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Documenting your Artwork with a Digital Camera

Documenting your artwork with a digital camera allows you to keep a record of your completed and sold artwork. Whether you gift the artwork to someone or you sell it, you want to make sure that it’s a part of your legacy as an artist.

You can also use the digital image for marketing purposes on your website, blog, online portfolio and print portfolio. Having a digital copy of the artwork is also important because you can utilize the digital file as a tool to produce additional income in the form of digital prints.

Join photographer Andrea Walker Collins (and Opus staff member) in our latest video Documenting your Artwork with a Digital Camera Part 1 & 2 for an inside look into this process.

Are you new to using a digital camera? Then read our full article below for an in depth look into the tools and skills needed for digital reproduction. With some practice you will be documenting like a pro in no time!


CAPTURING AN IMAGE OF THE ARTWORK

There is a standard model for setting up a space for art documentation. All you need is:

  • Tripod
  • DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera
  • Beginners Lighting Kit

If you don’t own these you can rent the equipment needed from most camera stores. To help save on cost you can rent the equipment before a gallery show, when you have lots of artwork on hand, and do a full day of reproductions. This will help ensure that you are covered when the artwork sells.

Looking for a camera to rent? Simply google camera rentals + the city where you are located to bring up a list of rental houses near you. To help get you started, here are a few local businesses in Vancouver:

1. LIGHTS

If you know where you’ll be mounting the artwork for the photo the first thing you can do is set-up the lights. The way you light the image will depend on the medium used in the artwork. For example, oil and acrylic paint will reflect light more than watercolours. You will need to evaluate how the light is affecting the piece during this stage in the process. Regardless of the medium used the most important thing when lighting is to get an even distribution of light.

In this video demonstration, Andrea uses Strobe Lights to document the artwork. Strobe lights are timed to flash when the picture is taken and are usually used by professionals because it gives them the ability to adjust how bright the light is when the flash goes off.

An entry level alternative would be to use a Daylight Lamp or any lighting gear that can use a daylight bulb. Instead of a flash of light, daylight lamps provide constant light on your subject and are easier to find and purchase. Daylight bulbs produce a true white light and ensures that your colours are recorded as true to their original tone as possible. You don’t want to use incandescent or fluorescent light because the light they produce will have a yellow or green cast.

Once you have established your set-up, it is always going to be the same in the space where you’re photographing, regardless of whether you decide to use a strobe lighting kit or daylight lamps.

It is also important to make sure that you reduce as much non-white light from the space where you are photographing to eliminate a mixed lighting scenario. You don’t want half of the artwork to look white and the other half to look orange because two different types of bulbs were used. A general rule is to make sure that the room is as dark as possible when you are working to help limit the amount of outside light sources that may seep into the room.

For smaller artworks you can create a small white photo booth or even take the artwork outside on an overcast day. Some artists place the artwork on the floor by a window and take the photo that way. As long as you have an even distribution of light and the picture is properly exposed, DIY set-ups will work as long as you use a DSLR camera.

2. CAMERA

Now you can set up your camera onto the tripod. If you are not familiar with DSLR Cameras, read the manual that comes with your rentals or ask a sales staff at the camera store for help. These manuals are actually very straight forward and a great resource when you’re first learning how to use a camera. When it comes down to it, a good quality camera and lens are the key to achieving the best results.

If you don’t have access to the manual, all major brands offer online versions of them:

Can I use a point-and-shoot camera instead?

While point-and-shoot cameras are a great and cheap alternative for everyday photography, their camera sensors are simply not big enough to support professional art reproductions. You can still print the photos taken with them at a smaller size (like a 4″ × 6″ photo of your family in Hawaii), but for professional Art Documentation and Reproduction you must use a DSLR camera.

3. ARTWORK

In the standard set-up for art documentation, the artwork is always mounted upright. Andrea uses an easel and a piece of white foam core to mount the artwork because it allows it to be upright and completely parallel with the camera lens.

Andrea uses push pins to mount the artwork onto the foam core instead of tape to help limit potential damage to the work. Andrea doesn’t puncture the picture with the push pins, she uses them as a guide to rest and secure the artwork.

If you are doing this from home an alternative method is to mount the artwork directly onto a white wall. However, this requires tape if you are documenting artworks on paper and don’t have a piece of foam core rested against the wall. If the artwork is on canvas it can be placed on the floor and rested against the wall. As long as the artwork is completely upright and flat, the image will reproduce accurately.

4. CAPTURE

Now that you’ve set up the lights, camera and artwork, you can take a few test photos and adjust the position of the camera so the lens is parallel to the image. You want the edges of the artwork to appear as right angles in the viewfinder, but when taking a photo for art documentation, you don’t want to zoom all the way into the borders of the artwork. Leave yourself a buffer on all sides of the piece just in case you need to make changes during editing that may cut segments of the artwork out.

There are 4 key things you need to remember when taking photos with a DSLR camera; these all relate to achieving proper exposure in your photographs. If the image is underexposed (too dark) or overexposed (too bright), your digital print will not match the same brilliance as the original.

Is your image quality set to RAW? Camera RAW image files are the largest photos that your camera can produce. Therefore it is the ideal format for taking photos of fine art because it gives you the highest quality image to work with when editing and printing.

RAW image files are sometimes referred to as digital negatives because they are not yet processed and need to be converted to a file format such as .TIF or .JPG before storage and printing.

Visit digital-photography-school.com to learn more about the basics of RAW image files.

What is your Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO? The camera’s aperture, shutter speed and ISO are directly linked to taking a properly exposed photograph.

Aperture relates to how big or small the opening of your lens will be when the picture is taken. These are called f-stops and can range anywhere from f/1.2 to f/22 on most cameras, but are largely impacted by the quality of lens used. The lower the f-stop (f/1.8, f/2.0), the wider the lens can open and the more light that can be let in to reach the camera’s sensor. A higher f-stop (f/11, f/22) means the lens opening is smaller and less light will reach your camera’s sensor.

Shutter Speed relates to how fast your camera can take a picture. This is measured in seconds and ranges anywhere from 1s to 1/500 of a second. A slow shutter speed is useful for still life subject matter, like artwork! It requires less light to take the image because the lens stays open for a longer period of time. A fast shutter speed is ideal for moving subject matter and requires more light to expose the photo correctly.

In traditional film photography the ISO referred to how sensitive the film was to light. In digital photography it measures the camera sensors’ sensitivity to light. In most cases you want as low an ISO as possible, but not too low as to underexpose the image. The higher the ISO, the more digital grain is apparent in the image, which is not ideal for making reproductions of artwork.

For more information how Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO relate to the image visit photographylife.com

Is your image White Balanced correctly? White Balance refers to the process of removing unrealistic colour, rendering objects that are white in person to a true white in the photo. This is often referred to as Colour Temperature because it will change depending on the light source that is lighting the subject.

When using a DSLR camera, you will have a few options for colour temperature such as Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten – all of which will change the overall colour temperature of the photo.

For those new to digital cameras, Auto White Balance is a safe setting to take your photos in. When you are taking RAW photographs, the colour balance can be corrected in the photo editing stage of this process. However, do not leave everything up to the edit. Try to achieve an accurate and high quality photo in camera.

5. ADJUST LIGHTING

Because the flash can be so strong when the light is directly facing the artwork, depending on the room you are in, you may need to adjust the direction of the lights so they point away from the image. This is called Bouncing the Light and can be done by turning the light towards a different surface, such as a white wall or a piece of white foam core that you’ve mounted.

Bouncing the light essentially disperses the light and enables it to travel much further. When the light reaches the artwork it is now more ambient than it would have been if the light was directly facing the artwork. This process helps to eliminate glare and overexposure.

6. REVIEW

Once you believe you have a good photo you need to review it. DSLR cameras have a Zoom function that allows you to view all the small details to make sure that they are in focus. Camera’s also come with Histograms, which are visible when you review each photo you’ve taken. Histograms are graphs that tell you how much colour and luminosity are in the photo, making them a great tool for reviewing.

Visit cambridgeincolour.com for an easy tutorial on how to read Histograms.

If everything looks good in your photo, the next step is to take the image into photo editing software to prepare it for storage and printing.

EDITING THE PHOTO

Now that you have digitally documented your artwork, you can transfer the image files onto your computer and open them with your photo editing software.

Before you begin editing the photos, it is ideal to ensure that your computer’s monitor is Colour Calibrated. A properly colour calibrated monitor renders colours accurately so the image will look the same when it’s printed or shown on other digital screens. There are a few quick ways to calibrate your monitor using built-in and free computer software:

Makeuseof.com has a great article that details the importance of a properly calibrated monitor.

PHOTO EDITING SOFTWARE

There are various Photo Editing Softwares available online, however, the key is to have software that can work with the RAW images you have taken. Below are a few options for programs that can work with RAW image files.

SOFTWARE FOR PURCHASE:

FREE SOFTWARE:

WORKING WITH CAMERA RAW IMAGES

Working in RAW will produce the best results and offers most of the tools that standard photo editing software provides. The main difference is that once you convert the RAW image into a .JPG or .TIF, the degree to which you can make further changes are limited. RAW is the unconverted negative (.CR2 for Canon, .NEF for Nikon) for a digital photo, so editing in RAW gives you the most flexibility before conversion to .JPG or .Tif.

The following video tutorial from video2brain.com introduces the basic adjustments that can be done when a RAW photo is opened with Adobe Photoshop

Once the adjustments have been made to the RAW image, there are a few basic things that you need to do in the photo editing software.

1. CROP

Cropping your photograph is essential because you want to be able to remove any excess elements in the photo. You want to have a nice clean image that doesn’t have any negative space, so you want to remove things like the foam core or the wall you may have used to mount your image.

2. COLOUR BALANCE

You want to make sure that the whites are balanced properly, or changed if you want to achieve a specific look. Even though you white balance in your camera’s settings, and can adjust it again in RAW, using the Colour Balance tool in the editing software is still suggested.

You can also use your own eyes to judge the white balance. If there is something in the photo that you know is pure white, use the colour balance tool to adjust it if it looks too red, or blue, or green, etc.

3. LEVELS

Another option is to work with a tool call Levels. This is a tool that will help to balance the contrast of your image, making sure that there is an even distribution of highlights, shadows and midtones.

It features a simple slider tool: shadows on the left, midtones in the middle, and highlights on the right.

4. SAVE FOR PRINT AND WEB

Once you’re done editing the photo you’re ready to save. We recommend saving in 2 different formats.

FOR PRINT: Using the SAVE AS tool, select the option to save the image as a .TIF file. This is a high resolution file that you will be using when you are ready to make prints of your photo.

FOR WEB: Use the SAVE AS or SAVE FOR WEB & DEVICES option to create your Web Ready .JPG. A Web Ready .JPG needs to be sized smaller so that it is ideal to be placed on a website or to be emailed to someone.

Naming conventions change depending on how you store your digital photos and what works best for your workflow. Generally you will want to include the name of the artist, the date, and whether it is for PRINT or WEB.

If you are bringing your images to Opus for our Fine Art Digital Printing and Mounting Service, read our Preparing your file for Digital Printing handout for full guidelines on proper file preparation.

5. PRINT & PRESENT

Once your artwork is in digital form, it’s easy to keep track of your artwork and begin creating reproductions of your work. Once you have an edited digital file, you can bring it to your local Opus and choose from a wide variety of surfaces to have your image printed onto.

FINE ART PRINT ON PAPER: Do you want your print to be glossy or matte? On bright white or cream? Fine Art Digital Papers offer a wide gamut of choices for your artwork that can be framed in either a custom or standard sized frame. You can even mount a smaller paper print onto card stock for personalized cards.

FINE ART PRINT ON CANVAS: Stretched Canvas can be ideal for artists looking for a different look or to reproduce an artwork that was originally created on canvas. Frame it in a front loading Opus SUMO frame for a crisp, and modern display.

FINE ART PRINT MOUNTED ON PANELS: Opus offers mounting services to print on Foamboard, Rynoboard and Aluminum Composite Panels. These are ideal for presentation in studio, art fairs, or gallery shows.

FACEMOUNT: Facemounting involves adhering an image to a clear substrate such as Plexiglas™ with a clear acrylic coating. With the image mounted behind the Plexi, light refracts in such a way that makes the colours pop and provides an almost 3D effect, allowing the image to appear sharper than ever before. With gallery lighting it may almost appear as if the piece is back-lit!

Documenting your artwork with a digital camera will help you develop additional skills, elevating you to a new level as an artist. It will help you to learn how to process your artwork into digital photos that can be used as a record for completed and sold artworks, and as a marketing tool for your website and online portfolio.

It also allows you to make reproductions of your art for your print portfolio, or to sell in the form of digital prints. You can even experiment with mixed media techniques that transform your image into a whole new work altogether.

Ultimately, digital prints opens up the ability to share your artwork with your friends and family – something truly worth the time and investment! •