Page name: Photographing art [Logged in view] [RSS]
2011-04-08 12:41:04
Last author: iippo
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I don't have a Scanner!

How to get your art to the digital format via photography

by [iippo]


Absolutely always read the Uploading Art Rules before even thinking of uploading any art to Elftown. Also try to be cool and have a read of Copyright and intellectual property. It's worth it.

These are some hints and tips for artists who don't have a scanner, but want to show their work online. When scannerless, the solution is usually a digital camera. Sometimes it's even better, and sometimes - in the case of sculpture - it is the only choice. How could a digital photo be better than a scan? Simple: someone photographing their work and knowing how to do it will get a better image than someone scanning their work without knowing how to work the scanner properly. Just as getting a good scan has its hidden wisdom, so does digital photography. Ignorance is never an excuse.

Setting up
It would be splendificous if you had some control over your camera settings. Some cameras don't have that, but if your dad has a digital camera that has wide range of settings and you have an automatic little camera, borrow his.

It's a good idea to mount the piece on a wall, and try to put all sticking-on-wall devices behind the paper (roll masking tape into small rolls with sticky sides out, or use blue-tac etc... no pins please). Make sure that all sides of the paper are parallel to the camera viewfinder frame, otherwise you won't get neat images of rectangles but something odd with non-right angles. It's good to use tripod or something similar where you can put the camera out of your hands (less shakyness guaranteed).

Focus and move camera/tripod backwards/forwards or use a zoom if appropriate, until the work nearly fills viewfinder frame. Beware of different kinds of zooms! The one that is all wrong is "digital zoom". Using that will get you a smaller, more pixelated image (sort of like cutting a small piece from a larger picture and blowing it up to huge proportions = no sharpness). Use "optical zoom": that's when the camera's lenses and mechanisms bring the view closer while taking the picture at your preferred resolution (which I wish you will set to maximum for this work).

Nowadays a lot of cameras even come with a setting made for digitising documents. Have a look around the pre-settings of your camera, there often is a little paper icon, or "documents" or something. It's especially good for black and white work, though of course works for colour images too.

Professionals recommend to avoid anything that's not professional lighting (but that figures, doesn't it, they just want to sell expensive equipment). The best light you can give your work is sunlight. No artificial spotlight works like the sun, so try to arrange your shoot on a weekend, during the day (not morning nor afternoon/late evening when the sun is at a funny angle). NEVER USE DIRECT FLASH! If you can't turn it off, put a bit of something on top of the part in the camera where the flash comes from (there's a little window usually), because that will muffle the murderous blinding light, which, by the way is the reason for red eyes in photos (so you might consider leaving the flash muffled forever).

It's a good idea to shoot several things during the same day, because it can be time-consuming to set everything up, the lighting can be just perfect on one day and if you try to re-do your steps of the photography on another day, you might forget some important step. In photographing art, the most valuable thing you can waste is time.

If the piece is black and white (pencil, charcoal etc), then take the photo in black and white. Colour always sneaks into a colour picture, even if the subject matter was colourless. And don't even think about converting it to grayscale later on the computer! Put the effects of you digital camera to real use, and find that black and white mode.

Bracketing. This is something you really want to do. It is mainly about taking the same photo with at least three different ISO-settings. And with a digital camera you don't even waste film! So you can shoot away as much as you want and delete things later when you can view them on the computer screen in full size. Bracketing is all about taking a picture with different exposures (=lighter image vs. darker image). There's always somethign that the camera will recommend you to use as the ISO setting: take one picture with that, another picture with lower and another picture with higher (and try to remember which picture had what settings, for future reference).

To touch up or not to touch up
Ah, Photoshop. How could we live without it? But it is recommended that we should try (to live without it). Whether to touch up or not depends a lot on the image. If it has a lot of subtle pencil-work or brush strokes have a special meaning in the picture, then it's better to steer clear of that gaussian blur. If the image is quite pixelated for some reason, then it's not cheating to fix it. And then of course you can do a full-flexed post-production with smudge, dodge and burn, and generally treat the photo as a raw material (see Digital Art Class's Retouching Drawings). Other good post-shoot touch ups include adjusting the levels, contrast, brightness, saturation and gamma correction. Contrast and cropping are worthy tools: many official Elftown contests and indeed even Elfwood won't let you enter a digital photo of art if the edges of the paper are visible! But remember: if you need to, always rotate first then crop. Do not consider "convert to grayscale" as a useful tool, for it does more damage than you can imagine. If you want the image black and white, take it in black and white.

For more tips on touching up digital images (the way the professionals do it), I heartily recommend:
The site is a contest-site for photography and photomanipulation. Have a browse at the galleries for some inspirational images! But note: has a different set of rules considering their artwork, so be sure to read their rules before you do anything other than look at the images.

Three dimensional work

The only way to show your sculpture or relief work online is by means of digital photography. The setting up -sequence is the same as described above (sunlight, zoom, tripod, bracketing and all that jazz), but with three dimensional work, you want to make the form and shape of the work evident through the photograph, which sometimes doesn't work, leaving your photo looking flat and indeed nothing like your original piece. So you might need to cheat a bit. Consider whether you want the work be in a space or in the outer space. Choose your background. For somethings, putting a sheet of paper behind it will highlight and contrast it enough; sometimes placing it into an environment makes a better effect (a sculpture of a fairy photographed in your garden, mayhaps?) Some parts of the sculpture will need more lighting and some will need less: place a white paper outside the photograph's/viewfinder's range to let light bounce off of the white surface on to the piece, and a black sheet which will absorb extra light from where you don't want it.

It's important you preview your setting. We humans can't see three dimensional things two-dimensionally the way the camera does, so there is going to be something you've missed: a strange angle or shadow of something breaking into the image. View the image with a critical eye in the digital camera's little screen (obviously preferably plug it into your computer and view it on the screen if possible).

Dividers from Elftown Graphics, made by [Mom] :3
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2006-03-27 [Zab]: *still prefers a good scanner and knowledge of it* But sure, I do think this could help a lot of people! :D All those who arn't as crazy as me :P

2006-03-27 [LadyMoon]: Absolutely splendid! :D

2006-03-27 [iippo]: Thanks. It just kept bugging me that so many people said "sorry for the bad quality, it's a photo" and I was cringing going "that's not the problem, the problem is that you don't know what you were doing" and then we had this helpful lesson in school about presenting work to galleries, so I applied what was said there to help here.

2006-03-27 [Zab]: ^___________^ Good work :P

2006-03-27 [iippo]: And Zab, maybe there should be a "how to get a good scan" -tutorial? *is useless with the scanners, mainly because their university ones, which means I can't slowly slowly take my time and learn it when there's ten other people waiting for me to get it over with...*

2006-03-27 [Zab]: how to get a good scan: put paper on scanner, press the button, move scan to adobe photoshop ;) Besides, I think there are..:P

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