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Light Studio Tips

Visual Arts Resource Center

  • Camera Tips
  • Lighting Methods
  • Other Tips

Access to Digital Cameras

The School of Art and Design offers the supervised use of its cameras for classroom project work or portfolio documentation. Students can make an appointment to use these cameras in the Visual Arts Resource Center or within the Visual Arts building. Students may also bring their own cameras to learn tips on taking good photographs of their artwork. Below are tips that may help result in better photographs.

Camera Flash

Always keep the flash off when taking photos of artwork. In low light situations, use a tripod to stabilize the camera during shooting and to avoid the effects of camera shake.

Focus

Most medium-sized consumer level digital cameras have an automatic focus which is activated by lightly pressing and holding the shutter button while pointing to the subject. The shutter button should remain slightly pressed until the image is ready to be captured. At that point, press the shutter button completely. The object being focused, depending on the camera, is usually directed to the camera's sensors through navigation of a crosshair or rectangle in the viewfinder.

Aperture and Shutter Speed

The opening through which rays of light travel is called the aperture, and it is measured on the camera as an "f-stop." The larger the opening the more rays of light are allowed through resulting in a less clear image accept where the lens is focusing. The smaller the opening, the lesser and more orderly the light rays enter through the hole, resulting in a more crisp image—or a greater depth of field. The amount of time that light is allowed through to expose an image is called the shutter speed. The correct balance of f-stop and shutter speed amounts to the proper exposure.

Shooting Modes

Since Auto Mode can have different effects on different cameras, it is recommended to use one of the following camera settings instead—usually set by turning a dial. By changing the setting to one of the modes listed here, one will be able to change the ISO Sensitivity and White Balance (See below)— both important for shooting artwork.

  • “P” for Program: Most cameras have a Program mode which allows for an automatic aperture/shutter speed exposure setting while being able to change other settings. For instance if the aperture is set to its lowest setting, the shutter speed will automatically adjust for a good exposure.

  • “A” for Aperture-Priority: Setting the Aperture to a low number (making the amount of light allowed through greater but the depth of field lower) will make your shutter speed automatically faster. The faster the shutter speed, the less likely you will have a blurred image from camera shake or vibration. Use of a tripod should eliminate the any blurring issue as long as the camera is achieving a good focus.
  • “S” for Shutter-Priority: Setting the shutter speed low (making the amount of time light is allowed through longer) will make your aperture automatically a greater number (a smaller amount—allowing for a greater depth of field). The faster the shutter speed, the less likely you will have a blurred image from camera shake or vibration. Use of a tripod should eliminate the any blurring issue as long as the camera is achieving a good focus.
  • “M” for Manual: In this setting, you have full control over the exposure. On most digital cameras, your viewfinder or display screen will preview the lightness or darkness of the exposure before you press the shutter button. Using this setting you may keep the aperture wide open and adjust your exposure by taking several shots with different shutter speeds.

Resolution

Most people keep the resolution at the highest setting when capturing images since memory cards have such a great capacity today. You will probably always want to have a copy of your images at their highest resolution for better quality in printing and enlargement.

Resolution for PowerPoints and Screen Presentation

If you are creating images for PowerPoint, for most situations you will want to reduce the resolution before you import them into the slide show. The image quality on a digital slide show is no better when you import a 300 dpi image to it than when you import a 96 dpi image to it. However, you will experience a slower performance of your slide show if you import high-resolution images. You may also want to reduce the file size before you upload images to a web site or through Email. You can reduce the image resolution in most image-editing applications.

ISO Sensitivity - Keep at 200 or lower for higher quality images

Sensitivity is a measure of how quickly the camera reacts to light. The higher the sensitivity, the less light needed to make an exposure. Although a high ISO rating is suitable for shooting pictures of subjects in action or in poor lighting, high sensitivity is often associated with “noise” — randomly spaced, brightly colored pixels that are most noticeably concentrated in the dark parts of the image.

White Balance - Set for the temperature of the light in which you are photographing

Digital cameras can mimic the human eye's ability to adapt to color changes of light by processing images so white objects appear white whether seen in yellow incandescent light or in the cool shade of a cloudy sky. This adjustment is the “white balance.” For natural coloration, choose a white balance setting that matches the light source before shooting. Although the default setting “Auto” can be used under most types of lighting, you can apply the white balance setting suited to a particular light source to achieve more accurate results.

Methods for photographing artwork for your portfolio

Equipment for unframed works on paper

  • Camera (A point-and-shoot version digital with medium to high resolution—at least 5 megapixels)
  • Backing surface (any rigid surface that is larger than the artwork to be photgraphed such as a drawing board, plywood, homasote, or corkboard)
  • Easel (or something that will hold the backing surface or painting upright)
  • Low-tack masking tape, bulldog clips, or pins

Equipment for three-dimensional works

  • Camera (A point-and-shoot version digital with medium to high resolution—at least 5 megapixels)
  • Backdrop that provides a plain unobtrusive setting for the object (usually a neutral gray, white, or black)
  • Tungsten, halogen, or flourescent directable lamps, preferably with softboxes or other light diffusion materials
  • Black or dark-colored fabric (to block reflections of tripod and photographer on artworks with reflective surfaces)
  • Low-tack masking tape and propping items (to make certain items stand in space)

Choose a method for photographing instructions

Method 1 – two-dimensional artwork - outdoor without lighting equipment

  1. Begin by choosing a well-lit but low-glare place to shoot—preferably in the shade or during an overcast day to avoid shadows and glare.
  2. Hang your artwork on a vertical surface with the center of the work facing out approximately at eye level.
  3. Measure the height to the center of the artwork using a tape measure.
  4. Set your camera on its tripod and use the height you just measured to adjust the height of the camera. Measure to the center of your lens.
  5. Your camera’s distance to the artwork should be determined by your lens’s angle of view. Be sure to fill as much of the image frame as is possible without cropping out any of the artwork.
  6. Examine the edges and corners of the art through the viewfinder to be sure there is no distortion or key stoning (when one side appears longer that a parallel side).
  7. Set your camera to its highest resolution setting and to its lowest ISO rating for the highest quality images possible.
  8. Set your camera to its manual, program, or aperture-priority setting (do not use "auto"). For proper exposure use a hand-held light meter. If this is not available use the photo grey card to take an in-camera light meter reading. Set your camera's aperture and shutter speed based upon your light meter reading.
    • Note: As long as the light does not change significantly, this exposure will provide good results for each piece photographed. There is no need to re-meter. Please note that once the gray card is taken away, the meter may indicate overexposure or underexposure, particularly if the piece is predominantly dark or light. Do not make any changes. Continue using the reading from the gray card.
    • Another way to rest assured that you get a good exposure is by bracketing. If you have manual exposure capability, this means that you can adjust the exposure up or down according the the camera's suggested meter reading.
    • If you are using a point-and-shoot automatic-only camera, you may not have the option to change the exposure, causing some works to have off-balance color or values. On some auto-only cameras you can expose correctly by pointing focus crosshairs of the viewfinder on the area of the object for which want to expose the image and simultaneously half-way hold-down the shutter button as you redirect the camera to the composition you want. Then push the shutter button all the way down.
  9. Now you are ready to begin photographing your work.

 

Method 2 – two-dimensional artwork - indoor with lighting equipment

Follow steps 2-8 from method 1 above then...

  1. Set up your lights.
    • For best results, whether using strobe lighting or high quality tungsten lighting, place lights at an equal distance from your artwork, at approximately 30º angles, being sure to avoid glare. The height of your lights should be on center with your artwork.
  2. Now you are ready to begin photographing your work.


Method 3 - three-dimensional artwork – outdoor without lighting equipment

  1. Begin by choosing a well-lit but low-glare place to shoot. Preferably in the shade or during an overcast day.
  2. Place a table up against a wall. Use push pins or tape to attach neutral gray paper or fabric to the wall above the table, allowing it to sweep down covering the table. Make sure the paper/fabric arcs gently between the wall and the table.
  3. If the artwork is producing a lot of glare, the light may be diffused holding sheets of tracing paper or vellum in between the light and the subject. This will soften the light and prevent highlights. See also the tips section for more ideas.
  4. Set your camera on its tripod and adjust the height so it is at a low-enough angle to permit a direct view to the front, sides, and back of the work. Also be sure to level your camera using the bubble level to match your art.
  5. Your camera’s distance to the artwork should be determined by your lens’s angle of view. Use your artistic judgement to determine the amount of background space needed to properly display the movement of the work.
  6. Set your camera to its highest resolution setting and to its lowest ISO rating for the highest quality images possible.
  7. Use a hand-held light meter to achieve proper exposure. If not available use the photo grey card to take an in-camera light meter reading. Set your camera's aperture and shutter based upon your light meter reading. If you are using a point-and-shoot automatic-only camera, you may not have the option to change the exposure, causing some works to have off-balance color or values.
    • Note: As long as the light does not change significantly, this exposure will provide good results for each piece photographed. There is no need to re-meter. Please note that once the gray card is taken away, the meter may indicate overexposure or underexposure, particularly if the piece is predominantly dark or light. Do not make any changes. Continue using the reading from the gray card.
    • Another way to rest assured that you get a good exposure is by bracketing. If you have manual exposure capability, this means that you can adjust the exposure up or down according the the camera's suggested meter reading.
    • If you are using a point-and-shoot automatic-only camera, you may not have the option to change the exposure, causing some works to have off-balance color or values. On some auto-only cameras you can expose correctly by pointing focus crosshairs of the viewfinder on the area of the object for which want to expose the image and simultaneously half-way hold-down the shutter button as you redirect the camera to the composition you want. Then push the shutter button all the way down.
  8. Now you are ready to begin photographing your work.

Method 4 -  three-dimensional artwork – indoor with lighting equipment

  1. Place a table up against a wall. Use push pins or tape to attach neutral gray paper or fabric to the wall above the table allowing it to sweep down covering the table. Make sure the paper/fabric arcs gently between the wall and the table.
  2. Place one light on the work as the main or "key" light preferably coming from and angle and from above. The second light should be further away from the subject to help fill in the shadows created by the first light on the opposite. Avoid creating distracting shadows on the background.
  3. If the artwork is producing a lot of glare, the light may be diffused holding sheets of tracing paper or vellum in between the light and the subject. This will soften the light and prevent highlights. See also the tips section for more ideas.
  4. Set your camera on its tripod so the height of the camera is pointed directly into or slightly above the front, side, or back portions of the work. Also be sure to level your camera using the bubble level to match your art.
  5. Your camera’s distance to the artwork should be determined by your lens’s angle of view. Use your artistic judgement to determine the amount of background space needed to properly display the movement of the work.
  6. Set your camera to its highest resolution setting and to its lowest ISO rating for the highest quality images possible.
  7. Use a hand-held light meter to achieve proper exposure. If not available use the photo grey card to take an in-camera light meter reading. Set your camera's aperture and shutter based upon your light meter reading. If you are using a point-and-shoot automatic-only camera, you may not have the option to change the exposure, causing some works to have off-balance color or values.
    • Note: As long as the light does not change significantly, this exposure will provide good results for each piece photographed. There is no need to re-meter. Please note that once the gray card is taken away, the meter may indicate overexposure or underexposure, particularly if the piece is predominantly dark or light. Do not make any changes. Continue using the reading from the gray card.
    • Another way to rest assured that you get a good exposure is by bracketing. If you have manual exposure capability, this means that you can adjust the exposure up or down according the the camera's suggested meter reading.
    • If you are using a point-and-shoot automatic-only camera, you may not have the option to change the exposure, causing some works to have off-balance color or values. On some auto-only cameras you can expose correctly by pointing focus crosshairs of the viewfinder on the area of the object for which want to expose the image and simultaneously half-way hold-down the shutter button as you redirect the camera to the composition you want. Then push the shutter button all the way down.
  8. Now you are ready to begin photographing your work.


 

Tips:

Avoiding glare

  • Move lights to alternate positions changing the angle of reflection.
  • If shooting artwork that is showing a lot of reflection, use black paper or mat board to help eliminate the reflection.
  • If lights are causing glare, increase the angle of the lights or move further to the sides of the artwork until the reflection is no longer visible.
  • If available, the use of an overhead diffused light source (like a softbox) will greatly aid in photographing 3D works and help create a gradated background for your work.
  • The use of white foam board or mat board can greatly help in evening lighting with 3D works. Use these to help reflect the light onto your objects. This can even replace the use of your fill light.

Color balance

  • Be sure that your light source and your camera are set up the same. If in daylight use the daylight color balance setting, tungsten light (like clamp lights or incandescent bulbs) requires a lower color balance setting at 3200ºk (tungsten). If using strobe lighting, your color balance should be daylight.

Getting your digital images ready for submission

  • Image size and resolution.

    • Be sure to check the specifics required for the portfolio you are submitting to. Be sure not to submit an incorrect size, resolution, or file format. Some general rules of thumb for resolution are as follows:
      • Professional printing 300 dpi
      • Inkjet or lazer printers 150 dpi
      • Powerpoint, PDF, or web presentations 72dpi
  • File format

    • While there are many formats the most common are jpeg and tiff. These are accepted and opened by the majority of computers and applications. Use these to be safe. Jpeg is the most common as it requires the least amount of disk space and can be shared the most easily.
  • As there are a countless number of image preparation applications, it would be to difficult to describe all of them and their functions, there are a few universal functions that will be applicable to you.

    • Crop – use this tool to cut away excess image or background that is unnecessary to describing your artwork. Adobe Photoshop has a "Perspective" attribute checkbox you can select to remove keystoning that may exist in the image of your two-dimensional artwork.
    • Resize – this allows you to set image size and resolution (again, check the specifics outlined in the portfolio).
    • Brightness and contrast – be careful with these and use with caution. These tools can ruin an otherwise acceptable image and once your’ve gone to far you can’t go back.. Your monitor may not be very accurate, if you have the ability to check numeric values of RGB (red, green and blue) be sure that your image highlights don’t exceed 245 and that your shadows don’t go below 15 for each of the colors.
  • Saving and naming your images

    • FOLDER: Save your files in a folder that is clearly labeled and easy to find on your disk. Double check once you burn your disk to be sure that all the images are there. You don’t want to be overlooked for a simple error.
    • FILENAME: Unless you are submitting images to be adjudicated anonymously (like for a juried exhibition), it is important to at least include your last name in the file name. You may also want to include an abbreviated title or descriptive keyword. Avoid using spaces and any non-alphanumeric characters except the _underscore and period.
    • METADATA: It is possible to embed into your digital images invisible text metadata that certain computer applications can read and write. This additional technology allows you to tag your image with your copyright, descriptive information, and many other types of information that identify the image with its creator. This, in addition to the file name, can be used to make sure your work is attributed to the correct person when it is copied on differtent systems. Adobe Bridge and Photoshop, as well as many other non-Adobe applications have this image metadata read/write capability. More information about this can be found at http://www.iptc.org/. Search for links to "Photo Metadata." Another place to get more information about this technology is http://metadatadeluxe.pbworks.com/

 

 

 

 

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