Focus on Education: Taking Digital Images for Art Competitions by Jay Staten, SDP Publications Director

With all of the long hours and effort put into the creation of your artwork, it is important to document and archive each piece. Looking back at past work helps us to see how far we have come in technique and style as we continue to strive for improvement. Documenting your work also aids in sharing it with peers, galleries, and for competitions.

PAMPERED PALETTE JURIED ART EXHIBITION held in cooperation with SDP Foundation Submission Deadline: December 17, 2012 Visit decorativepainters.org/juriedexhibition or pamperedpalette.com for details and entry forms.

In general, the better your submitted image, the more likely judges will be to view your art in a favorable light. Judges are forced to reject what may be quality work simply because the art could not be properly evaluated due to a poor quality photo. Here are some things to keep in mind when taking photos of your art.

EQUIPMENT

  1. CAMERA: Your camera should meet these specifications.
  • Minimum 9-megapixel image size. A 9mgp image will be printable at 8.5″ x 11″ – page size. Base your camera purchase on megapixel capability, not on the advertised dimensions of a finished image. (7 megapixel will work, but reproduction will only be 8″x10″.)
  • SLR – Single Lens Reflex
  • Manual exposure mode (ability to override the settings determined by the built-in light meter). This is important–in art and photography, light is everything. A forced flash or other automatic setting can dramatically alter the color in the image of your piece.
  • Adobe RGB capability. This is all about recording the right colors in the photo. RGB translates better to the CMYK color system for printing purposes.
  1. STORAGE CARD: The memory card that comes with the camera may not have a very high capacity. Print-worthy digital image files are very large, and the less often you have to remove and empty the card, the better. Buy the largest card you can afford.
  2. TRIPOD: This is essential for taking quality photos. Make sure to buy a sturdy tripod that will let you position the camera both horizontally and vertically, and will rotate up, down, right and left.
  3. GRAY CARD: IF you use your camera’s built-in light meter instead of an incident light meter, an 18-percent gray card will allow true color correction. Simply position the gray card in the focus field. Do not obstruct the art, though, and make sure that it can be cropped out during the editing phase.
  4. CABLE RELEASE: This lets you trip the camera’s shutter without touching (and possibly jiggling) the camera. Or if your camera has a built-in timer, use that. The key is to be sure you aren’t cancelling out the purpose of the tripod by touching the camera to take the photo at the moment of the shutter.

WORKSPACE

This is crucial for good photos. The space must be large enough to move around. The general rule is whatever distance from the camera to the artwork; you need twice that amount of space to the left and to the right.

You must be able to control your light in this space. You want to have enough space to be able to block out unwanted light, use lighting equipment when needed, and avoid harsh shadows and reflective light.

The best workspace may be outside, depending on the art. Remember; never shoot on a sunny day, as bright sunlight washes out color. Cloudy days with a good amount of indirect sunlight are best.

SETTING UP FLAT ART

  1. ON THE WALL: Hang your art on an empty, neutral colored wall (gray is best) or on a corkboard mounted on the wall. Use tape or tacks (not pushpins—they cast shadows). Make sure the art is level and flush with the wall. Tape your gray card along one edge of the art.
  2. ON AN EASEL: Place a board on the easel and lean your art against it. Lean your gray card on the same backboard. Remember, you will need to tilt your camera at the same angle to match the tilted of the board.
  3. COPY STAND: Copy stands are ideal if your work is small, and you expect to take a lot of photos. Simply, lay your art on the flat surface (use a level to check), place your gray card beside the art; mount the camera directly above the art.
  4. LIGHTING: If you are using lighting equipment, make sure that your lights are aimed at a 45° angel to the artwork. Turn on one light and move it back and forth along the 45° angle until the beam covers the entire surface of the art. Then do the same thing with the second light, while the first light is off.  Make sure that there are no shadows or hot spots.

SETTING UP 3D ART

  1. BACKGROUND: Cluttered backgrounds distract from the art and make a poor impression. A large sheet of drawing paper works well for smaller items. For larger items, consider hanging a bed sheet (make sure to iron out the wrinkles before hanging). Hang the sheet above the picture plane, and then lay it on the shooting surface. This creates a continuous colored background with no lines or detractions.

Think about the color contrast of your art and the background. Light objects may look better against a deeper toned background, while a dark object may be best in front of white or light gray. Neutrals are almost always the best choice.

  1. USE A STAND: Sit your artwork on a stool or small table (if possible). You want to be able to move around the art, taking photos of all four sides. Make sure it is high enough that you can easily sit the tripod in front of the art, with the camera level to the art. As you shoot, you will want to turn the art, not move the camera.
  2. LIGHTING: You do not want to use the 2-light setup you used for flat art. One light aimed directly at the artwork should do the trick. Make sure there is no shadow cast in the photo frame. If you have a photographic umbrella, lighting a 3D art piece is much easier.
  3. GRAY CARD: You want to include your gray card in the image somewhere that it can be cropped out later.

SETTING UP THE SHOT

  1. Use a tripod and cable release with your camera. Set the tripod up so that it is even in height to the center of your art. To ensure that the artwork is not distorted in the photo, the camera’s line of sight needs to be perfectly perpendicular to the art. If your art is leaning back against a wall or on an easel, the camera must be tilted as well. Adjust the tripod forward and backward until the edges of the art are perfectly square in the viewfinder.
  2. Take all your full-view shots first.
  3. Plan for detail shots before you start shooting. Decide what details you want to capture. Move the camera on the tripod closer to the art or use the zoom feature so that the desired area almost fills the viewfinder. Do not depend on being able to crop and enlarge an area of the original full photo to make the detail shot. Too much enlargement will result in grainy quality in the detail.

CAMERA SETTINGS

  • Color Mode: Adobe RGB (not sRGB).
  • Image Size: Set to the largest size your camera can produce.
  • Image Format: Most competitions prefer RAW images, but can accept TIFF or JPEG.
  • White Balance: Set to match the type of bulbs you are using in your lights.
  • Flash: Disable any built-in flash mode.

TROUBLESHOOTING

  • Art should fill as much of the image field as possible, but be careful to not cut-off part of the art in the image.
  • Check focus on each shot, and take multiple shots from each angle.
  • Check camera alignment to the art. Parallax is caused when the camera’s line of sight is not perfect.
  • Check for lighting for glare and hot spots, as well as shadows.
  • Use a gray card.
  • Before disassembling your photo set-up, download your images to your computer and check each image. If you are not satisfied, make appropriate adjustments and reshoot.

You are now ready to enter your art in the Pampered Palette Juried Art Exhibition. It’s time to fill out the paperwork and submit your entry. Good luck. We can’t wait to see all the wonderful pieces that have been created in the last year and a half.

For more information, check out:

Art Link Swap: http://artlinkswap.org/photographing_art.shtml
Dallas Art Revue: http://www.dallasartsrevue.com/resources/How-to-Photo-Art.shtml
Matt Greer Photography: http://mgreerphoto.blogspot.com/2008/06/how-to-photograph-artwork.html