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Art Archiving, Documentation & Handling

Article: Creating a Living Legacy #5: Photographing Your Work

Artist Trust is working to expand the awareness, discussion and management related to archiving and documenting artwork through the support of Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) program. The following information is excerpted from the CALL program’s support materials and provided as a resource for visual artists seeking legacy planning and archiving information.

Professional photography can be very expensive, but is often essential for capturing accurate reproductions to use during submission processes and portfolio presentations. Many artists today are shooting their own work digitally. While it is important to capture images of your work for documentation purposes, capturing the best quality possible is even better. Here are two methods by which lighting your work for digital photography can be used and some helpful tips.

1. Decide on your budget: High quality photography can be achieved without spending too much money. Be firm on your budget.

2. Digital cameras: Most point and shoot type cameras fit many budgets. Pick a camera with the highest resolution you can afford. Many are ten megapixel or higher. The higher the megapixel, the higher the resolution. Some cameras offer several image formats: JPEG, TIF, and RAW. RAW is the highest resolution because there isn’t any loss to the image due to compression, but you can still get high quality images with JPEG. TIF is an uncompressed format that many cameras offer today, and is the preferred format for reproduction. If using a point and shoot camera, hot lamps are most likely the only option. Be sure to use the self-timer to avoid shaking the camera while photographing. Always use a tripod. DSLR cameras (digital single lens reflex) are very similar to 35mm film cameras in function and style. They have interchangeable lenses, are more expensive, and can be controlled via computer.

3. Lenses: Zoom in to 50mm or more with point and shoot cameras. This will eliminate barrel distortion or bending of your image. If you are using a DSLR then choose a 50mm or longer lens.

4. Trapezoid: Be sure to keep your camera and your work on the same plane to avoid a trapezoid affect. This is where the bottom of your image is wider than the top.

5. Hot lamps: Depending on what type of lamps used, they can get quite hot. Set them evenly spaced apart and pointing towards your work at 45 degree angles. Generally two lamps are adequate for works on paper 22x30” or smaller. More lamps may be required depending on the size of the work. Take some test shots and check them on your computer for even lighting, vignetting (dark edges), and hot spots (bright circles). Every light has its own color so be sure to use the same lamps on each side for accurate color correcting later.

6. Flash. Strobe systems or “flash” systems require a DSLR generally, although some point and shoot digitals have hot shoes or sync connections. Strobes can be quite expensive. Typically strobes work best with umbrellas. Point the strobes away from the work into the umbrellas, at 45 degree angles from the work. This will provide nice even lighting. White umbrellas are best. The larger the umbrella the larger the light spread. Flash photography is difficult with shiny paint and reflective surfaces, so hot lamps may be the best choice without getting into advanced photography techniques.

7. White balance. Most digital cameras have a white balance setting. Typically shoot the white card and set the camera to the card shot. A color chart is imperative for reproduction. Be sure to mount or place the color chart so it is in the shot. Each photo can be color corrected for reproduction. The color chart is cropped out once the image is corrected.

8. Polarizer. A polarizing filter can be purchased and attached to most DSLR cameras for shooting reflective surfaces and through glass. For instance, shooting framed art works. The polarizer twists to control which light waves pass through the lens, thereby eliminating reflections from glass.