I've had quite a few clients come in recently who have photographed their own artwork and been a bit disappointed when I've explained a few problems they have with their files. I thought I'd share with you a few important points to keep in mind if you want to copy your own art.
Firstly let's understand one thing - it takes a lot more than a 'good camera' to copy a piece of art. Just like it takes more than owning a good oven to cook a great meal. There is a set of skills, knowledge and other equipment required to blend together the ingredients and end up with something edible… or in our case, printable!
Secondly, you need to understand why you want to photograph your own art. Is it to create an image you can use online or do you want to print saleable reproductions from it? The first is easier, the second needs a lot more effort.
So, let's look at the equipment first…
The Camera - there's a lot of cameras on the market, the thing to look for is megapixels - the more the merrier. PLEASE - Do not attempt to copy artwork for reproductions with a compact digital camera. The results might be OK for cards or 5" x 7" prints but anything bigger than that and you simply cannot compete, quality-wise with artists who do it right. There are digital SLR cameras on the market now that are around the $1000-$2000 mark that are usually around 15-20 megapixels, this is really the minimum you want to use. But there are limitations to every camera.
The Lens - Yes, you must consider the lens separate from the camera. Most cameras are sold with "Kit Lenses", these are usually short Zoom lenses made of plastic, very cheap and not very sharp. If you want good reproductions, buy a good 85mm to 135mm fixed focal length lens. Wide angle lenses cause distortion and Zooms are not as sharp.
A Tripod - you simply can't photograph art properly unless you use a tripod. Why? Because you MUST be perfectly square to the art to get all the corners sharp. You can confirm how square-on you are by getting a piece of string and measuring the distance from the centre of the lens to each corner of the artwork.
Lighting - for a DIY kit you really need at least two flash units of equal power, set up on stands with umbrellas to act as reflectors. Don't use straight flash. Using natural light can cause colour issues unless you know how to control White Balance. The lights must be set at a 45 degree angle to the art and at the same height, as shown in the diagram.
The diagram here shows how to set everything up. The blue lines indicate the distance from the lens to the art and must all be equal.
OK, so that's the gear you need, now it's time to get technical and look at the settings you use…
File Type - If your camera offers a RAW setting, please use it. I've discussed JPEG files in earlier posts so won't go into it here. Suffice to say, for the best results, shoot in RAW format.
Colour Space - if your camera offers the AdobeRGB colourspace, use it in preference to sRGB - it will give you a better range of colour tones PROVIDED your whole system is set to AdobeRGB, that is any program you use to work on the images like Photoshop, Lightroom etc. Contact us for more detail if you aren't sure.
ISO - Ideally you should set the camera to 100ISO for best results. The higher the ISO, the more noise you will introduce to the shadow/darker areas of the image.
Aperture - Most lenses work better closed down a little to around f8. Never shoot wide open (f2.8) or fully closed down (f22) - these settings use the extreme outside or centre of the lens elements and will result in a softer image. If using flash, move the units closer or further away to get the right balance.
Shutter Speed - If you are using available light only then this needs to be set for correct exposure to match the ISO and Aperture used. If you have a twin flash set-up, then be sure to set the shutter speed to sync with the flash, usually around 125th will be fine on most DSLR's.
Right - so you've got the right gear, you've set everything up correctly, you've taken your photograph - now what?
Now you have to deal with the image in some sort of software package, perhaps Photoshop. All your good work can be undone here if you don't understand what's required at this point. This blog isn't the place to give you lessons in Photoshop, there are plenty of online resources for that. However, what I will tell you is that your first step is to ensure your monitor is calibrated. You will need a Gretag MacBeth iOne or similar device to do this. The colours you see on your monitor are not guaranteed to be correct - most likely they are not what you will see in print.
I'd suggest you will need to get a test print made. You can order a small print, about A4 size from our web site - www.inkjetlab.com.au - on the paper of your choice and you will then be able to make some educated adjustments for the final image.
The thing most people don't realise is this. Digital cameras are designed to take photographs of a particular size, I've discussed this before. If you are photographing small artwork, you might be OK but anything beyond A3 will require that your file is enlarged beyond what it was designed for and will result in a loss of detail. SO, if you want large reproductions, it might be better to send your artwork to us… nudge, nudge, wink wink, say no more!