Since artists have posed the question of how to photograph their artwork for submissions and uploading, and get quality images, I am exerpting a chapter from my book, Art Gallery Safari: Bagging the Big One(c)2003.
Although the chapter references 35mm SLR, rather than digital (like most of us now use), the photographic principles are the same for setting up the artwork for shooting, lighting, meter reading, manual settings, etc. The instructions should meet any criteria you might encounter in your art careers, whether applying to juried shows, land-based or online galleries or T.A. jobs.
Because of the length, it's divided into 2 parts, the second to follow next week.
Rule #16 Taking Aim
Most viewing committees are interested in 35mm labelled transparencies that would be projected. However, when submitting work, many people prefer 4 x ttransparencies. The film is expensive and the camera is slow to set up. The alternative is shoot a 35mm then have a 4 x 5 dupe made and submit the dupe. The cost of having a 4 x 5 made is over fifty dollars.
As far as the Safari Hunter shooting the Trophy, the question is whether or not it is going to be projected. If so, mask off the overlapping areas. The average area in a 35mm, is 24 by 35mm. That is the proportion of the frame. If the Safari Hunter is not working in those proportions, leaving wasted areas, more in those other proportions, it needs to be chopped off about fifteen percent.
In order to deal with that, either shoot it masked or mask it off after the transparencies come back from processing. Use a thin strip of Mylar and then re-mount the slide. The finished slide is more attractive if shot with a mask.
When the Trophy to be photographed is of pale colors shoot it on a black wall or velvet. If the Safari Hunter is renting lodging, painting one wall black might be impractical. Many Safari Hunters prefer black velvet push pinned into a piece of foam core. Black
velvet drops out completely. Black seamless paper has a tooth, which will pick up light, a sheen that will be recognizable. In black seamless, super black is best. It comes in two widths 53" and 9'. The fifty-three inch wide roll is thirty feet long. It costs about ten dollars. Hang it flat on a wall.
Position the camera for the shoot. The Trophy should be squared up to the wall. The wall is flat and camera position should be the same. Tape a line to the floor, directly in front of the piece, which is the axis. The painting is on a nail. Place tripod right over the
tapeline. Determine measurements of the painting to dead center. To determine dead center, take the measurement of the height of the piece. Divide the height measurement in half and add to that the
distance from the floor. That method will give you the dead center measurement.
The eye of the lens of the camera should be the same height as the center of the Trophy. If the tripod is centered and the lens the right height, adjust the forward tilt of the camera until the image is absolutely level. The average 35-millimeter camera opens its shutter to about ninety percent of the image area.
If that was the average size of the frame, what is seen in the viewfinder is just inside this. The photographer wants to come in as tight as possible,
moving the camera forward or back, following the tapeline. In a 35mm frame, with a square painting, leave a tiny space along the top and bottom and equal space on sides. When the slide is mounted, film
processors will crop in. Leave them a little space for cropping.
If using either continuous hot lights or photoflash a light stand is essential. Two lights are recommended one on each side, same height as the camera. Photofloods are very useful. Discount stores have
inexpensive clamp on lights, but with a small reflector. A larger reflector that allows a wider spread is important. Sometimes it is more accurate to use flash. There are three choices for light sources: daylight or natural light (the least expensive), continuous light or incandescent light. The varieties of available light range from cheap models to the expensive German varieties and flash or strobe.
Daylight uses daylight-balanced film, such as Kodachrome, Ektachrome or color negative film. The problem with daylight is the color temperature of light. Safari Hunters are concerned with the accuracy
of their colors in their slides. When manufacturers say the film is daylight balanced the color the Safari Hunter sees should be reported faithfully on film. If natural light will be used, shoot in neutral, midday light. It has the most accurate color. In the early morning, the light is very blue, in the late afternoon, very yellow. With a limited budget, the ideal may be shooting on an overcast day.
The color temperature of light is influenced by surfaces that reflect the light. If a structure in close proximity is a vivid color, that factor contaminates your color. A neutral setting is essential. A favorite setup is a garage door. Open the door and set up an easel just inside the shade of the garage door where the reflected light is neutral.
Another good setup is a house with shady side in neutral reflectance. If there is a white painted house next door, the sunlight hitting the white wall creates an even, reflecting neutral light. Bright open shade is even illumination.
Once the lighting situation is completed, the Safari Hunter will need to take an accurate meter reading. In using a 35-mm camera with a through-the-lens light meter, problems are inherent with a through-the-lens light meter. Light meters require calibrating and the
makers are unaware of what the Safari Hunters' Trophy is. The Safari Hunter points at the subject and the meter only measures the light being reflected. Light meter manufacturers advise matching the needle or the LED to get an accurate exposure. What the meter makers
are calibrating for is middle gray. Middle gray is eighteen-percent reflectance on the gray scale.
If the camera is pointed at a white wall and the needle matches exactly and a slide was taken with no manipulation, that white wall would come out middle gray. If it is pointed it at a black wall, and match the needle the result would be middle gray. It is totally inaccurate. The only way to get an accurate reading, through the light meter, is to show the meter a perfect middle gray, using a gray card.
Kodak sells two 8" x 10" gray cards in a little house. They cost between seven and ten dollars. The difficulty with the gray card that Kodak sells is the size. The problem with a card that small, is that
when the camera is placed next to the gray card, a shadow created on the card interferes with an accurate reading. The gray card needs to fill the viewfinder to get an accurate reading. Place the card on the wall where the piece is and bring the camera up to it until it fills the frame. Take the reading from that and then bring the camera back and read it back into the tripod.
Another solution to accuracy of reading, are sheets of crescent board sold through art supply stores. They are close enough in intensity to be useful. The meter in the camera reads the entire image area. With a card almost as large as the painting, the camera could be left on the tripod and would eliminate the possibility of creating a shadow on the card, affecting the exposure. The angle of the card is going to effect its accuracy. If the card is tilted, it has sheen and a higher reflectance. Tilting downward creates a little shadow and it reads a little darker.
It should be flat against the wall. If daylight is used in shooting in the middle of the day, and the camera is closer or farther away, there is no difference in the exposure once that reading has been taken.
If there is a delay in the shooting, a periodic check of the reading is paramount. One method to using the gray card to take an accurate reading is bracketing the exposure. The piece is on the wall and a reading has been taken. The match is F8 at 1/60 of a second.
Shoot one exposure at half a stop on either side of that. The next stop over is 5/6 and something in between. Another might be at F8 and something in between and finally F11. Shoot three exposures.
Determine which is more accurate. After that, there will be no need to bracket the exposure. This is really a waste, so once you do an accurate reading, you'll go through a lot less film. Assuming the
Safari Hunter has a good eye, stand back; look at the scene and squint. Notice any unevenness in the lighting. The lighting may be lighter or darker than in other areas.
In the absence of a good eye a light meter is useful. The hand held meter also eliminates the need for a gray card. A hand held meter allows the possibility to walk into the scene. With the camera on the tripod, stoop to where you're not affecting the light and turn the meter on and move it around. Observe if the needle moves or if it is consistent all over.
If the Safari Hunter is observing blotchy lighting, try another spot or just wait for the sun to move on a little more. In using daylight, if the colort temperature is right, by using it at midday and having it non-contaminated, there is no need for any kind of
filtration to correct for it.
There are ways of metering the color temperature of the light and then putting on filters that will exactly compensate for the temperature of the light. It involves having a color meter that reads not the quantity of light, but the color of the light. It reveals the amount of filtration necessary to achieve the perfect color balance. But, they are expensive and require justification. The only solution is to shoot at midday. Aside from the daylight film and the balance for daylight, it is the least expensive to purchase and process.
If the Safari Hunter should use continuous such as photofloods, the time constraints in shooting are eliminated. However, with continuous light, photofloods, or hot lights, are needed. Regular
light bulbs are not sufficient. The Safari Hunter will need photofloods that are balanced to 3200K (Kelvin degrees), which is tungsten. They work with tungsten film balanced to tungsten photofloods fairly accurately, but the bulbs wear out quickly using a
lot of power.
If two of them were on simultaneously, it would be comparable to running an oven continuously for an hour. They burn hot and bright which causes them to age rapidly and at different rates. Although the lighting initially might be even, one will dissipate leaving the lighting uneven. These bulbs are not cheap.
With continuous light or any artificial light, the difference of the light to the surface, that the Safari Hunter is photographing, affects the exposure. In shooting a small piece, the lights must be moved in closer. If the next piece is larger, the lights have to be moved back and the exposure increased. If the lights are on for any length of time there will be a little fluctuation. A cable release should be used to eliminate vibration especially in long exposures.
The Trophy, painting or art object should be placed in the center of the easel, the longest sides in a vertical position, even if this is not the way the work is normally viewed. The painting will be lit
from the sides. Since light becomes less intense at the beam's edge, narrowing the width of the painting facilitates evenness in illumination.
Holding a pencil vertically on the painting can help determine if the lights are equal distance. The pencil should cast two shadows or equal darkness and form a symmetrical pattern. The density of the shadow is determined by the closeness of the lights, the pattern, by the height and angle of the lamps.
Color reversal film produce slides appropriate for tungsten lights. Color negative films are designed to produce prints or transparencies. The print comes from a color negative film that was exposed, resulting in prints and enlargements. The major differences in the two types, is the film speed, which measures the film
sensitivity to light as indicated on the ASA numbers on the film. The higher the ASA, the less light is needed. The following film and light choices are used most often in photographing paintings using hot lights.
Kodak Ektacolor Professional Type S (short exposure) code name CPS used with a lens filter for Tungsten 3200K lamps.
Kodak High Speed Ektachrome Type B (for Tungsten) code name EHB made for use with Tungsten 3200K lamps has a high ASA number.
B & W Prints
Kodak Tri-X Temperature of lamps is not important in black and white photography.
As far as costs go, the difference between a 24-exposure roll and a 36-exposure roll for processing is a few dollars. If there are six pieces to photograph and the Safari Hunter is reasonably confident with the exposure; make six exposures of each six pieces and use the whole roll. Some people want an exposure of each one and then take the film in and have it processed. It's nice to have multiple sets. A dupe is no match for an original.
If the Trophy that is to be shot is glossy, a reflection or sheen will appear on areas that prevent the viewer from really seeing into that color. A polarizer makes that reflection disappear. Polarizers,
when turned, will become darker or lighter, which affects the exposure. If using a polarizing filter, take the meter reading after it has been turned it to the point where it has removed the glare.
With continuous light, the polarizer doesn't work on artificial light unless the artificial light also has polarizing filters on them. Polarizing filters that are big enough to go on the lights are about a hundred dollars for two of them.
The reflection on the piece is the worst-case scenario for Safari Hunters shooting the Trophy when the subject matter is not flat material. The reflection is either a light source or an object away from the camera position. Changing the position of the light slightly will eliminate that light source reflection. The reflections coming from objects out of the background are fairly easy to eliminate. To eliminate a reflection like that set a timer and then get out of the way. Let it take the picture and then come back in. If the Safari Hunter has a busy room with lots of things reflecting, hang a black cloth from the ceiling.
That would not block the light source, but provide an area that is somewhat larger than the piece being photographed. There is nothing to reflect. It would also be easy to take a piece of black mat board and cut a hole in it for the lens to thrust through, thereby eliminating the reflection.
The size of the Trophy determines the number of lights to use. If the piece is three by five feet or four by six or larger, there should be four lights, two on each side, divided into thirds or quadrants. When using four hot lights, and four polarizing filters, it starts getting expensive. When using photofloods with tungsten film, the tungsten film would be contaminated by any natural light that's coming in. Fluorescent or regular incandescent contaminates, causing a color shift. When using hot lights shoot at night or in a dark studio where you can eliminate all the other lights sources.
Many Safari Hunters have started using flash, which is more powerful than hot lights. There is more power in an eighty-dollar flash, than 1500 watts of photoflood and the flash is balanced for daylight film. Many times Safari Hunters want to photograph artwork, and want to be able to use artificial light for their convenience. They want to be able to get away from the tungsten and the costs associated with it.
The alternative is two flash units. Put them on a light stand and connect them with thin cords that go into a "Y", that plug into the camera. Ideally, it would have a splitter, one that goes to the flash, for tripping the flash. Flashes will have an even spread, as long as the Safari Hunter adds a plastic diffusion box that goes over the hotshoe. Using a decent size piece with two small eighty-dollar flashes, the Safari Hunter is then using a flash with daylight balance.
Rule #16 "Taking Aim" was excerpted from Art Galley Safari: Bagging the Big One (c) 2003 by Cynthia Houppert.
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Gallerist, Art Struck Gallery, Blue Ridge, GA, Former Faculty Member - Atlanta College of Art and author of Art Gallery Safari: Bagging the Big One.