Photographing Artwork, Part 2
In the last issue of State of the Arts (Photographing Artwork, Part 1), I wrote about the process involved in taking quality photographs of artwork. You need high-quality photographs if applying for a grant or a gallery show of your work, or if you’re photographing artwork for a website or brochure.
Your photographs are the only way to show your artwork to others, so your images need to be the best you can afford. A quick recap:
• Use a good quality camera (typical point-and-shoots will not give clean and flat images due to small lenses).
• Use a tripod to hold and steady the camera (you need to concentrate on framing the image and not on holding the camera).
• If working with 2-D art, line up your artwork with the camera to be sure the art work is square with the camera sensor (or film plane, if you’re shooting film) in order to get an undistorted image.
• Use a manual exposure setting to be sure you shoot at F8 or smaller aperture. (This will mean slow shutter speeds when shooting inside, and that’s another requirement for a tripod.)
• And don’t use a flash.
(Those five points above are in Photographing Artwork, Part 1)
One more important aspect of photographing artwork is the type of light used in the area where you are photographing. This might surprise you, but all light is not created equal. Daylight and interior lighting are different color spectrums, even though they appear to be both mostly white to our eyes.
Different sources of light contain different amounts of the different colors of the spectrum that, when mixed together, make up the “white” light that we see outside in daylight and from light fixtures inside. But a digital camera sensor (and photographic film) must be “told” what spectrum of light is being used.
The most common light spectrum is, of course, daylight. But two other very common spectrums are the tungsten lighting of interior incandescent bulbs, and fluorescent lighting – either energy-saver bulbs or tubes. (There are many other spectrums generated by artificial lights, but tungsten and fluorescent are the most common you’ll come across.)
How do you adjust a digital camera for a certain light spectrum? A good digital camera will have what is called a “white balance” setting; this allows you to tell the camera what kind of spectrum you’re using. Look through your camera menu or the owner’s manual to find white balance settings.
Some cameras will auto-detect white balance, but you may have better results if you manually set it. You should be able to set your camera to daylight, tungsten or fluorescent. Inexpensive cameras won’t allow white-balance settings, and if you tried photographing artwork in the past and got wonky colors, that’s why: the camera wasn’t able to auto-detect a white balance.
Try some test shots and see how they look on a computer monitor and printed out. And if you’re shooting film, you need to buy either tungsten or daylight film to match the light you are using.
So, to get good photos of your artwork: consider the light and use a tripod and a good camera.