonymous — Aug 15, 2011

Wonderful tip! Thank you.

  More tips by Katherine Tyrrell, UK  

“Flowers of the Field”
pastel painting, 15 x 14 inches
by Katherine Tyrrell

When I’ve had my artwork photographed professionally, the photographer will automatically include a reference card for colour and greytones in the image. This provides a baseline for any adjustments required to remove a colour cast or adjust the levels or any other manipulation required — or just restore colour levels to the file after a period of years. This can be cropped out if required. Consequently if you are going to photograph your own artwork for a professional publication (such as a book), it’s useful to include a grey card or colour reference card. I’ve also found Photoshop Elements to be a lot more sophisticated than Picasa when it comes to doing adjustments to a digital file. It’s not beyond the grasp of most people in terms of getting to grips with the functionality it offers, plus it’s not that expensive. I’m definitely a fan having been using it since version 3 and I’m now on version 8 (for Mac). If I upgrade my computer it’s the first software I load onto the new machine! There is 1 comment for More tips by Katherine Tyrrell
From: Virginia Wieringa — Aug 16, 2011

Agreed! I love Photoshop Elements!

  Copy stand useful by Chris Pfouts, USA  

“True Tales of American Violence”
book by Chris Pfouts

Copy stands are sold by most large photo dealers. You can rent them in many places, too. I rented one in North Hollywood, California one time to shoot a bunch of work for a book I was writing. If you have to buy, they’re not too expensive. But they are heavy and hard to lug around, which is why you rent when you’re far from home. The copy stand basically just holds the camera on an adjustable-height frame above a flat neutral-grey board. It assures that you’re shooting at a true parallel to your art, for distortion-free images. They work so well that you find, for one or two shots, that it takes much longer to set up and take down than it does to get the pictures.       Art photography in Florida by Marge Drew, Ormond Beach, FL, USA  

“Bloody marsh”
oil painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Marge Drew

The times that you have listed for taking photos will NOT work for FL due to the aperture of the sun. Even professional photographers have issues with taking art photos in FL. Often the best time to take art photos in FL is 10 am or 4 pm. Taking photos in shade is also a NO NO since shade is blue in color. You also have bounce light outside which could also compromise your works. Better to set them up on stand and light them from either side. There are books which address this concept. You need high quality for sure but only 300 dpi and, depending on the size that you want the image print to be in the book, artists can size the photo to the dimensions, though if they do not know how, then best to just crop. However, mailing a HUGE file via email not a great idea.   Photographing quilts by Sarah Smith, Camden, ME, USA  

“Cookie? PLEEEZE Cookie!”
mixed media, 12 x 12 inches
by Sarah Smith

I have negotiated a good bit of the learning curve in terms of taking photographs of my own art quilts/textile art. I was pleased when my publisher used my “in progress” photos for my book and even gave me a photo credit as well, and my photos have been included in other books including Lark Book’s 500 Art Quilts and magazines. My top tip, other than the ones you mentioned: use a tripod! You can pick up a used tripod for under $30, and an inexpensive new one for under $100. You can then use the “timer” function on the camera set to a 2 or 5 second delay. This eliminates any possible motion from you pushing the shutter button to take the photo. Instant improvement in quality! As one’s skill level progresses, buying a camera that can shoot RAW or TIFF files rather than jpeg will help with creating publication quality photographs. These are generally higher end cameras, and clearly I’ve been able to have high quality photos published while shooting in jpeg format. But I can get better — as soon as I have time to learn to take and process RAW files. That’s on the ever-growing to do/learn list! There is 1 comment for Photographing quilts by Sarah Smith
From: Casey Craig — Aug 16, 2011

Love this piece Sarah….it really made me smile. Thanks!

  Get a good camera by Mary Susan Vaughn, Charlotte, NC, USA  

oil painting, 8 x 10 inches
by Mary Susan Vaughn

I am a professional photographer in addition to being a professional artist (my main career) and I will tell you right here how to solve this problem. The only investment — a good digital camera!! First — a good Digital SLR camera. I use a Nikon D300, but the Nikon D80 and D90 D5100 D7000 D3100 D3000 D5000 and D700 are excellent!! So is the D300, but that one may be too pricey. I Love Nikon, but the Canon line of Digital SLR cameras is excellent as well. A Digital SLR enables you to change out the lenses, purchase lenses specifically for your interests, and more. I use a Tamron 28-300 lens 98% of the time for my photography. I photograph children, barns, beach scenes, cityscapes, still life, macro photography such as flowers, close-ups, and my paintings! You DO NOT need a professional photographer to photograph your paintings. You simply need to know how. Also, check on eBay and Craig’s List for great deals on older Digital SLR’s. You will likely find a great bargain. There is 1 comment for Get a good camera by Mary Susan Vaughn
From: Bill Hibberd — Aug 16, 2011

Mary, Just a quick question that you can probably answer with a yes or no. When photographing glossy oils in outdoor light can I solve the reflection problem if I investigate polarizers? Thanks.

  American Law by William Bailey, Houston, TX, USA  

“After the Gale”
acrylic painting
by William Bailey

I’m not a lawyer, but I have read many different articles on copyright in various art magazines through the years, and my understanding is that in the USA the artist owns the copyright to her painting’s image, period. (Unless she signs it away to someone else.) It is also my understanding that it would technically be breaking the copyright law for another person to take a photo of her painting… they could not print, distribute, publish, sell or do anything else with it. In this situation, she is HIRING the photographer to take the photo of her copyrighted artwork for her: since the photographer is a hired worker, the photo is considered as ‘work for hire’ or some similar phrase, and the photographer, as her employee basically, does not have copyrights to that image: it is hers. Here in Houston, Texas, there is a professional photographer who takes photos of art for many, many artists, and he has told me the same thing. His personal photos, naturally, have his copyright… however, photos he takes “for hire” for artists of their copyrighted images, he has no legal “rights” to. So it seems to me that Kathryn might have been able to just tell the publisher that the photographer did not own the copyright to the photo of her painting. Something similar and related (in a way) came up in a situation where I was doing a painting to be used on the cover of a book. I had never done this before so someone suggested I look up and read in a guidebook for some guild (illustrators? sorry, I’ve forgotten the name now) that explains contracts for book cover art in detail and even gives sample contracts. One of the warnings it gives to artists is to be sure the publisher’s contract does not list the resulting picture as a work for hire because then the artist has no rights to his painting. Instead, it recommends the artist keeps his copyright, only selling the first time publication rights for the book’s publication, but the artist still retains copyright. Later, if there is a second edition of the book, or if it comes out in paperback, the artist could be paid again for the second use of the image since it’s in a different publication run. Just reasoning on the principles makes me think it would apply to this situation also where the photographer is “hired” as a temporary employee, essentially, by the artist. It would be good for any artist to make sure the photographer understands this in advance, if they’re hiring him for this purpose. Of course, your advice to her to learn to take her own photos is right on… she shouldn’t be handicapped in that way of having to rely on others to do what is a fairly straightforward part of recording her artwork, both for her records and for submissions. There is 1 comment for American Law by William Bailey
From: Casey Craig — Aug 16, 2011
  The Artist’s Guide to Digital Imaging by Jason Smith, San Antonio, TX, USA  

“Scary sink face”
photograph by Jason Smith

I am a photographer and have been responsible for photographing artwork in a reputable gallery for over 8 years. During this time I have visited with hundreds of artists regarding digital photography and imaging and it appears they all face the same struggles and challenges. With this in mind I have written an e-book titled Exposing Yourself – The Artist’s Guide to Digital Imaging. It is an 85 page guide book covering the simple processes I employ to capture high quality digital images.         Colour accuracy and detail by Yuri Akuney, Kelowna, BC, Canada   Most newer cameras are so good that in good lighting conditions with a tripod and good framing technique, custom white balance and exposure compensation (if needed), you can produce a reasonably good photo of artwork in probably 70-80% of situations, even in auto mode. For many, these results will be satisfactory, especially if photos will be reduced for a website. To achieve predictable higher colour accuracy and to preserve finest details, it will be necessary to switch to a at least 12mpx DSLR, use low distortion prime lenses, build a good lighting setup, shoot in RAW format, learn how to use specialized software to process RAW files (Photoshop, LightRoom, Aperture). That will in turn require to have a colour calibrated system – a higher end monitor, display calibration hardware (colorimeter) and to learn about colour profiles and computer colour management system. There is plenty of information freely available on the Internet about all topics mentioned. It is up to artists to decide whether they want to spend time and resources to master fine aspects of photography themselves. It is definitely possible. Some people just have that natural inclination and patience to deal with electronics, computers and complex software and some are better hiring someone to document their work to avoid frustration. We are all different and it is always a personal choice.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Self-reliance

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Aug 11, 2011

As Yuri points out, using a tripod is best. The camera’s lens should be at about 55mm or in slight telephoto mode, and be level and plumb with the center of the artwork. I hang a sheet of black velvet behind me to block out reflections.

From: Ed — Aug 11, 2011

If your painting is small, a scanner will generally give a truer reproduction of the colors. Otherwise, if shooting under artificial light or on a very bright day, familiarize yourself with your camera’s white balance settings. It’s good to take photos with different settings of a white sheet of bristol or paper to see how much of a cast the image gets. Some colors can be corrected in Photoshop or other image editing programs, but sometimes that’s at the expense of color fidelity in other areas of the spectrum.

From: Dave C. — Aug 12, 2011

Very true Marv. Always use a tripod for this kind of photo AND, once the shot looks good in the viewfinder or on the camera screen, use the timer to snap the photo. This gets your hands off the camera and gives it time to stop shaking from your last touch. I have an ordinary point-n-shoot Kodak of the 12mp variety and it takes awesome photos as long as I use this technique.

From: Jackie Knott — Aug 12, 2011

I just had my modest camera stolen on vacation, and now have an excuse to buy a better one … needful anyway. I wish I had better images of my artwork on my site but they’re long gone so what I have is what I have. Another great photo imaging program (free download!) is gimp, which is comparable to Photoshop (<a target=_blank href=”” title=”Link title”></a>), and in some ways more versatile with graphics. Complicated at first and I only know the basics for my book cover work, but it is capable of terrific manipulation if one needs to. Their tutorial website walked me through it in easy to understand narrative (also available in different languages). Some kind souls also put a few demostrations on I’ve asked my freelance commercial photographer daughter to photograph my work before … nah. “Mom, you can do this.” Yes, I can.

From: Theresa Bayer — Aug 12, 2011

I use a scanner for small works. When you scan, watch out for the edges of your work; it can show where the canvas changes planes, creating a distracting line. It’s a tiny little bit that I crop out.

From: Bill Macintire — Aug 12, 2011

Gimp is a wonderful program for editing your images. I find that it is very difficult to avoid keystone distortion when shooting images of my artwork – you minimize it as much as possible, but it’s nearly always there. This is is easily corrected in Gimp or Photoshop. There is a bit of a learning curve, but it’s not difficult at all once you learn how. A tripod is essential, and I also recommend using aperture priority at something like f8, sensitivity at 100-200 ASA, and using a self timer. I also use Picasa as well – it’s great for batch production of reduced-size images. It’s not so useful as an image editor, but it’s real useful for keeping track of what you have if you have thousands of photographs to keep track of.

From: Jason Smith — Aug 12, 2011
From: Dar Hosta — Aug 12, 2011

For around $20-25 you can take your painting to your local photo lab/studio and have “copywork” done. They will shoot your painting using a leveled tripod and white balanced lighting. Ask them to create a high resolution TIFF and burn it on a disc for you. I have developed a nice relationship with my lab, Black Lab Studios, and they do a wonderful job on the large paintings that I cannot efficiently scan on my flatbed scanner. There is never any keystoning and I get wonderful files every time. They have also done things fast and on the fly for me.

From: John Ferrie — Aug 12, 2011

Dear Robert, Even though I am an advocate of “get it in writing”, there is no greater use of a paper trail than with photographers. They are often very concerned with publishing rights and stolen images. These days with internet fraud, I can understand why. So, yes, of course, buy a decent digital and learn to photograph your work. Artists should photograph ALL of their paintings. Everything is learned the hard way. We can all talk till we are blue in the face with what to do and not do when it comes to doing the right thing. What is right for me, is not right for everyone else. I have learned everything the hard way and have the battle scars to prove it. While I don’t want to see anyone fall on their face. It is part of learning your game to fall once in a while. Having ‘gumption’ is one thing, having a few bumps from falling is actually part of the journey. This way artists learn some business acumen and will start to have that little voice that says “If it looks to good too be true, it probably is”. Nothing is the beginning and nothing is the end. But trusting your instincts is golden. John Ferrie

From: Sandy Sandy — Aug 12, 2011

Robert’s method for shooting is basically what I do to photograph my watercolors. Sometimes I put the camera timer on and bounce sunlight onto the image with a reflector to warm it up. As a microstock photographer, I shoot in Raw, which I process in Lightroom and save as a PDF and do further editing in Photoshop. Resolution 300ppi (pixels per inch) images saved as jpgs are required for upload as stock. 300ppi is what you need for print. For display on the internet, I reduce these images to 72ppi jpgs., usually no larger than 600 x 600 pixels. If you make your images too large, anyone could easily use them online or in print for small cards, items, etc. For my blogs, I often use my little point and shoot. I don’t necessarily want my work to be available in reprint quality online. If they want to use my images, I have a large selection online that they can license. Often I see unsigned, large sized works online with no artist’s name even attached! If you must put large images online, I suggest a watermark and copyright. I learned this the hard way.

From: Bruce Miller — Aug 12, 2011

The Picasa program will normally automatically resize and compress photo images resulting in poor quality images, so be aware of that problem when you need to keep the original high quality!

From: Louise Zjawin Francke — Aug 12, 2011

I photograph 2 D art works for other artists with strobes at reasonable costs. Yes, everyone has a digital camera but I have seen the “do it yourself” artists digitals of their works. Yes, they do it out doors or with incandescent lights but they still have their problems with light, paralax, reflections off of varnishes, etc. You can take pics outdoors but especially in the summer around here the light is greenish due to all the foliage. Photoshop helps eliminate that tint but the learning curve is higher than most artists want to spend their precious time on. Most printers want CMYK and not RGB color so that also puts limits the software which will put that out. Find a pro who doesn’t require sign off sheets and has experience photographing art works. Ask other artists who they use locally and if they are satisfied with the product.

From: Edward Abela — Aug 12, 2011
From: Rick Rotante — Aug 12, 2011

Robert is correct on how to “shoot” you own work and the need for artists to learn to do this. One piece of advice though, check the company wanting your work. I’ve done this twice only to find I had to buy copies of the book and they were only making money on me and don’t have the distribution they say they have. In other words, no one but the artists in the book will ever see your work. This is a scam and I get two a month in my email. Some say “America’s greatest artists” or “Up and Coming Masters” or whatever. The only one who wins here is the publisher. They are stroking your ego and taking your money. Finally to avoid ‘warping’ of the image, move out and zoom in. This helps prevent “fisheye” of the edges. Good luck.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Aug 12, 2011

I used to make nice digital photos of my art in the olden days when I had a desktop computer. Ever since we’ve had lap tops, I have been struggling because the image looks drastically different depending the angle of my lap top screen. It drives me berserk. I start trying to adjust the brightness and cast of the images and all goes downhill from there. When I look at my photos from a desk top computer at work, they look nothing like the ones on my lap top.

From: Leslie K — Aug 12, 2011

If you work small, I highly recommend scanning your work. Again, it should be unglazed (especially if glossy). This method gives fine detail. You can scan larger works a bit at a time and then combine them in Photoshop. Very large work, though is much better and easier to just photograph.

From: Nicholas Blanke — Aug 14, 2011

There are so many things that we can learn to do ourselves that will empower us, save us time and money, and help us to be more fully realized. As Robert said, people used to think they needed drivers to drive them around.

From: Sharon Stewart — Aug 14, 2011

I have Adobe Photoshop Elements, which is not an expensive program and is kind of a watered down version of Adobe Photoshop. It comes for either iMac or PC. I took a basic course in Adobe Photoshop at University of Waterloo, Ontario Canada on line , read the part in my digital camera book about how to adjust the camera to high definition images and the rest is history. This is not a difficult process and have even learned how to put copyright across my paintings when using them on line for anything, which I think is very important too. Forest, Ontario. Canada.

From: Pamela Manson — Aug 14, 2011

Greetings from Ireland. Just a line to say that your letters are so sustaining and I get great pleasure from reading them. You are a wise old owl indeed.

From: Dr. Hal Martin, San Antonio, Tx. — Aug 14, 2011

I would like to offer the technique I learned several years ago from Jason Smith who photographs paintings for Greenhouse Gallery in San Antonio. A very modest equipment investment is required, but once obtained, photos may easily be made in the studio requiring very little space and done at any time, thus avoiding the time of day and weather constraints as well as the inconveniences of outdoor photography. This method totally eliminates any glare, even on varnished paintings. The basic requirements are 2 reflector lamps on stands (I use 15″ diameter size), 2 sets of attachable barndoors, a few feet of polarized film (17″ is a standard size), and a polarized lens for your camera (does require a camera which can accept a polarized lens). The light source I initially used were 350 watt 3200K tungsten bulbs which work well but were quite hot and have relatively short life span; I currently use the 30 watt (150 watt equivalent) 5300K “daylight light” CFL bulbs which are cool to operate and have a very long life span. All of these items are easily obtained on the internet or through a good camera shop. Place the painting vertically by whatever means (I use my Hughes easel which also makes it very easy to move the painting to any position). Set the lamps at about a 45 degree angle to either side a few feet away with the barn doors attached and sections of the polarized film cut to fit across the end of the doors and attached to the doors (be sure the alignment of the polarized film is the same on both lamps) for the light to shine through. Align the tripod mounted camera with the center of the painting, set the white balance on the fluorescent light mode (some newer cameras additionally offer the daylight florescent setting), turn the polarized lens while observing through the vewfinder to the position which eliminates all glare, and then follow the general principles as outlined by Robert in this letter. This technique does not require much time once the initial setup is completed and yields very professional looking photos which require very little computer correction……I generally use iPhoto editing for any minor manipulations.

From: Shirley Peters, Australia — Aug 14, 2011

When I do small watercolours, I scan rather than photograph them. A $49 Canon printer with a scanner top is ideal for small works. Larger paintings are difficult to photograph outside because the sky tends to reflect in the darks and blacks. I shoot inside, but near a large window, and with the camera on a tripod. This gives a mix of cool and warm light. Thanks for your letter. I look forward to it.

From: Ellen Sherfey — Aug 14, 2011

I have an older model digital SLR, Canon EOS Digital Rebel, that has the fabulous features of not only exposure (lightness-darkness) “bracketing” (a progression of exposures, click-by-click- from light to dark in the case of “exposure”) but also color temperature bracketing (from cool to warm)!!! This creates a range of color-adjusted (relative to true white) pictures, click-by-click so that you have a series of differently tinted choices from which to choose what looks truest to your item’s actual color. When I first experimented with this feature, I was in a rush to crank out an ad for an item I was selling, and set the Rebel to do both bracketing types at the same time-what a camera(!) and fortunately really lucked out to have a good coinciding of exposure and color temperature. As you know, the color of daylight changes by time of day and whether a little overcast or not (basically dependent on how the atmosphere scatters the light), and while our minds interpret the data coming from our eyes to see, or understand a white object as white (misleading us to imagine the light is neutral-looking), a camera will merely record the actual color that bounces off the item you’re photographing. I used to use tungsten slide film (Fuji 64- best color) to control conditions when photographing my paintings and used an “18% gray card” (available at photo stores) to read the light/dark exposure and then “bracketed” different 1/2-step exposure-adjustments based on that. I used quartz lights that balanced with that film. I shifted to a nice-enough viewfinder-type digital that, yes, had a “white balance” for the quartz light that I was using, but I couldn’t tweak the color-temperature (white balance) and it over-adjusted so my painting-photos were radiantly warm and I now just adore the color-temperature bracketing. [A tripod and shutter release really help me too, but the newer model of the Canon EOS has an image steadying “IS” feature -in the lenses, I think. Wish I had the budget for that but a friend of mine was ready to replace this EOS and let me have it {{very}} inexpensively. If any other budget-consciou$ artist is out there without a ‘photo-kook’ friend, photo stores also offer a range of used cameras for a song (or two).]

From: Bill Doying — Aug 14, 2011

You note the need for at least 8 MP resolution, and also advise nearly filling the frame. The latter advice is particularly important if the photographer is to have full benefit of this resolution: Obviously, if only half the image area is covered by the painting image, it will contain only half the megapixels the camera is capable of recording, and enlargements of the painting will suffer accordingly.

From: Douglas Greetham — Aug 15, 2011

Everything you advise about photographing a painting with a digital camera is correct. But as both a serious photographer and a painter, may I offer a few cautions. • A digital camera is brutally all seeing, it will see a painting as no human eye ever can. I sometimes think that not using the highest resolution would render a more “realistic” version of any painting. • Taking a photo of a painting in open shade is good, but every digital camera has it’s own subtle version of what constitutes white. One has to be very careful about how faithful the photo is to the original painting with respect to color. It can drive you crazy sometimes, trying to get an exact duplicate • JPEG files are a compressed version of the original RAW file. In the process of compression the thing that is lost is some subtlety in color variation. The more you compress, the more color data you lose. Moreover, every time you open a JPEG file, do something to it and close it again, the thing will recompress and lose still more data. Taking an image as a JPEG file is fine, but my advice is to open it once, make a copy and close the copy in a lossless TIFF format. The resulting file will be larger, but it will not change with usage over time. Falmouth MA

From: Michael Epp — Aug 15, 2011

Thank you for an incredibly valuable column.

From: Zyglo Radszil — Aug 15, 2011

For all you wannabe art photographers out there — getting the white balance is job one.

From: Mary Beth Frezon — Aug 15, 2011

I second Sarah’s recommendation of getting a tripod. After I fired my first photographer (ex-husband) I bought my own gear: camera and 2 basic lenses, simple lighting set up, quick-release head for the tripod he left behind, backdrop stand (for hanging my work in front of a neutral background) and most important: an incident light meter. I make large quilts and using the meter lets me measure the light that falls on the piece. Checking this in many different locations results in lighting that is even and without hotspots or dark corners. Between ebay and a trusted camera store I bought used and new stuff and didn’t spend a great deal of money. First photos I took got me into a big show and that I’d taken the photos myself was almost as exciting as getting in. OK, maybe not quite LOL but it felt good.

From: Wayne Haag — Aug 15, 2011
From: James — Aug 16, 2011

Think about: as an artist you want people to purchase your work. Anyone can paint, but is is art and will anyone else want to shoe if in their home or business. Anyone can quake a photography but it takes a professional or advanced amateur To make your work really look it’s best. Also consider that a professional photographer needs to eat and sell their services just as you want to sell your paintings. Many of the comments from those who use a professional state very well all the reasons to hire a photographer; good color, white balance, images that are square, and someone who has the “set up” to do it correctly. I have,however, taught many painters to do it yourself. The most successful use a set up similar to mine. Most want to paint and let me do the photography.

From: Russ J Wong — Aug 18, 2011

There are many things we can do on our own when we do not fear technology. The human brain is a much underused organ, and stretching it from time to time is a worthwhile exercise. Students of technology can start by reading the handbooks that come with the gadgets. It’s partly our refusal to understand how much complexity can now be put into a very small space that defies those who might otherwise learn.

From: Jennifer Bellinger — Aug 19, 2011
From: June Padovani — Aug 24, 2011

I enjoy your comments. They are useful and hit home. As quoted “if you do what you have always done, nothing will ever change.”

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Spring thaw

oil painting by Sylvio Gagnon, Canada

  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, 2013. That includes Dianne Harrison of Roswell, GA, USA, who wrote, “Unfortunately, after paying a professional who had the top equipment and the original painting on hand for color comparison I ended up with dark, dreary, nowhere close, images that were unusable. If the colors are all off you do yourself more harm than good. I think photographing art is an art in itself. Learn what you need to know to accurately present your work.” And also Karen Hunter McLaughlin of Philadelphia, PA, USA, who wrote, “There is another free image editing software available for both Mac and PC called Gimp — it’s much better at manual editing than Picasa.”    

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