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How to photograph art that is behind glass, is glass or is glossy like glass includes new info including some step-by-step instructions.
All Contents Copyright 2007-2014 by J R Compton. Do Not Reproduce this page, just email the link. This page is updated and/or corrected often. A copy won't be.

How to Photograph Art
or just about anything else


 

Kathy Boortz - Exacting Fiddler - Photograph Copyright 2011 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Kathy Boortz   Exacting Fiddler   approximately life size

We photographed Kathy's meticulous crab on a white board. Later, using Photoshop I filled every space and deleted every mark that's not crab and lightened the background till the shadows looked right. Then I inverted the selection to set the crab's Levels.

If your art involves color, shape, dimension or texture, direct sunlight is the best light source, and it is widely available on this planet. Not talking about full — or open — shade (illuminated by the overly blue sky above), not dappled light (like from a tree's varying shadows), not overcast sky light (when the sun goes behind a cloud), but direct light beamed down 93 million miles from our local star.

Direct sunlight, however, is not always available, and other natural and unnatural light sources have their qualities, too. (See Other Light, below.) They're just not as good nor cheap nor easy to deal with as the light from the sun.

 
 

Fill the frame

Whatever size your camera's sensor or film is, if you fill the frame with your art — get close enough so the art nearly fills the viewfinder/LCD — you'll make the best use of whatever resolution your camera has. That's true whether you use one of the dinky Point+Shoot cameras with a pinky-fingernail-sized sensor or one of the much larger sensors on an expensive full-frame digital Single Lens Reflex or any other camera.

All other conditions being equal — and they never are — the bigger the sensor, the better the quality of the image. See Comparative Sensor Sizes below.

See Wide Angle Warning [below]
 

Julia McLain - Howdy Do Ma'am - Photograph Copyright 2011 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Julia McLain   Howdy Do Ma'am   acrylic    24 x 24 inches
 

Photographed hand-held under tungsten lights on a wall in a gallery with a Canon S90 after setting the precise white balance.

 
 

Focus

Nothing can save it if you don't get the image in focus. Check and double-check apparent sharpness. If your camera will let you, magnify the image on your LCD at least 5 times (5x). Some amateur cameras may not zoom that far, but if it's sharp blown up 3 - 5 times, it'll be probably be sharp enough.

Also realize that some cameras will allow you to magnify (zoom into) images so much that everything looks out of focus, even when they are sharp. Experience should be your guide; it helps to know your camera. My dSLR (digital Single Lens Reflex) lets me blow images up to 20 times their size, and at that size, it can be very confusing. If I tap the enlarge-image button only 5, not the full 8 times, I get a better idea of what's actually sharp. Your camera may vary.

Sharpening images at the end of post-production — after you've adjusted everything else — is often helpful, but it's a tricky game best applied when you make images smaller. I usually sharpen photographic images just before I publish them online. Different cameras and different lenses all change how much an image needs to be sharpened.

Also be aware that the LCDs on the back of most cameras show much higher contrast than the image file really has. The unmagnified image usually looks sharp, and that can mislead you. Magnify the image to be sure.

 
 

Depth of Field

 

Depth of Field

On their Depth of Field page, Wikipedia defines Depth of Field (DOF): "In optics, particularly as it relates to film and photography, the depth of field is the portion of a scene that appears acceptably sharp in the image. Although a lens can precisely focus at only one distance, the decrease in sharpness is gradual on each side of the focused distance, so that within the DOF, the unsharpness is imperceptible under normal viewing conditions."

On the bottom of this Photozone page, there's an interactive image similar to the illustration above, that lets you mouse-over four subsequent f-stops arranged horizontally above the image to show what happens when you "stop the lens down." It's the best interactive image I've found that directly shows depth of field.

Wikipedia also says:

Many photographers believe that 1/3 of the DOF [depth of field] is in front of the subject, and 2/3 is beyond, but this is not strictly true, except at the hyperfocal distance, which is too complicated to go into here. It is true that "the DOF beyond the subject in sharp focus is [almost] always greater than the DOF in front of the subject."

Photographing most two-dimensional art does not require much depth unless there are large protrusions from the plane of art, but three-dimensional art usually needs more. So just focusing on the front edge of a sculpture may not render the whole piece acceptably sharp. Instead, focus maybe 1/3 into the full depth of the piece.

If you are photographing two or more different artworks in the same shot, be sure the important portions are the same distance from the camera — that usually means lining them up so faces, torsos or the most important parts or details are aligned, so they'll be in the best focus, even if other, less important parts, are not.

Be sure to use the depth of field you actually have. Stopping the lens down — making the aperture smaller (the f-number higher) does increase the depth of field. But it only works to a point. Especially with digital cameras, smaller apertures — after f11 or f16 — render lower image quality. See the Lenstip lens test below. Photozone — see their test of the same lens [also below] — often doesn't even test past f11, because tiny-aperture shots usually have much less quality than wider apertures. When photographing flat work that doesn't need much depth of field, use the optimal aperture.

Dylan Bennett has a really informative and helpful (but math-filled) video explaining f/stops and aperture.

 

 

How many images?

Kathy Boortz - Starry Night Peacock - full profile view - Photograph Copyright 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Kathy Boortz   Starry Night Peacock   full profile view
 

A full, front or side view gives the viewer a fair idea about what the piece is about. But some important details may not be visible in the full view. This sculpture is called Starry Night Peacock, and from this angle we only get a glimpse of its Starry aspect. This photograph was made in diffused daylight filtering through trees, on the artist's deck.
 

The purpose of allowing 3-D artists to enter up to three images of their work into art competitions and only allowing 2-D artists one, is so 3-D artists can show more sides and details. Detail images need not render the entire piece in sharp focus, and one of the better ways to show which detail is important, is to concentrate focus there.
 

Kathy Boortz - Starry Night Peacock - tail detail - Photograph Copyright 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Kathy Boortz   Starry Night Peacock   (detail)   rear quarter view
 

Sculptors do not give the whole story away from just one view. To fully enjoy sculpture, we need to see it from different angles. The same goes for photographing it. This back view shows the business end of this piece, in all its colorful Van Gogh-like glory.
 

Kathy Boortz - Starry Night Peacock - feet detail       Kathy Boortz   Starry Night Peacock   Neck and Head Detail - Photograph Copyright 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Kathy Boortz   Starry Night Peacock  feet   and   neck and head details
 

And there's still more to know about the piece, so why not throw in a few more details. I usually shoot more than three, then the artist can choose which to use for different purposes. When I shoot Kathy Boortz' work, I know she will send them to clients and galleries, too, of course. But she also keeps images of her special details to help her remember how she did parts of the work, like feet, faces and long, elegant necks.


When artists enter images for competitions, they are usually allowed one image for flat work or three for three-dimensional art. Anytime you photograph sculpture, you should shoot each piece from a variety of angles and distances — even if you are not entering a competition.

The first image should be an overall front or front quarter view (if you can figure out what that is) showing the full height, width and as much of the depth as possible. Choose the piece's best angle, and light it so it genuinely looks three-dimensional. [See lighting suggestion below]. You could simply shoot more full shots from different angles, but that's visually boring, and many sculptors opt instead for detail views.

Details show important parts or detailed textures or give more of a sense of the quality throughout the work. When I shoot Kathy Boortz art, I shoot full shots from various angles, then close-ups of feet, face and other noticeable details. At Joel Cooner Gallery, I look for details that show condition, patina, figuration or texture. If someone important has signed or stamped it, the signature will be important. Except for my use in a DallasArtsRevue.com review, I rarely limit myself to just three or four or five shots of a piece.

Digital Art Competition Info

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Color

We think of sunlight as yellow, because we think the sun is yellow. But it isn't. The light it shines is blue, because our local star burns blue hot (about 6,000 kelvin.) Kelvin is usually expressed as a number in hundreds or thousands. We usually do not notice the color of sunlight because it is the light we expect. Our brains automatically adjust for the differences from one light source color to another, but film and digital cameras do not.

The purpose of color balance is to render the same colors under a variety of light sources, so what you are photographing looks very nearly the same whether the object was photographed in Daylight, under tungsten or fluorescent or other lamps. As usual, perfection is unlikely, but it is possible to get the colors under differing illumination, to render almost the same.

If you use light other than the mid-day (approximately 10 am till 4 pm) sun, accurately rendered colors are less likely. Early morning, late afternoon and evening sunlight appears redder, and as lovely and "romantic" as that can look, it is not much good for photographing art.

Under midday direct sunlight, colors are easy. Most film and nearly all digital cameras (unless set otherwise) expect and assume sunlight. If you use any other color of light, getting accurate colors is guesswork. Anything but sunlight tends to be confusing to both users and cameras/film, although much can be done to "balance" the colors.

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Adjusting what we see as white

Thank goodness for digital cameras with adjustable White Balance settings.[The word "settings" refers to manipulations cameras and lenses allow. White Balance settings change the way a camera renders color in different colors of light.

Vimeo has a brutally simple video that explains white balance visually. They show many photographic settings in 90-second videos that, though they teach videography, also apply to photography.

Other important camera or lens settings include shutter-speed, aperture (f-stop), focus, Exposure Value (EV) and ISO, some of which will be explored on this page. There are also flash and many other settings. Basically, anything you can change on a camera is a setting, because we "set" them.

Some digital cameras have manual White Balance, and most automatic White Balance features on digital cameras (including expensive ones) don't work well under all colors of light. Many Canon and Nikon cameras, even the most expensive ones, provide notoriously bad White Balance under tungsten lights (Or else they believe consumers want to render light bulb light as orange). You have to check feature lists and read camera reviews carefully to determine if your chosen camera will do what you want it to do.

My Nikon DX (APS-C) cameras allow me to click a dial to set differing color balance adjustments for a variety of light sources, so I can dial the exact color in kelvin for almost any light source (halogen, fluorescent, tungsten, candle or sunlight under differing circumstances), but it's still iffy with mixed light sources — like daylight plus the dreaded fluorescent, or other light source combinations, and its automatic white balance fares poorly (renders them as orange) with ordinary light bulbs (the kinds you can buy in the grocery or hardware stories — I usually prefer 60 - 100 watts.

Nikon's White Balance procedure is difficult to remember. On my much smaller and less expensive Panasonic G5 I usually use to photograph art for DallasArtsRevue.com, I click a menu option, push two buttons while filling a smaller frame with something I know is white or gray or all colors, push another button, and the color balance is immediately adjusted. It's simple, and it's effective.

Mixed light sources — like galleries with big windows and light bulbs — can vary color by the inch from warm to cool. And homes with mixed lighting can be a nightmare to adjust. It's often best to turn off all the lights, then turn on only the ones you are sure of. Sometimes I can set the camera before I shoot. Sometimes, when I shoot Raw, I can change the color in Photoshop later. Sometimes I can't do either.

In general though, once you get the white parts of an image to render as white, the other colors will render correctly.

 
 

the box showing blue - copyright 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Shannon Brunskill   Staying to live, dying to escape   April 7-8 2012   wood box   ncorrected version with Daylight Blue showing
 

Note the blue light (not visible when I shot it) on the legs of the stool, the left-most plane of the box and the wall behind. With the camera set to Tungsten for the bulbs in 500X Gallery, light coming in from nearby windows and a freight door opened for the breeze, renders blue and bluish.
 

Shannon Brunskill - Staying to live, dying to escape - photograph copyright 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Shannon Brunskill   Staying to live, dying to escape   April 7-8 2012   wood box    correct version

Not a problem to get rid of in this situation, since there's no other blue in the picture (lucky me.), but when removing daylight blue from a full-spectrum painting or sculpture illuminated by tungsten lighting, the color shift might be more of a challenge. I could have desaturated the blues and cyans or dialed those colors back to yellowish — the real Photoshop usually offers several ways to do anything. This image is from a series of stories about performance art.
 

Mixing light sources can be a hassle, as only hinted about in these images. If you are shooting "indoor" film or digital with indoor lights, and there is an unblocked window letting in outside light (which is probably brighter and more blue than anything indoors), so it shines on or reflects in your art, your art may be rendered blue instead of the color you expect — as happened above.

If you shoot art inside or near color objects, those objects' color(s) can reflect in the art. I loved my Parrot Green living room, but I knew better than to photograph art there, because when I did, the green walls turned art a sickly shade. Our brains adjust. Cameras don't.

Colored walls and ceilings are prime suspects for color shifts, but if you have a big red couch where it can reflect in your art, it can make your art pink. Even outside, a big green tree, a bright yellow garage or red bricks can subtly or substantially alter color. The blue paint on the ceiling of your porch can ruin warm hues. Mine used to, till I had the ceiling painted white.
 

White Balance Symbols

The different types/colors of light some cameras can adjust to
and the icons many cameras use to indicate them
 

Most cameras can be adjusted to render different colors of light so they appear normal. This adjustment is called White Balance [See Color and White Balance above].

Household / tungsten bulbs — including those used extensively outside at night — are usually symbolized by a light bulb in your camera's menus. Daylight - sunshine icon, or fluorescent - usually a tube-like icon. I stick with low wattages (100 or less), so they don't heat up the room. If you're not sure about all this light color business, use blue Daylight fluorescent or Daylight tungsten bulbs and set the camera to daylight (sunshine icon). Avoid using photoflood (with built-in reflector to concentrate light in one direction). They're hot and expensive. All bulbs break easily, some explode upon impact. Sometimes a drop of water or sweat explodes them.

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The difference between the colors we see and what a digital camera sees

spectrum difference

Something else you need to be aware of is the difference between what digital cameras "see" and what humans without color blindness see. (Men have colorblindness much more often than women do.) This image is from an ad for FullSpectrumRGB, software that supposedly made digital images more color correct. (I suspect it didn't work well, or they poorly marketed the product, because the site is gone.) There's an elderly discussion of the product on Luminous Landscape.

What's missing in most digital images are subtle variations in red, orange, purple and violet. I didn't try the software, but I'm curious about it, because some artists complain that digital photographs do not accurately reproduce all the colors in their art. On some occasions, I have had them look over my shoulder as I adjusted their precise colors in Photoshop.

Of course, serious painters probably already know that the same piece of art looks different in different qualities of light. Cloudy skies render color differently than bright sunlight. Daylight is blue. Shade is bluer. Tungsten is red. Fluorescents are green and sometimes blue. If you shoot the same piece in differing light without adjusting your camera — or if a mix of light types illuminate the same piece of art, the resulting images will not match the colors as we usually perceive them as in the original — it won't look right.

Sometimes I have the piece I've shot right there for reference when I work the images up. When I work up most artist's work later, I have to guess — or have them check the colors. When used correctly, Photoshop's control/command l (That's a lowercase, not capital L.) shows very nearly exactly what the original tonal range looks like.

See The Correct Way to Adjust Levels in Photoshop [below].

Painters tend to have better color memories than I do. Again, women are better at it than men.


 

Dayak Dragon - photo by J R Compton

Dayak Dragon   wood carving with natural pigment by the Dayak people of Borneo
 

Other light

Sunlight is not a perfect lighting solution. Sometimes it rains or snows or is mostly cloudy. Sometimes the sky turns green and the sun disappears into tornado-like clouds. Often it's more comfortable or convenient to photograph art indoors.
 

Light Kits

One light on a 6' or taller stand can be barely sufficient to illuminate flat art, like paintings and drawings on textured canvas or paper — and almost anything else. Use a light stand so you can easily adjust its height, angle and distance, and parabolic-shaped metal reflectors so the light can be concentrated in one direction and precisely aimed. Many camera stores will sell you a set of two or three reflector lights on stands for under $200, often with cute little white umbrellas that look spiffy, but really don't help much — unless you really know what you're doing.

Umbrellas are good for diffusing or softening light, especially for portraits, but the ones in inexpensive lighting sets are translucent, meaning much of the light goes through them instead of being reflected back, and they don't always work the way you expect. So, like almost everything else in photography, they need experimentation. See a quick introduction to How to Use Umbrellas on YouTube or read Photography Tips and Tricks.

B&H has a page-full of inexpensive light kits, the low-cost kit you may need is two for $109. This single-stand light with diffusion umbrella from Amazon is probably all you really need, for $90.

Avoid using clip-on lights. They are very difficult to raise high or position correctly, and they love to jump off things they're supposedly clipped to at inopportune moments, although they sometimes make a lovely sploosh sound and shatter tiny shards of glass everywhere.

If you buy a "kit" with high-wattage bulbs, replace them with much lower wattage bulbs — I like 100150-watt household bulbs that are cooler, cheaper to buy and use, easier to find and much less dangerous — the higher the wattage, the hotter the bulb and the room. And don't forget to use them at night or with all other [colors of] illumination eliminated.

Or use Daylight blue ones with all the non-Daylight blue lights off.

NOTE: A few years ago, on a quick whim, I bought a set of three very high intensity bulbs in reflectors on sturdy light stands from a friend. I didn't know then how difficult it would be to find replacement bulbs, but they weren't expensive, at all, but once I found them online at B&H Photo (because they have or have access to an incredible array of photo-related equipment, including thosevery specialized bulbs). I bought several times what I thought I might need in the coming years, and now I wish I'd bought even more.

But it is amazing to be able to use that much light. I'm sure the light kit's original price was in excess of the $100 I paid, and I suspect the difficulty — I had to wait five months for the bulbs to come through — was why it was offered to me at that bargain rate. But having that much light that I can mostly control, is stunning.

I just didn't want you to think I only ever use household bulbs, even though they're great for most uses.

It's the control that matters, not the wattage.

 

J R's Great Light Tent Experiment
 

Kathy Boortz - Giocometti - Photograph Copyright 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.  

Kathy Boortz   Giocometti   2012   carved and painted found wood and painted found metal

Photographed using a Panasonic Lumix G2 camera with a 14-42mm zoom kit lens
 
 

It's a lot of sculpture with a smallish, life-sized, sculptured bird, and although the tent itself usually shows white, I made it gray in Photoshop to set off those bright colors and especially the bright white eyes.

For a couple years I experimented with a light tent [The linked Amazon page offers specifics and instructions. I don't earn money by linking Amazon stuff here.] Essentially, it is a white, translucent, thin-metal-framed cube with an opening to poke your camera through, which then can be Velcroed over with more white translucent material that is included in the purchase. Although once the lighting was set, I sometimes left the "door" open to shoot through it from anywhere in the room in front of it, depending upon on the kind of effect I wanted.

The white material that covers the cube frame diffuses (spreads out or softens) otherwise direct light, so the dimensionality of objects can be obvious without harsh shadows. It can be a very pleasing light.

Tents come in various sizes. My 40-inch tent was too big for small objects, but a good fit for larger pieces like this one, although I probably should get a smaller one for smaller pieces, too. The tents are not expensive, and they fold flat — like flexible metal-framed car sun shades. I pose smaller pieces on white Styrofoam boxes, and Kathy Boortz welded and painted white a simple frame that fits inside the tent, so I can hang her tall, hanging pieces.

There's also pyramid-shaped light "boxes" for shooting jewelry so the tent reflects white into almost all its reflective surfaces. Amazon has one, although the one person there who reviewed it, obviously hadn't figured out how to use it, and I haven't checked back.

Lights are arranged around the outside and top. Putting lights where I'd put them without the tent seems to work well. Failing to think outside the cube, I at first neglected to point light down into the top or into the back of the box (with a boom light or tall stand), so don't park it against a wall like I did at first. Smaller tents make top-down or back-lighting easier.

Working with a light cube is never simple. One needs many more sources of light than my simple, one- or two-bulb setups,

When the object is lighted perfectly, the tent interior often is not, so I maske everything in Photoshop that is not object and make it an even white or gray, as in the image above.

Using a light tent was an experiment, and in the end, I folded it up and stored it. Now I just set up small objects on a table using white cardboard sheets for base and background. That way, I don't lose so much light bouncing through the tent, I can more precisely aim however many lamps to shine where I need the light, and it's a lot cooler.

The more lights you use, the hotter it gets. I live in Texas, and that room isn't air-conditioned, so I couldn't use it in late spring, summer or early fall, which greatly limited its usefulness, and it obliterated valuable space in my dining room. Maybe I should have got more lights but I prefer to keep it simple and cool.

Over the years, I've learned to appreciate having one light behind, usually at an angle, so it doesn't shine into the lens, and some sort of fill from the front. [See the second image down for an example.] That shows medium and small sculpture well by defining it with the shadows that back-light creates, then filling in some (not all) the shadows with a large white sheet of cardboard, foamcore or something similar. I've learned that using lamp(s) for fill makes it too easy to destroy that delicate balance.

Larger sculptures are a different issue. For very large ones, I check the light on it at different times of day till I find a sun angle that gives me the sense of dimension I want while providing enough fill to see the colors and design.

If I set up a studio somewhere I didn't also have to live in, I might break out the tent again, or get a smaller one to match the sculpture sizes I usually photograph, and leave up.
 
 

Flash

On-camera or built-in electronic flash is a problematic light source, especially when used too close to the subject, because it tends to over-expose highlight areas and create under-exposed shadows under noses and chins on people and any protrusions in art — including frames, mat boards and textures.

Sunlight outside or continuous lights on stands inside are easier to use, because you can see the immediate effect, and you can easily change them by changing the art's position toward the sun or re-aiming the lights or using a fill. Fill can be used with flash, too. But it is more difficult to aim a flash, because you can't see what it does, and as I keep mentioning, LCDs are too contrasty to show subtle lighting.

Unless you really know what you are doing, don't get involved with multiple flash units as light sources. They are complex electronic devices and can either put you in the poor house or confuse you indefinitely. Simpler is better; light you can see is easier to adjust than light that's only there for a thousandth of a second, and I've only rarely used multiple flash units (mostly when I used to photograph jazz musicians in dark clubs).

Big strobes are good for throwing tons of light in professional studios, but all you need is enough light to expose your art at low ISO. Long exposures and smallish apertures (down to f11) are not a problem if you have your camera on a sturdy tripod. It is not uncommon to use exposures of many seconds. If my camera shoots at a fraction of a second, I know I left the ISO set too high.

Once you get your lights arranged so they produce decent photographs, it might be helpful if you either keep them up or stick bits of tape where they go, so next time, setup will be quicker and easier.

 
 

Studio

Almost any room can serve as a studio, although the more clear floor space there is around the subject, the better. All-white walls may be a temptation, but if the one or central part of that wall facing flat art is black, or non-reflective black (like velvet or felt), you'll get fewer reflections or less glare. Opaque curtained windows make it easier to only have one light source illuminating the subject.
 
 

Renoir - Onions detail  - photo copyright JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir   Onions   detail   1881   oil on canvas   15.38 x 23.88 inches
photographed during a Press Opening at the Kimbell Art Museum
 

Gallery

Large paintings illuminated with overhead light (like in most museums and galleries) tend to be too bright at the top, where one corner often gets more light than the other, and the bottom of the art tend to be too dark. Art in galleries is often lighted in an over-brightened swath across the middle that you may not notice, but your camera will. On-camera flash can even out some of those variations out, but flash [above] brings its own issues. Among those issues is that most museums and galleries prohibit their use except when they're paying you to photograph the work.

Sometimes apparently over-bright light on a textured surface helps make those exquisite textures more obvious, as in my photograph of Renoir's Onions above. (I did not use a flash. The the Kimbel's lights provided the glare.)

Art illuminated by two or more types of lighting — tungsten, daylight and/or fluorescent, like what happens in many commercial galleries, can change color casts by the inch, so we either have to make several white balance readings and average them out, or come back at night and turn on just the tungsten lights — or bring our own, but that gets too complex to describe in any detail here.

When reflections show in art behind glass photographed close, it sometimes helps to back up across the space and use a telephoto lens's shallower depth of field and differing angle of view to help hide or obliterate reflections.

I'd recommend always using a tripod when photographing art in galleries, except that I usually use a small, hand-held camera that I don't put on a tripod — especially for opening reception art events, where I'd become a hazard. But I rarely shoot whole gallery shows.

When I do, I find it helpful to use a good tripod and movable lights on stands. Unfortunately, using multiple light sources for multiple planes of light (paintings, drawings, etc.) tends to create visually confusing shadows. Gallery scenes are okay for showing what a whole show looks like, but those photographs are no substitute for photographs of the individual images.
 
 

Sculpture & Three-dimensional Art

J R Compton   Daisy Open Book

J R Compton   Daisy Open Book   October 24 2011   digital photograph

One light shining from the back (top) and only slightly left, and one 8 x 9-inch Styrofoam packing sheet just out of view at the bottom (front, looking down at the box), bounces some light back into the shadows, so there are plenty of details, gives this piece (The art is the photograph of this collection of objects.) plenty of light, color and a strong sense of depth. This photo was made informally on a small portion of the desk in my office, looking down on the flower box.  

Photographed using a Panasonic Lumix G2.
 

Large or small, for three-dimensional art I usually use one light and a white foam board reflector (commonly used for packing) angled so it reflects some of the main light back into the subject ("fill") instead of two lights. You could use another light to fill in some of the shadows, so they don't photograph as black pits. But the reflector is easier to get the light right, and it significantly diffuses it so it looks softer.

When I'm photographing very small items, I sometimes use a hand-held piece of typing paper to provide fill, while using the camera's self-timer to fire the shutter. That habit started when I knocked over a light stand and bent the reflector nearly off (so the electric parts never worked again), but one light and one reflector worked so well, I kept at it, except when dealing with multiple, very large or multiple very large objects.

If you think you just have to use two lights, one should be — as in this photo — above and behind the art, to cast shadows that show the work's depth. Then set up the other light with the same or lower wattage so it partially fills the shadows cast by that first light. This creates the kind of lighting our eyes expect, so your art will look normal and correct — with slight internal shadows.

Setups with more lights quickly gets challenging. Lots of books will show you how to set up multiple lights for various specific purposes. I like to keep it simple, so I usually don't even think about using more than one light.

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Digital Vs. Analog

For making lots of slides, film is always quicker and cheaper.

But if you want to save your images in their true colors for a long, long time, forget film. Film fades. Film colors change according to temperature, humidity, storage methods and materials, time and the type of light used to view them. Slides or other film copies can be made from digital images at any time in their long life cycle and still be great (but not cheap).

Fluorescent lights are especially dangerous to photographic prints as well as offset (printing press) ink and ink jet prints. Beware of storing or exhibiting your art in rooms illuminated by fluorescent lights.

Properly stored digital images can last centuries. A full-sized digital copy of a full-sized copy of a copy of a copy of a digital image file is identical to its original. The first and every subsequent copy of a digital file remains the same. Here, we are talking about the full-resolution original image file. JPEGs lose quality almost every time they are saved or copied.

The first and every subsequent analog copy of a color slide or print or negative will be different. Slightly at first, but after generations of analog copies of copies, your image can become unrecognizable.

See JPEG Myths & Facts for the full story behind copying JPEGs. Always save the full-size, uncompressed original digital file: I usually do all my post production on the original, save that, then make it smaller for online uses, and don't save that, so I keep the adjusted image file.

 

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The importance of shadows

Janet Chaffee - Underneath and In-Between - copyright by J R Compton.

Janet Chaffee   Underneath and In-Between   paper cut-outs
on front wall at MFA Gallery in Dallas, Texas, USA

 

Photographed in subdued sunlight streaming in through a big front gallery window. I like this piece because it has no lines, no real form. Only shapes and shadows. Photographed using a handheld Canon S90 (glorified Point & Shoot).

 

Shadows are important to our perception of art, and not just for sculpture. Two or three or more lights illuminating artwork tends to either multiply or eliminate the shadows, including shadows that show us brush strokes, subtle and overt texture, crinkles and creases, tears, cuts, protrusions, layers, etchings and other dimensional aspects.

Orient your art so sunlight falls on the top, at an angle well above straight-on, especially from the left, and your art will likely look like it should and show the textures and colors you put into it, and more closely approximate the actual piece than any other lighting can.

If you use two or more light sources of equal intensity (and distance), texture is more difficult, and all those shadows can confuse viewers, who expect them only under bumps.

For three-dimensional art, use a stronger light (neither of them has to be very bright if you use longer exposures and keep the camera steady) to illuminate your art and a less intense bulb (or an equal bulb at more distance, or a white reflector) to fill in some of the shadows.

Hundreds of books explain the basics of multi-light setups for three-dimensional objects, but I attempt a quick once-over on basic art lighting just below. I learned commercial lighting at East Texas State University (back when it was still called that) in the 1970s, but I usually wing it at Joel Cooner Gallery, moving the one light I have not yet knocked over and destroyed until the shadows look right on the camera's LCD, then add a big, white foam-board reflector on the opposite side to fill in some of the shadows, make several photographs from differing angles and exposures, then adjust the image more in Photoshop later.

If you are new to this, don't try to judge the light with your eyes. Look at the camera's LCD, which shows much higher contrast. LCDs make judging light evenness easier.

 
   

Bali Buffalo Mask - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Bali, Indonesia   Buffalo Mask   circa 1900   wood and paint   16 inches wide
 

I photographed this on Dallas' Valley House Gallery wall during an opening reception using available gallery lighting. I had photographed this same mask at Joel Cooner Gallery and had an affection for this vivid, perhaps demonic animal sculpture with rotting wooden teeth.

I used my inexpensive pocket camera, then the Canon SD780, clicked it once to use in a review, then shot the ID, so I could correctly identify it. Later, in Photoshop I lightened the shadow and background, so the piece visually popped off the wall, without losing the shadows.

Note: The shadow on the wall is only one of the important shadows. The shadows formed by the protruding parts are more important, though subtler. Move the lights around if you can, so you see just how three-dimensional you are rendering the art.
   

If your work is in a frame or mat, be careful. Those protrusions may create shadows down and into your art. If your work is already framed or matted, tilt it back toward the sun and shoot down on it from an angle, so that the back of the camera parallels the artwork to render it rectilinearly correct. A little mat or frame shadow can be helpful (to show that it is matted or framed), but a lot can obliterate the upper edge of your art. When I can't tilt it because it's on somebody's wall, I crop out the shadow and the frame.

If you take your art to a Service Provider, they will probably use more than one light — maybe four — to evenly illuminate it. Very nice for art that is high-contrast and physically flat, but problematic for creating a precise likeness of art that involves shape, dimension or texture.

Here on Earth we have one local star (the sun), so we are used to seeing things with only one set of shadows. Our brains expect it that way. We accept as realistic, objects that cast their shadows down and slightly to the right. Slightly to the left doesn't thwart that expectation much and may be unavoidable. But shadows cast to the right (not down), left or (shudder) upward, confuses our sense of depth.

Shadows and subtle tonalities are especially important when photographing sculpture, which needs to be immediately seen as three-dimensional. You do not have to use direct sunlight to show shadows and ranges of tonalities, but it helps. Trying to fake sunlight is usually a pain.

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Alex Troup - Zooamorph 1988 - copyright JRCompton. All Rights Reserved.

Alex Troup   Zooamorph   1988   mixed media with butterfly, beetle,
wasp nest, cork, feathers and dictionary pages   10 x 32 x 4 inches
Photographed with a Nikon D300

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Glass is not clear.

Photographing art behind glass can be a challenge. Glass reflects light like a mirror. Sunlight outdoors or gallery lights indoors or your own cockamamie lighting setup anywhere in between, may well reflect in the glass you put over your art to protect it. I have often accidentally included me in photographs of art — especially photographs — behind glass or art that is glass.

Glass flattens. If you take glass off thin or flimsy art, and you don't secure the art to something to flatten it, the piece can bend or warp or ripple. Warped base mediums show shadows that probably should not be visible.
 

xThe best way

We'll leave this section to these warnings, since now there is a whole new page devoted to much more specific instructions for photographing art still behind glass. See the new How to Photograph Art that is behind glass, is glass or is glossy like glass page for more information about this tricky issue.
 

 

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Wide-angle Warning
 

Gordon Young - Memento Mori - Photograph Copyright 2011 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Gordon Young   Memento Mori 1, 2 and 3   collage   2010

I shot this wall of art for my own reference to write about it and paid no attention to the lighting or that I shot it at full wide-angle, thus netting these curving "straight" lines. It can be corrected later in Photoshop, but it's better to shoot it right if you are seriously photographing art. Photographed using a Canon S90.

You should not fill the frame if your lens is or is zoomed to wide-angle. From the 35mm-film-equivalent of 50mm ("normal") to the medium telephoto equivalent of 100mm is usually the better zoom range for copying flat art, although longer zooms or lenses wouldn't hurt, but that requires a greater distance from the camera. Wide-angle lenses can be very effective for sculpture, but in most cases, it's best to stick with "normal" or medium telephoto — or zoom — for two-dimensional art.

Most single focal length (nonzoom) lenses render higher resolution images than most zoom lenses.
But zoom lenses are usually more versatile.

Wide-angle lenses tend to distort images, especially visible at the outer edges and corners. If all you have is a wide-angle lens, fill the frame, then back off, so there's space around the art on the LCD. (It is on a tripod, right?) If you look at your viewfinder or LCD very carefully, you can see just when your flat, rectangular art is rendered flat and rectangular, and is not spherized with rounded corners. When I do distort paintings this way, I usually crop off the frame to render the image rectangular, even if the photograph isn't completely.

Zoom lenses tend to distort at both the wide-angle and telephoto ends of their zoom range. Wide-angle lenses distort rectangles by bulging their middles out (barrel distortion — as in the illustration above), and some telephotos tend to bulge them in (pincushion — on the right of the images just below). Minimal distortion is usually obtained by using zoom lenses in the middles of their zoom ranges. High quality (usually expensive) zoom lenses tend to render less distortion.

Probably the worst part of using zoom lenses is that most (not all) of them close down the maximum aperture as we zoom toward telephoto, meaning we have to let in more light by slowing the shutter speed, and that resulting camera movement, which happens more with small apertures, causes more soft images than any other cause. Another zoom issue is that, because of diffraction, smaller apertures render lower image quality.

Some lenses only distort parts of the image. I had one lens that tended to distort images by 'pulling' the bottom left corner out from rectangles, like framed paintings. Every lens is different. All expensive lenses are not necessarily better, but most are.
 

 

Barrel Distortion
Pincushion Distortion
Barrel Distortion
Pincushion Distortion

Images from Wikipedia's excellent page about about optical distortions.
 

Photozone is my favorite lens-test site, because it shows the actual distortion of tested lenses along their zoom range. For example, see the second page of Photozone's review of the popular 11x Nikon zoom, the Nikkor 18-200mm. Note the links to zoom increments above the red, blue and gray grid image near the top of this and newer Photozone lens tests. Mouse over those links and watch the grid change.

Mouse to each zoom increment's link, and see the resulting distortion in the grid. This lens is valued for its ability to zoom from fairly wide angle to 11x telephoto magnification, and it may be a useful carry-around lens. But I would not recommend using it to photograph objects — like most paintings — whose straight lines and corners should be accurately rendered

If you pay careful attention to these demos and the verdict at the end of Photozone's reviews, you may be able to determine which portions of your zoom lens' range will render lines and shapes correctly. The first line of the changing text data below the graph tells the exact distortion percentage, although different lenses distort differently.

Long zooms are not the only lenses that suffer these barrel (usually at the widest angle) or pincushion (usually at the telephoto telephoto end of the zoom) distortions. Check out Photozone's test of Nikon's popular kit lens, the 18-55 f3.5-5.8 VR zoom.

If you use a zoom to photograph art, find out at which zoom settings it most distorts, and avoid them for flat or linear images.

Pay attention to Photozone's demo and the verdict at the end, so you will know how that lens compares to others and what settings will most accurately render lines and shapes. You can get away with slightly distorting sculpture, but the right-angled boxes and rectangles of most 2-D art won't look right when they're distorted.

Photozone tests also show which apertures render images with the highest resolution. I always check their reviews before I buy a lens — and their reviews of competitive lenses.

 

Avoid digital zoom, which only magnifies the pixels. Use optical zoom, which magnifies the image. Digital zoom works well for video cameras, because video uses much lower resolution, and at that size it just doesn't matter, but still images have hugely higher quality, and there, it matters.
 

If it's not part of the art, the background is unimportant. You should minimize the area around the art. Let it go white or black or gray, or crop it off entirely, whichever looks best. Colorful backgrounds detract from your art. Of course, you can always re-frame the image in Photoshop or other image software, but if you have to enlarge your image to do that, you lose resolution.

Five megapixels is plenty. Between about 8 and 12 megapixels, few people can tell the difference. Focus and lens sharpness is probably more important.

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ISO and Visual Noise

Kodachrome 25

Kodachrome slide film  ASA 25

Film and other materials are rated by the International Standards Organization (ISO) according to their relative sensitivity to light. If you use film, use slow film to photograph art. If you use digital (And you probably will.), set the camera to a low ISO setting. The best setting is the lowest ISO you can set on your camera. It will render your work with the best tonalities, color and contrast.

We used to call this sensitivity "film speed" or "ASA" (American Standards Association), and it is still expressed as those same numbers, with lower numbers indicating less sensitivity, although it's now called "ISO."

With either film or digital, the lower the sensitivity, the lower the visual noise and the higher the contrast. Conversely, the higher the ISO, the higher the noise and the lower the apparent contrast. Noise looks like grain in the image. Fine grain usually looks better than coarse grain, but both have their uses and necessities, though usually not for photographing art.

In film, visible grain was a clumping of light-sensitive silver halides suspended in the hardened gelatin of the film.

In digital, a very similar effect is caused by other factors, which can be somewhat controlled in PP (Post Production) via image-editing software or a plug-in noise-remover that can be adjusted. In digital that "graininess" is called visual noise, which comes in two varieties — color noise and contrast noise — with essentially similar results that look and act a lot like film grain.
 

Low & High ISO Comparison - Photograph Copyright 2011 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Low (80) and high (1600) ISO
 

I often use Nik's DFine plug-in for the full-blown (and expensive) version of Photoshop, but there are other noise-reduction plug-ins that work with that and other programs. Photoshop Elements is a good, inexpensive — about $70 — program that will probably suit your art-photographing needs at first. Using digital photographs without editing tends to look amateurish and does not show your art to its best advantage.

At the least, you should correct the tonal range, contrast, color saturation and composition of your images, although much more discussion of those techniques is beyond the scope of this article. (See Levels, below.)

80 or 100 is the lowest ISO available on most digital cameras, although 200 is the base ISO of my dSLR. Some even very expensive digital cameras render images that are so noisy at any rating higher than 100, that they are unusable for photographing art. Newer, better and only sometimes more expensive digicams can render images at higher ISO ratings very well. Most professional camera reviews show sample photographs at different ISO settings.

Some even allow us to directly compare the same ISO settings on different cameras. See just below.

Probably the best explanation of Image Noise is on Wikipedia.

Some cameras are much better than others at controlling noise in high-ISO photographs.

I'll repeat: in general, it is best to set your camera to low ISO when photographing art. Put the camera on a firm, secure tripod so you can more easily use low ISO with a long shutter speed. When photographing for the web, however, you can — and may have to — get away with higher ISO. Like the detail of Renoir's Onions [above].

 
 

Comparing ISO on different cameras (before you buy)

Different cameras render differing Image Quality at the same ISO settings. High ISO on one camera may be perfectly acceptable, whereas using that same ISO setting on another camera might obliterate an image with visual noise.

There are many reasons for variation. Probably first and second most important among them is sensor size and pixel density [Explained in probably too much detail below]. Other reasons include the technology employed and whether whoever made it knew what they were doing.

With Digital Photography Review's Studio shot comparison widget now featured in their new camera reviews, you can directly compare image quality among up to four cameras, one being the camera tested in that review. The others can be selected from previously tested cameras. You should probably be aware that higher megapixel ratings tend to show as larger images, not always because they are better images.

All images were created using the same tabletop setup, the same light and distance, with different cameras all sturdily mounted on a tripod and carefully focused, so there are few physical variations from camera to camera, although image sizes may differ.

DPR camera reviews are broken up into standardized pages. The page with the ISO comparison is called "Compared to (Higher ISO)," although you can also compare to lower ISO. Sometimes that page name includes "JPEG." The image used is their standard studio setup, including liquor bottles, watches, toys, color and gray scales, a playing card and various textural materials.

Note the selected rectangle somewhere in the studio image. It usually opens over the lower label portion of the Martin bottle, although the selection box can be moved anywhere on the image.

Below that are boxes in two columns of two rows surrounded by gray. The first represents the camera tested at the image type and ISO selected above the studio image. You can choose the cameras you want to compare by choosing among the selections in the drop-down menus for camera, JPEG or RAW (if available), and ISO for each of your three other cameras.

The image size is relative to megapixel size of the cameras' sensor, but overall, the DPR widget offers an easy and quick comparison it might take weeks or months to do yourself.

 
 

Another Kind of Distortion

Terry Hays -

Terry Hays   Pembina Highway   (detail)   acrylic on Sintra and cedar tree roots   56.5 x 44 X 19.5 inches
Photographed with a Panasonic Lumix G-2
 

Terry Hays is an artist who creates a strange sort of optically illusionary, painted texture that makes rendering his art accurately with digital photography a special challenge. We've already discussed that some colors can not be rendered by digital cameras [above]. Now I'm learning there are patterns and especially combinations and contrasts of patterns that may also make accurate digital rendering difficult — especially with lower resolution Point & Shoot cameras with smaller digital sensors.

There's an operative optical illusion inherent in Hays' comix-like patterning that sometimes makes simple, straightforward imaging a challenge. I'm curious whether film would do better, but I don't trust my old, film cameras, anymore, so that will remain conjecture.

The first images I saw of this work were probably done using a low-resolution (Point & Shoot) camera with a small sensor size and too-high pixel density [Discussed below]. I used my higher-resolution Micro Four-thirds (m43) Panasonic G2 camera with its very low pixel density and large sensor size, on a tripod using a self-timer.

Unique art sometimes requires unique approaches.

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Exposure

African Mask

 

This was the last of about 30 experimental shots I took after I'd done the views gallery-owner Joel Coonerl wanted. I hoped to render the human being portrayed via the mask, and had finally found just where to hold my white foam reflector, so it barely illuminated the dark side. I hadn't planned to illuminate each of the facial planes separately, but considering I was just playing with light, it turned out very well.
 

Unlike focus, getting exposure wrong can often be corrected — to some extent, but it's easier to deal with later and better to get it right in the camera, so you use as much as possible of your sensor's ability to reproduce a full range of dark to bright tones. According to Wikipedia's Exposure (photography) page,

"A photograph may be described as overexposed when it has a loss of highlight detail, that is, when the bright parts of an image are effectively all white, known as 'blown out highlights' (or 'clipped whites'). A photograph may be described as underexposed when it has a loss of shadow detail, that is, the dark areas indistinguishable from black, known as 'blocked up shadows.' "
 

Calibration Bars

highlights             medium tones            shadows
 
 

You want to reproduce your artwork's full range of tones from solid white, down through all the intermediary gray tones to full black, so the photographic image of your art looks as much as possible like your art. Of course, you're probably photographing in color, so you'll want to get a realistic representation of the range of color tones, too.

Exposure is a deep issue that others have written superbly about, and I have neither the time, space nor inclination to duplicate all that information here.

Neil Creek's Photography 101.4 Exposure and Stops has the best illustration of over and under-exposure I have seen online — in a vertical array involving pink flowers. He also has an great, informative (once you figure it out) gray triangle graphic of the inter-related aspects of exposure.

Digital Photography Review offers a series of short articles on exposure and Camera Labs' DSLR Tips has more than a dozen video workshops and tutorials. LuminousLandscape.com's Understanding Exposure offers start, although it was written for film and hand-held exposure meters. Other, less detailed online stories include Suzanne Williams' The Rules of Photography and Learning Light on Steve's Digicams and Fred Parker's Ultimate Exposure Computer.

A book that is often recommended in online forums is Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure — for digital, be sure to get at least the 2010, third edition.

 
 

Some Exposure Basics

Johnson Standard Exposure calculator

I found this on Peta Pixel online. I like it for its apparent scientific accuracy,
lurid specificity and the absurdity that there's one single exposure for any scene.

If you aim a camera or other exposure meter at something, it will attempt to render it as medium gray. If the object is white — like paper or a small area of lines or textures of art on white — that object will be underexposed (gray not white), allowing you to see details in the paper but not necessarily in the art. If you aim at something black — like your Elvis on black velvet, it will attempt to render that as gray, and everything will be overexposed (gray not black).

The trick is to overexpose light art and underexpose dark art. How much depends on the tones of your art, your medium and your preferences. You have to experiment. Remember the difference between what the camera wanted to do and what actually worked, so if you maintain consistent tonality in your art, you can use your adjustment again.

Cheap compact cameras usually only adjust to plus or minus 2 or, very rarely, 3 EV (Exposure Value), meaning they can only over- or under-expose images up to two or three stops. That may not be enough. Which is why being able to set any exposure combination (shutter speed and aperture) whether your camera's meter agrees or not, is important. With manual, you can over- or under-expose as much as your camera and lens is capable. If your camera is stuck on automatic, you may not be able to render the lightest lights and the darkest darks accurately.
 

There's a by-now long outdated List of Cameras with Manual Exposure Modes on my Cameras & Lenses: Past & Future page, but new cameras are introduced constantly, so it's difficult to keep up.

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Photoshop

Adobe's Photoshop is probably still the best overall image-manipulation software available, but since Adobe has gone over to the dark side of charging customers for their software monthly, whether they make worthwhile upgrades or not, instead of once every two or three years, it has become prohibitively expensive for many users. When they came out with serious updates every few years, I'd usually skip every other revision, sometimes more. But I am currently subscribed for the first year of their subscription program for Photoshop, and not, for instance, Dreamweaver, which is the software I'm using to create this page.

Dreamweaver is at least as flawed as Photoshop. And I don't use the Creative Cloud version, because I had too many issues with it, not the least of which was price. Near the bottom of this page, you will find a list of Photoshop Alternatives. There doesn't seem to be one, obvious winner yet among the Photoshop Replacement Wannabees, but those programs are getting better.

I actually purchased the one that seemed the most likely to win, but since then, I've managed to find an older copy of Photoshop that I actually purchased outright, and I have been using Photoshop 5 ever since. My rationale was that I'd use the old Photoshop till I learned the new one, but it's been too easy to use the old Photoshop and not learn the

 

Two Photoshop Tips

There are giant books and multi-semester classes on Photoshop — either the cheap Elements version or the big, expensive, professional, full-blown Photoshop CS-whatever number. I'm going to assume you know what you need to know about whichever version (or other software) you use, and I won't talk about all that other stuff.

But one thing I know is that you probably do not employ the correct settings to adjust Levels (command l [for Levels] in Mac; control l in PC — and yes, those are lower case Ls.), because most of the images I get from artists are incorrectly adjusted — with the black triangle at the left edge of the foothills to that first peak. I know professional photographers who do not know how to align the Levels dialog, and their images lack deep blacks and details in bright highlights.

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right diamond The correct way to adjust Levels in Photoshop

Correct Level Adjustment in Photoshop

Correct Level Adjustment in Photoshop

This is the ideal setting for images with a full tonal range, though you still have a lot of leeway. The idea is to get that left, black triangle as close as possible to pointing up into the highest peak on the left of the graph.

That triangle adjusts the shadow/darks of your image. Remember, however, that there are many images for which this setting will render your image too dark. Be careful. Use those artist's eyes of yours. Carefully observe the image on the screen as you move the triangles.

If the image is too dark, adjust the black triangle back toward the left until you see exactly what you want in the image on the monitor (which we'll assume is correctly optimized. More information about optimizing monitors is just below). What your image looks like is more important than where the triangles are. But this is the correct starting point if you want your image to have dark darks and light lights.

You should know that it is impossible to include all the intermediate tones of a work of art in an image of it. We can only hope to make a reasonably accurate portrayal of your art. No digital copy of analog art is ever perfect. Neither is any analog (film) copy.

According to the hand-scrawled sign on my kitchen door, "Perfection is unlikely."

If you want lighter grays (middle tones), move the middle, gray triangle toward the left. Darker to the right. Usually, however, you probably should leave it where Photoshop puts it. Moving the middle triangle makes subtler changes than the other two triangles.

Note, too, that the closer the black and white triangles are together, the higher the contrast in the scene. If you want lots of medium tones, don't squeeze those triangles closer.

There are other miracles that the Levels adjustment provides, some of which involve those droppers. Click the white one on what you know is white (not buff or cream or beige or yellowish or tan, etc.) regardless of what color it seems to be, in your image, and it will be rendered pure white, adjusting everything else in the pic. I never use the black dipper, and the gray one only rarely, though it has been helpful when I'm paying close attention. More than that you'll have to find information about elsewhere.
 

My favorite on-line training site is Lynda.com, although I haven't visited in a while, but I need to. Their online videos teach a wide variety of software, including both versions of Photoshop, with unlimited access to any classes, for $25 a month. Some tutorials are free, so you can try before you buy. Like many artists, I learn better and faster by watching it happen than by reading about it.

Many community and other colleges offer classes in digital photography and image manipulation.

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right diamond Sharpening

Elisabeth Schalij - Red Cactus - photo copyright 2008 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Elisabeth Schalij   Red Cactus   2008   oil on canvas   11 x 14 inches  

Photographed under tungsten lights on a wall in a gallery with a Nikon D300

Many of the images I get from artists are over-sharpened. The expensive version of Photoshop offers five different sharpening filters, of which most professionals only use two — Smart Sharpen and Unsharp Mask, both of which can be adjusted before and after application in full-bull Photoshop. Photoshop Elements only has Unsharp Mask, although it, too, can be adjusted with a sliding scale, but only before, not after sharpening the image, although you can always go back if you've only made that one change.

A little sharpening goes a long way. A light touch is far preferable to a heavy hand. If you are submitting a full-size or high-resolution image file for judging or use online or in a publication, it is better to not sharpen it or to leave sharpening to whoever does that. If you are lucky, they will know what they are doing, and be smart enough not to sharpen anything until the image is in its final size and form. In general, leave sharpening up to whoever puts images wherever they go — online or in a publication.

A pre- or over- sharpened image is a booger to adjust back to normal. Un-sharpening those images takes a subtle and delicate touch, and it helps if you really know what you are doing. But over-sharpened images can never be entirely fixed. 

If you don't know, etc. 

Great (high-contrast and high-resolution) lenses don't need their images to be sharpened, but most Point+Shoot cameras, which rely on comparatively much smaller sensors, do.

Maximum sharpness for the majority of images should never exceed a setting of about 140% (in full-bull Photoshop).

I have used the cheaper, easier-to-learn Elements version of Photoshop, but I do not like it.

With Elements, I usually start at 103% and often less, sharpening. Only rarely more. If you already have Elements, I strongly urge you to learn as much about it as you can before going on to what I am calling full-bull Photoshop, which is considerably more expensive and more complicated, with a much steeper learning curve. Unless you're a whiz at learning visual software, take a class in a community college or online or acquire a teacher.

So I don't have to keep changing the settings, I leave Smart Sharpen in Photoshop (Smart Sharpen is not available in Elements) set at a maximum of 139% (for most Point+Shoot camera and lens combinations, although really sharp lenses require much less sharpening), apply it to the majority of final-sized images, then I hit command (control for PC) f to back that effect off using a sliding scale. I usually rack it back to from 20% to 85% of the original 139%, often less. For the few images that need more than that, I rack the percentage scale in Smart Sharpen as high as it needs to be. But those times are rare, and you'll have to discover on your own which images need it.

Don't forget that you have set the sharpness high, because your next (and all subsequent) images will be too sharpened until you change the settings back to your normal again.

Apply sharpening only to the final version in the final size, especially for JPEGs used on the Internet.
 

Lens and camera sharpening are different from Photoshop sharpness discussed above. Ken Rockwell has two pages, called Fixing Unsharp Images and Lens Sharpness, which are informative

Camera LCDs (liquid crystal displays) can mislead.

Because of their small size, low resolution, angle of view and construction, most digital camera LCDs — especially those on Point + Shoot cameras — show images that are very contrasty (so images look sharp and in focus, even when they are not), and it is often difficult to see detail.

Worse, many camera LCDs show colors or tonal ranges substantially different from how you will see the same images on your monitor or printed from your printer.
 

Color Bars

If you can just barely see the edges between the darker colors — especially in the black and magenta, your monitor is adjusted about as well as mine is, and mine is set pretty good, now, finally ... Don't worry about the yellows.
 

 

Your monitor is calibrated, isn't it?

That's probably the only way you can half-way guarantee that what you see on your monitor is essentially similar to what others will see on theirs.

This color chart can help you begin to calibrate your monitor by setting the brightness to its maximum, then adjusting the contrast till you see the tonal range of all the colors, especially the magentas. Don't worry about the yellow.

To accurately calibrate your monitor, you can use the software or the instructions that came with your monitor; Adobe Gamma with its built-in step-by-step instructions; Macintosh's system software (under the Apple Menu, click "Displays," then "Color," then "Calibrate," and follow the instructions precisely. (I don't know about that other system.) or the controls built into your monitor (Dell, among others) — all of which can help you achieve the best and most accurate view on your monitor.

It helps if there's no ambient light in the room where your monitor is, although some monitors can be optimized for use with specific light sources. Beware, if you are even slightly color blind. But all that is way too complicated to get into there.

I collect these tone and color scales. My collection is gathered on the bottom of DallasArtsRevue's Contact Us page.


There are two basic ways to calibrate a monitor. One is to use a computer utility like Macintosh's or Dell's built-in utilities and visually follow all the steps to match each succeeding element of the color and density system via diagrams adjustments. The other way is to use a calibration device. So far, I've used only the software utilities, but the results from both vary with the light in the room, so I tend to do my best work at night.

In the end, I usually adjust my monitors to a setting somewhere between Macintosh (whose computers I use exclusively) and PC, which far more people on the Internet use to see my pages and images.

I used to use a 13-inch Apple CRT (cathode-ray tube) to adjust images I wanted to print. What that printer printed always looked almost exactly like the image on that monitor. No other monitor I've ever had did, although I've set up custom settings that matched as close as I could the correct setting to print. For that, optical devices work better.

I no longer make my own prints. My early-model Epson "Archival" inkjet printer died in mid-2010 after ten years of faithful service, and when I make prints for exhibitions, I have either Expert Images in Deep Elm (in Dallas, Texas) or Dallas' BWC make them. Expert lets me watch as the technician adjusts the image; BWC doesn't — and that makes a big difference. Often working with the technician is the only way to approach perfect color reproduction, and it's easier and cheaper and quicker to adjust before making prints or other copies.

When I deliver images for art-photography clients, I give them JPEG files on a CD or DVD. I never deliver prints.

I have noticed a slight difference in the highlight qualities of some contributor's images, but I have checked my images online with a variety of other people's computers — Mac and PCs — and they look good. 70% of the readers of this site use PCs, 25% Mac, so I adjust my images slightly toward PC density, to make them look best on both machines. Otherwise Mac images look too dark on PCs and PC images look too light on Macs.

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Fannie Brito - Atardecer - photo by J R Compton

Fannie Brito    Atardecer
pigment and acrylic  12 x 36 inches

I like photographing art on a truly white wall (although there are always shadows and tones. With a white reference, I can easily adjust the colors with the Level Command white dropper in Photoshop. Of course, I usually crop the wall and shadow parts out. This method is especially good for rendering subtle colors like these.  Photographed with a Nikon D300.

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Copyright Notices + Image File Names

If you are certain your image file will never, ever be used on the Internet or by anybody but yourself, you can get away with naming it anything that suits your fancy, and you may not need to protect it with copyright.

But if anyone else might ever use your image file(s), or if there is any chance whatsoever that they will be published, especially online — either with or without your permission, you should have your name and the title included in the file name, and you should probably park a copyright notice on the image.

Supposedly your image is automatically copyrighted to you soon as you publish it on your site or blog, but if you don't have proof of that happening or have not shown your ownership of your image by overtly copyrighting it, it will be more difficult to prove.
 

J R Compton Photo - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

File Name:  JRCompton-Bright-Dark-Sky_1442.jpg
 

The correct format/syntax for a legal U.S. Copyright notice is the word "Copyright," followed by the year date, the first and last name of the image's creator or owner, followed by "All Rights Reserved." The word copyright may be substituted by the circled C (©) symbol, although that symbol is missing from many keyboards and may not show on all computers. On a Mac keyboard, it is option-g. The number at the end of the file name above is the number assigned by my camera. This was the 1,442nd shot created on my then-new Canon s90.

I usually add the dot com, etc. after my name on the image, so people can find me on my personal website..

Legally, the "All Rights Reserved" only officially extends copyright protection to include Honduras and Bolivia. But for practical purposes, that notice keeps those ignorant of our copyright laws — almost everybody online — from using the image, because it so clearly states that all rights are reserved. All the copyright infringements of my own images I've discovered (and got removed) were only labeled with the copyright notice.

I think it's rude for the photographer to post their copyright notice on an image that is all somebody else's art. But I also believe it is rude — maybe even criminal — for someone to use one of my carefully crafter photographs of their or somebody else's art for their own purposes.
 

Getting stolen material removed from sites or blogs

Information about Copyright and Photographers' Rights

An important story about The Assault on Copyright by Victor S. Perlman is in Rangefinder magazine online.


In addition to copyright information in the EXIF (EXposure Information File) in the meta-data of the code that comprises the original photoshop image, my camera automatically includes a properly formatted copyright notice on every image. Unfortunately, neither of those automatic notices translate to the much smaller JPG file created from the camera or Photoshop original.

Once the notice is placed on the image itself, however, it stays there unless cropped out.
 
 

Entering Digital Art Competitions

Felis from Wikipedia

A photo of a cat with the compression rate decreasing, and hence quality
— and file size — increasing from left to right. from Wikipedia's JPEG page.

Digitally entering art competitions confuses artists almost as much as making slides for shows used to, but because it is a newer medium, it also confuses exhibition producers, curators and jurors. It doesn't help that there is little standardization of entry rules, or that many competition organizers have only a vague understanding of the medium or the rules they make about it.

But creating and submitting digital images is quicker and cheaper than making and sending film slides. And once you figure out how to do it, it almost becomes easier, too.

Although some competitions require TIFF images, developed as a standardized format for various image scanners and used widely in the Graphic Arts business, most require JPEGs, named for the Joint Photographic Experts Group that created the format in 1992.

JPEG is a lossy compression algorithm that allows images to be digitally coded, transferred and reproduced. It is called "lossy" because every time you save a JPEG, it loses quality you can't get back. So always keep and keep safe the original camera image file to make copies from. If you lock the file, you won't be able to change it accidentally, but you can save the next version with an updated name.

See the JPEG links near the bottom of this page for more info.

 

As seen in the Wikipedia cat above, the more the file is compressed, the less detail is rendered — and the smaller the resulting file. The more detailed an image is, the larger its file size will be. JPEGs are good for images with smooth variations of tone and color, but not for line drawings or transparent graphics, for which GIF and PNG formats are preferable.

You want to keep as much image detail as your art needs to show its form, shape, texture and color subtleties, while not exceeding the competition's maximum file size, which is most dependent upon compression, resolution and physical size.
 

 The Easiest Way to Reduce an Image file's size

However your program lets you change those simple dimensions, do it, and your file size will decrease exponentially.

If you don't have Photoshop (or you don't want to rent it by the month from Adobe) or the much cheaper Photoshop Elements — or the software that came with your camera, you probably cannot change anything but the size. I guess some people assume all their photographs come out of the camera perfect in every way.

Photoshop Alternatives are now linked near the bottom of this page.

DallasArtsRevue style is to present horizontals as 777 pixels wide and verticals up to 10 inches tall at 555 pixels wide, like most of the non-text images on this page. On my Mac — PCs use a different scale — that's 10.79 inches wide for horizontals and 7.71 inches wide for verticals.

Reducing the dimensions somewhere between the full-size image that came from a camera and 777 or 555 pixels, you will achieve the competition's minimum image file size. But it's an incremental, trial and error situation.

Down to about ten inches wide for landscapes and ten inches tall for verticals, there's probably still enough information unless they're projecting the image very large. Most jurors still see submissions on a computer with a middlin' sized screen. Even the ones who say they will project the images digitally probably will not, because that's still a big hassle for most people. When they do project it, there's no guarantee they'll see any of the subtle colors we put into our art, and they're lucky if they can see the form.

Be sure to reduce image size proportionately, so the image looks like the real thing. Often size changes are limited to proportional dimensions by holding down the shift key while you alter the size. And yes, it's okay — and usually preferable — to reduce different images to different physical sizes, so that you end up with the maximum resolution the competition allows. So your work looks its best under the circumstances. I'm pretty certain most of the turkeys who decide upon the maximum allowable resolution pull their numbers out of their hats.

The best way to increase the file size of a digital image is to go back to the original file that came out of the camera — you did save it, didn't you?

If that original did not fill your frame, so you had to crop the full image and use just a part of it, you might have to go back and rephotograph it, using a different lens, higher resolution, a better camera or by filling the frame. To enlarge an image, the best way is to resample it using Photoshop's Bicubic Smoother method in the Image Size dialog box's drop-down menu. Reducing images often improves their quality; making them bigger does not.
 

If you are shooting a lot of images
 

It might make more sense if you use a small chalkboard or Post-It Notes or something to write the title of each piece. Then photograph that immediately after (or before, if you're well organized) you photograph the work, so the title will be tied almost directly to the piece. Then when you (or whoever else gets stuck with the job) work up the images, they can save each file with its proper title as part of the image file name forever more.

That simple trick will avoid a lot of confusion later. It's a bit more work to save a lot of confusion and hassle later, although I recently had a client drop my services, because she did not like all the work I was piling on her to have her images named for their titles. I guess she would rather she and I both be confused later, when she realized how convenient it might have been to have image files called by their titles.

My friend the Artist Kathy Boortz, whose work you see on this page and others, came up with the simple, small-chalkboard solution, I just implement it whenever I can, to save the time and the hassle.

Unless, of course, you run your titles on and on. Then you'll have to name the file with a shortened version. I once called a photograph of a long truck hauling trees, How much wood could a wood truck truck, if a wood truck could truck wood, and it nearly drove the poor person who typed I.Ds for that show nuts. Almost everybody is used to shorter titles.

It's just tidier if every piece is called by its correct title from the beginning, when the image is worked up, so it's correct way before the inevitable CD.
 
 

Kathy Boortz holding small blackboard with piece title - Photograph Copyright 2013 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Artist Kathy Boortz holds a small kiddie blackboard showing the title of the last piece I shot.
 

On your image file: Title of Work & Your Name

Make sure the title of the work always is or is in the image file name.

That's Kathy Boortz' hand holding the little blackboard above. When I photograph work on gallery walls for reviews or mentions in Art Here Lately, I photograph the I.D tag next to it immediately afterward, so I'll have the artist's name, title and whatever else they put on it. Dates are important to me, but not so much for galleries showing older work. And I like to caption work with their actual size, so my readers will know. But most people don't care, although competitions will want to know that.

It's probably best to have your name and the work title as the image file title. Once you've given your image files to someone else, make it easy for them to always know your name and the work's title. Sometimes they change file names to make it more difficult for everybody, but if you send or give them files with your name and title, you've gone a long way toward making sure you get credit for your work, and that they will have the title, just in case they want to put your work in their show and have it correctly identified.
 

See also How to Design an Invitational Postcard "for a detailed, practical & philosophical guide to designing & distributing invitational postcards that expand your fan base by linking your name and your art in the minds of people who see your invitations, even if they don't go to your show or buy any of your art — yet."
 

DallasArtsRevue receives many images from artists. If I can immediately see who the artist is, and what the title is, I can caption the image with that information. A properly credited photo can be an important way to promote artists. Often, when neither the name of the artist nor the title of the piece is obvious from the file name, there's no way I can track down who did it.

Also — and importantly — because Google Images uses data in the file name to build their image searchable database, it is helpful to have your name in the image file name. Much more information about what Google looks for is at Google Webmaster Central.
 
 

Your name and the work title is all that's needed in an image file name.

Do not include punctuation. No space-bar spaces ( ), number signs (#), commas (,), inch marks ("), foot marks or apostrophes ('), equal signs (=), percentages (%), exclamations (!), parentheses )( or question marks (?), and use only one period just before the suffix. I.e., .jpg or, if you must, .tif or .TIFF.

Symbols make it difficult to use files — image files with spacebar spaces or # signs or any of the punctuation in the paragraph above won't even show up in web pages delivered by one of my web hosts — I have to go in and edit the file name, which effort earns the artist my enmity. When I'm already tired or cranky, I may simply return them to the artist(s) to correct.

Any other information — including sizes, year dates, mediums and etc. — should be in a text-only file (so any computer can open it) saved onto your CD — that is, the file name should end in .txt or .TXT. Any other suffix might be difficult for some computers. If there is a specific order, list them in that order (putting numbers on the file names that somebody then has to edit out, is a nuisance).

Make sure the file type suffix (.jpg  or, shudder, .tif) is included in each image's file name. Without it, computers will not know what to do with your files, and somebody will have to add the suffix — every time they open your CD, where corrections cannot be stored.
 

 

On your Entry CD: Your Name - Show Title

Make your name the file name of your image CD. You can have other info there (maybe a shortened version of the show title and a year and month date, for your use), but be sure the info is pertinent to the person you are sending to. Using that space to identify the name of the show may be important to you, but the people who will be looking at your images will probably already know what event they are considering your images for.

Letter (print) it neatly on the face of the CD. Do not write (scrawl) it. Nobody wants to have to decipher your penmanship.

We desperately need your name. If your name is not part of the title of the CD, someone will have to track it down, and that will not make them happy about your entry. Make it easy. Make your name the main component of your CD's file name. And when you write on your CD, include your name and email address.

Use an archival marker especially formulated for writing on CDs and DVDs, so it doesn't destroy the data on the disk.


Camera & Lens Tests

The most credible digicam review sites include: Imaging Resource   Camera Labs   Luminous Landscape   Steve's Digicams  Thom Hogan   Ken Rockwell   Photography BLOG   DigitalCameraResource   PhotoRadar — though there are many others. My favorite used to be Digital Photography Review, but it's gone crazy commercial since Amazon bought it, and their site navigation (which was always a problem) has gone completely bonkers.

Some photo sites are good; some just want to sell you something; and others waste your time. It helps some of us to read lots of tests, so we begin to understand what all can be right and wrong with a camera or lens.

Ken Rockwell has a quasi-credible page of Recommended Cameras including a variety of cameras and budget ranges, although he gets carried away about new ones, especially from Canon, who must be supplying free cameras, and he tends to ignore many excellent brands, especially Panasonic. When he's wrong, he rarely admits it and is likely to leave the recommendation in place. So don't just read one source.

Camera Labs has multiple pages of Best Cameras, although the cams listed on that first page are the newest, not the best. Imaging Resource has Dave's Picks which are deceptively listed below his Most Popular Cameras list. Steve's Digicams has Steve's Best Cameras in various categories. And Digital Photography Review doesn't really have a best cameras page, but it does have a Buying Guide: Digital Cameras Side-by-Side feature that lets you match features with two or more cameras can be very helpful.

Photozone Lens Test of Nikon AF-D 50mm f1.8 lens

Photozone lens test chart showing resolution line widths per picture height (LW/PH), which, they say, "can be taken as a measure for sharpness. ... If you want to know more about the MTF50 figures, you may check out the corresponding Imatest Explanations." But that stuff is mostly over my head. This lens has more apertures past f11, but Photozone doesn't test them, although Lenstip (next image down) does.
 

Photozone is the most credible and objective lens review site. Too many lens tests — especially  readers' reviews, are opinion. Photozone's are based on science. But nobody is perfect, and Pz is very slow about testing new lenses.

Bjørn Rørslett offers curt, harsh reviews of Nikon lenses. I love it when top-notch pro photographers who use the tested lenses write honestly about them. His quick reviews are linked near the bottom of this page under Lenses for Nikon 'F' Bayonet (which describes all Nikon's lenses since the 1950s). Lately, he's got a more complicated system of his own (lenses with an Bjørn Icon icon) plus readers (many of whom are international professional photographers). But he is inviting all of us now, so beware of more amateur ratings on this page.

Lenstip is sometimes good, but you have to ignore their reader reviews. [Except as noted below]. Digital Photography Review (DPR) has a digital camera lens buying guide that has been a helpful introduction, and a few excellent lens reviews.

Ken Rockwell has a page that explains most lens test terminology and the various types of lens aberrations, and he has another page that helps in Correcting Lens Distortion.

DPR has good lens reviews but they also have previews, which means they haven't actually used the lens yet. A review always trumps a preview. A preview is mostly hype.

Beware of supposed reviews that use the words Preview, First Impressions, First Look or mention that they used a Prototype camera. Those are not reviews, those are previews or simple promo. A lot changes are made between the prototype and when products become available. Previews can fool you into believing they have actually tried the camera you will be able to purchase, which may not even be available. They use the word review, because they know that's what you are seeking, even if it's not what they provide.

Those stories tend to be full of manufacturers' hype and possibilities, not facts. Actual reviews include more than specifications. They discus issues, problems and inconsistencies. If everything about any one camera is described as perfect, you are being scammed.

Pay attention to professional review sites [Links above.] more than personal reviews. Non-expert camera testers (UTube and Amazon are full of them) often love their new cameras and/or lenses, and they rave about them in an attempt to justify their cash outlay. Until they discover those cameras' failings. Then they may complain bitterly. Nobody's perfect or perfectly objective, but professional camera reviewers are careful to give a balanced view. They know the competition and the field. Amateurs do not.
 

While individual reader reviews are not to be trusted, a funny thing happens when there's a lot of people rating the same thing — whether it's guessing the number of beans in a jar or the actual quality of a product.

The larger the sample of reviewers, the more accurate their guesses will be. I ignore one or two ratings, because those could well be shills for the companies that make the product, but when the total number of customer reviewers gets over 50, I pay attention. Over a hundred, then I count their collective experience as more accurate than a Consumer Reports test.
 

When I am thinking of buying a new camera, it's DPR's forums where I spend most of my research time. Those people pay minute attention to every aspect of cameras, and they can be a first line of defense against getting taken. Be warned, however, that as Thom Hogan has said, "They get caught up in the details and miss the big picture." Still they ferret out a lot of issues those of us who just take pictures might otherwise miss until it's too late.

Consumer Reports tests many types of digital cameras. Sometimes I agree with their evaluations, but I subscribe and pay attention to what they say, and not just about cameras. Often the cameras I eventually choose are near the tops of their lists.

Refurbished

Some of the better bargains include cameras that have been replaced or refurbished by the company. If the ad doesn't mention that refurbishing was done by the company that manufactured the camera, don't buy it.

Unless you know the former owner well, buy used lenses, not used cameras.

 
 

Lens IQ (Image Quality)

Lenstip.com chart for Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens

Lenstip.com chart for Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens
 

Most lenses give their best quality when stopped down two stops from maximum aperture.

Above is a chart from Lenstip.com, a sometimes credible lens test site. It shows the resolution in lines per millimeter (lpmm) rendered at that lens' apertures. I chose this lens, because it's cheap, very useful for photographing art, and because I have one that Anna gave me.

Any resolution above 30 lpmm (lines per millimeter) is considered professional quality in standard, "normal," non-zoom lenses — although different focal length and different types of lenses have differing acceptable resolution ranges. It is normal for lenses to be "sharper" in the frame's center than at the edges or the far corners. Most of the lens resolution charts I checked either come very close or actually did show two stops down was best, although on this one, three stops down had the best resolution.

Read camera and lens tests to learn your lens' optimum apertures, so you can use them to get the best quality images.

According to PhotoZone, my most trusted lens testing site, lenses for Micro FourThirds cameras, for example, almost always resolve better at f4, wherever that aperture falls on the lens' aperture range. Much as doubling their nominal focal length gives you that lens' effective, 35mm equivalent focal length, pretending we are doubling its nominal aperture gives us a better idea of what kind of depth of field m43 lenses will yield.

More on Focal Length above.

More info is available on Lenstip.com, which confuses us with personal lens opinions plus their scientific evaluations, but my favorite lens test site is Photozone, because they don't confuse us with reader guesses.

Lens test sites that use personal experience instead of objective standards vary widely, because people use their subjective opinions instead of accurate measurement. User "tests" are almost always a waste of time, because so few lens users know what to look for, and they get carried away when they get something in — or out of — focus. 

 

Diaphragm annimation from Wikipedia

Nine-blade Iris Diaphragm animation from Wikipedia
 

According to Wikipedia, "The ability of an imaging system to resolve detail is ultimately limited by diffraction."

As you reduce the aperture of a lens, you run into Diffraction — the softening of apparent focus due to the scattering of light when it passes over the hard edges of a lens' iris diaphragm. Ken Rockwell explains the issue on his Diffraction page.

Cameras with smaller sensors suffer more significant issues with diffraction. I've read many warnings to avoid using f-stops smaller than f8 on my m43 lenses.

ePhotoZine Test of the m43 75 f1.8 tele

ePHOTOzine's test of the Olympus 75mm f1.8 tele lens —
nice graph — without compare-worthy resolution numbers
 

Comparing Image Resolution             

Many lens testers use differing, often undisclosed, criteria to judge lenses of differing focal lengths, sensor sizes, or whether it is a fixed focal length or zoom lens. I prefer raw resolution data to their wildly divergent notions of Excellent, Very Good, Good and Poor, so zoom lenses, which inherently render lower contrast and resolution, and prime (fixed focal length) lenses, which usually render higher contrast and resolution, can be compared as good, better and best, without bothering us with actual resolution.

If you want to compare lens quality among lenses of differing form factors, image sizes and focal lengths, testers who cite actual resolution numbers are far more informative for us making direct comparisons of differing lenses.

Unfortunately, even those few use different resolution terminology — LW/PH, MTF50 [lpmm]. See Imatest for further information on SFR results: MTF (Sharpness) plot, whatever that might be.

Resolution is not the only contributing component of image quality. Other factors include lens distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberrations (CAs), all of which Photozone tests and visually charts. They do not yet graph such a basic property as contrast, however..

85mm  f1.8

The number before the mm in lens descriptions (like the one above), is that lens' Focal Length. Older descriptions may show a / between the f and the aperture number. As in 85mm f/1.8. Back then lenses with larger apertures were called "fast." Now they are usually called "bright." In some cases photographic terminology keeps getting simpler and more to the point.
 

Focal Length = distance between the Optical Center of a lens and its projected In-focus Image
 

Wikipedia has a more complex and complete definition. When I was an Instructor of Photography in the Air Force in 1966, I learned that Focal Length = the distance between the Optical Center of a lens and the in-focus image projected by that lens when focused on infinity.

My Macintosh's dictionary simplifies it more:   noun    the distance between the center of a lens or curved mirror and its focus.

To oversimplify the concept, we used the sun (because 96,000 miles was close enough to infinity), a magnifying glass (lens) and a small piece of white cardboard (sensor or film plane) on an uncloudy day.

Hold the glass toward the sun and aim the image onto the paper, then move either the lens or paper until the bright round image of the sun's disk is sharply focused on the cardboard. Then measure the distance between lens and focused image.

The Optical Center of more complex lenses may lie somewhere besides the middle of the thickness of the lens, sometimes even in front of or behind the lens, especially when the lens comprises many elements.

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Comparative Sensor Sizes

Comparative Sensor Sizes

On the left is an average Point & Shoot sensor, and on the right is the micro 4/3rds sensor. DX (Nikon) and APS-C sensors are half again as large as the m43's and full-framed sensors are twice the size of DX or APS-Cs.
 

There is no one camera perfect for all jobs, but even one of the really imperfect ones can photograph art very well, if you're careful.

The camera you use to photograph art does matter, but it probably doesn't matter as much as you might think. Read Ken Rockwell's impassioned Your Camera Doesn't Matter and check out my discussion of my Canon SD780-IS on my Cameras & Lenses I Have Known or Lusted After page. Ken's page of Recommended Cameras will surely have something that's perfect for you, for art that doesn't move, and everything else, that does.

Various concepts about sensors, sensor sizes, formats and pixel densities are discussed throughout my Cameras & Lenses: Past & Future page, which also includes basic information about cameras, lenses and how various sensor sizes affect image quality.
 

Cameras that combine lower pixel density
and larger sensor size with more megapixels
may offer the best image quality.


A rating related to sensor size is PDR (pixel density rating), which used to be found in Digital Photography Review's Specifications menu of new camera reviews, where it was usually expressed as "MP/cm² pixel density." But DPR dropped the specification, probably because many photographers disagree with the assertion above.
When a lot of pixels are squeezed together so camera companies can hype high megapixel ratings to unknowing buyers, IQ (image quality) suffers, and image noise creeps into even the lower ISO settings. But many other factors affect image quality.
 

Nikon D300 vs. Canon S95 - Photograph Copyright 2011 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Different Cameras for Different Jobs — Larger Sensor vs. Pocketable   3.3 PDR vs. 23 PDR
32.6 vs. 13.6 ounces The Nikon is for serious work and fast-moving subjects.
The larger camera above is a Nikon D300 with an APS-C (Nikon calls it DX) sized sensor.
The smaller Canon with manual controls is for putting in my pocket. This image is near life-size.


The Formula is:  Pixel Density Rating (PDR)  =  Effective Megapixels /cm² pixel density
 

Sensor Sizes for Common Consumer Cameras

Sensor Sizes for Common Cameras

This diagram was adapted from Wikipedia's thorough page about image size formats.
The dotted blue frame around larger sensor sizes compares them to a full-frame 35mm image size, which is 864mm².
A similar page is Digital Camera Sensor Sizes.
 

Divide megapixels by your camera's square millimeter sizes from the diagram above. Then divide by 100 for centimeters square, and you have the Pixel Density Rating (PDR).Warning: Sensor size is not equal to the size of your LCD. Determining PDR was simpler when Digital Photography Review listed them for all cameras, but now it's just as useful, just much more difficult to come by.

If all you make are snapshot-sized prints, almost any camera will do. But if you're entering art competitions or trying to get in an art show where judges or jurors will look at your work on large monitors or projected much bigger, it pays to show high quality images. Pixel density ratings and megapixels really come into usefulness when we make large prints, which many of us either rarely or will never make.

 
 

Relative Sizes of Digital Camera Sensors

In general, the larger the sensor, the higher the image quality.

Sensor Sizes and Crop Factors - image from Wikipedia

Relative Sizes of Digital Camera Sensors    gray numbers on the left side are Crop Factors  
  

This diagram is from Wikipedia. I have deleted the one format larger than 35mm, because I've never heard of it; it was manufactured by Kodak, which is no longer in the photography business; and it only adds to the confusion. 35mm format has become the standard against which cameras are compared, although there are also much larger sensor (and film) formats.

Essentially, smaller sensors are less expensive and allow smaller cameras and lenses. Sometimes it's nice to be able to stick a camera in a pocket, and sometimes carrying a larger camera with its larger sensor makes sense, when it produces more detailed images.

PLEASE NOTE: The above image is much larger than reality, so the smaller formats are actually significantly smaller. In fact, tiny. The standard 35mm "full frame" size (FX) is slightly smaller than 1 inch tall x 1.5 inches wide. Its exact apparent size here depends on the resolution of your screen.

My Nikons are APS-C size (DX). My Canon S90 uses the 1/1.7" sensor, which are tiny. My Panasonic Lumix G5 Four Thirds System sensor is significantly larger than that of the Canon S100. And recently, just to add to the confusion, Nikon has introduced its 1 cameras, whose sensor size is between the 1/1.6" and the Four Thirds System. Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds cameras share the same sensor size, although Four Thirds cameras have reflex mirrors and Micro Four Thirds are mirrorless.

 

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Some photographic rules

Yes, rules are made to be broken, but it's easier to break them, if you know what they are.

When photographing 3-D work, use a neutral gray or white background.

Until late 2011, when I started using a light tent [above] for some of Kathy Boortz' work, I photographed it on a hinged white folding panel that I whited out the slots and edges of, making her sculpture — like the Fiddler Crab on the top of this page — seem to float.
 

Tibetan Tea Bowl

Bad Example:  19th Century Tibetan Tea Bowl for a former page on Joel Cooner dot com
 

Avoid bright colors or black when shooting light, metallic or reflective art. This rule is about reflections — black reflects black (often too dark). This object on a white platform, would have avoided the tone merge that is obvious at the cup's right shoulder. I probably should have lightened that area in Photoshop. But the black background also concentrates our attention on the cup.

I used a foam board to aim reflected light from the single reflector into the bowl. I upended the bowl, because there was important detail on the bottom. You can see the foam board's reflected light in most of the silver parts — one of the drawbacks of using reflectors in metallic or reflective art. I used an elliptical selection on the top (bottom) to lighten it.

If I had had a white photo tent, that would have given me the light without the specular highlights.

The above version is better than the one on the web page, because I took it home and worked on the original with Photoshop proper, using my own keyboard and mouse, which I have customized for my hand and brain, and that I know and understand better than the unsubtle Photoshop Elements program.

If I had used a back light (light coming from above or below and behind the object, so the bright lightsource does not appear in the image) that might have lightened the edges of the object enough to separate it from the dark background. Even a little would help.

Just as using a black curtain or piece of cardboard when white reflections are a problem (black reflects as nothing), putting an object in a well-lighted translucent white tent is allowing white to reflect in an object (which reflects as white nothing).
 

Stephan Knap - Seven Muses - photographed by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Stephen Knapp   Seven Muses   2009   light painting installation in the Leftwich Grand Foyer of the Charles W. Eisemann Center for Performing Arts and Corporate Presentations in Richardson, Texas. 

Stephen Knapp - False Prophet (detail) - Photograph Copyright 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Stephen Knapp   False Prophet   (detail)   2012   dichroic glass, light and hardware   15 x 13 x 1 foot  
Photographed with a Panasonic Lumix G2. See full view and more details: Link now. Link later.

I couldn't make up my mind between these two images. The one with flashy colors or this one showing how his later work is put together, so I'm keeping both. Same artist. Slightly different work showing three years' progress and how art made of light needs to be exposed without external light sources, per the rule below.


If art is made of light or the colors of light, or its primary impact is light or color generated by the art itself, let that light set your exposure. Don't add light of your own — no flash or fill lighting. Let its own light shine.
 

If art is translucent (light passes through it) — like glass, stained glass, film or sheer material, photograph it with light passing through it. The light source should be behind the art, perhaps aimed up or down into the art, but the source should probably not be visible, because compared to the light source, everything else will seem too dark. The light should be the same color as the light illuminating the rest of the art, and don't let anything else show through the translucent parts, unless you really want them to.
 

Diana Chase - Jump Right In - photographed by J R Compton

Diana Chase   Jump Right In   cast and fused glass   16 inches diameter

I was photographing work in The Back-room Invitational trying to avoid a large bright area of sunlight from one of the high windows when I realized the light was coming through this piece as I had recommended above.

Using my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens with the camera on a tripod, I moved in on the piece, composing so it showed about this much background on either side of the bottom of this composition and that the sunlight glowed through the glass. I cropped most of the black area at the top of the original shot.

Later in Photoshop, I darkened the bottom left corner to match the bottom right, cropped out most of the wood stand and darkened the rest of it, so there's just the barest right edge of the box/stand showing through.. 
 

For 2-D work, it's better if the background (behind the art) is black, so there are no details to distract viewers. Unless, of course, the art is black. Then you have to use a different color or texture for the background, so viewers can easily see where the art stops and the background begins.

With film, you'll either have to use felt or a velvet-like material that does not reflect light or paint a wall or large-enough piece of wood black (or carefully not light it). With digital you can add or correct the background in software, if you know how and are careful. You can crop a slide image with metallic tape (that you've scrupulously kept clean, so dust or hair doesn't intrude into your image), but it's always messy, and the tape — if you can even still find some — is expensive.

Do not include the mat or frame in the image, so the image appears relatively larger and sharper, and those brighter elements do not distract. Framing tastes vary widely and can affect the quality of your work in others' minds.

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Make sure the camera is steady.

If you don't have a tripod, borrow one or use a chair, desk or something else solid. Most tripods are cheap and anything but solid. This is important. Tripods' most important job is to hold the camera steady, but they also hold it in the same place, which can be helpful when shooting more than one piece of art that's the same or similar size.

Use a self-timer, if your camera has one. Probably it does. Use it.
Don't touch the camera while it's self-timing.
Don't walk around if your floors shake
.

 

f-stops

From the Wikipedia page on f-stops, which it defines as "the focal length divided by the "effective" aperture diameter. It is a dimensionless number that is a quantitative measure of lens speed, an important concept in photography."



F/stops are fractions, so bigger f/ numbers mean smaller apertures (holes) and less light.

The major f-stops, from large to small, are f/ 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22 and 32.
Each succeeding smaller aperture allows half the light of the previous one.
Each succeeding faster shutter speed lets in half the light of the previous one.
 

Shutter speeds are also fractions, so bigger numbers mean faster shutter speeds that let less light pass through.

Unless you have discovered your lens' optimum aperture in a lens test, close it down two stops from wide open. If you have an f/3.5 lens, click two clicks down to between 5.6 and 8, unless your art is three-dimensional and more than a few inches deep, so the image will need more depth. Since each whole f/stop lets in half the light of the last one, two stops = 2x your lens' maximum aperture. You have an f2 lens? 2 x 2 = 4, so set it to f4 on an f2 lens, or set an f2.8 lens to f5.6.
 

Find the correct exposure

The best / easiest / quickest way to find the correct exposure is to take a shot at whatever shutter speed and aperture your camera sets for you, or whatever settings it was already set for. Look at the resulting image on the LCD, then change either aperture, shutter speed, lighting, angle of view or something. Then take another shot and look at it. You'll figure it out quicker that way than if you attempt to follow rules or slavishly follow an exposure meter. After you've been doing it for awhile, you'll often know when to adjust exposure compensation.

There is not one single correct exposure. Everybody's correct exposure is different.


Avoid mixing colors of light

If you are shooting Outdoor film (Daylight) or have your camera set for Daylight, don't let any other kind of light shine on your art. You may not be able to tell the difference, but your film or digital camera will. Study your recent images often.

Make sure your camera is set for the kind of light you are using. If your camera is set for Tungsten (Indoor or "Type B" lighting), don't let daylight reflect into the subject. Sneaky bits of daylight shining on a scene mostly illuminated by tungsten light, will show as blue that does not belong wherever it shows up.

Took awhile for me to screw this rule up, but a decent example of this error is above on this page.
 

To make 3-D work look dimensional, light it from behind to create shadows, then fill in some of the shadows with a reflector.
 

Caldwell Chunk

The Caldwell Chunk — very probably designed by the late Dallas Photographer Tom Jenkins
 

Ugly, yes, and not, perhaps, the greatest art object, but its other part is more intriguing. This was quickly and informally photographed on my living room floor using what I call my Utterly Simple Lighting Setup for Sculpture, which comprises a light bulb in a reflector on a light stand, a bright white reflector (styrofoam-like packing material that came with something I mail-ordered [much better], or a white mat board [usually adequate]) and not much more.
 

Lighting Suggestion: Lighting a three-dimensional object from behind lends it more apparent depth, because its shadows are obvious. I chose this angle, because it showed all the important moving parts. I probably could have cleared the area of dark shapes, but here, they seem to give the object more space and dimension, and I was just fooling around. This is not a studio setup. I shot it in my living room, and the only things I moved were the light and the object.


Bright or white areas near the edges of a photograph distract attention. Any words in a photograph will attract attention. If your images show those things, make sure they're meaningful. 

 

Check exposure on the art itself by zooming or moving the camera closer, to fill the LCD or viewfinder with the image. Dark objects need more light (longer shutter speeds or bigger apertures) and lighter objects need less.

Make sure the meter doesn't "see" the white mat or dark background, either of which can throw off the correct exposure.

If you have a gray card (18% reflectance) or or something in a medium green (Green grass outside works almost perfectly.), use that to make a substitute reading, but be sure it is in the same light and facing the same direction at the same angle as your art does.

To determine correct exposure, point your camera or light meter at a medium gray object.

If you point a light meter or a camera with one at a white object, the object will be underexposed
If you point a light meter or a camera
with one at a dark object, the object will be overexposed.
Move the camera closer to the work to check the exposure, but you probably will still have to "over" expose
dark objects and underexpose bright ones.

Click the image and check it on your LCD to see how it's rendered. It's not like you are wasting expensive film.
 
 

Be sure rectangular work is straight and the whole surface is in focus. Don't let it tilt, although Photoshop and other software can correct for un-straight, even tilted art. But if all of the face of it is not in focus, you'll have to start over.
 

Focus, focus, focus.

In some digital cameras, the image on the LCD can be zoomed or magnified to check focus and details, but LCDs on many cameras are too small or they do not accurately reflect tonal ranges. Most LCDs show too much contrast, so even out of focus shots look good. If you can magnify the image, you'll see what the image is really like.

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Marty Ray pot

Marty Ray   Photographed with a Nikon D300 camera using a 17~55mm lens
 

My photographic procedure

Make certain only one color of light illuminates the art. Fluorescent tubes are often curved into smaller 'bulb' devices. Be sure they are all the same color and shine the same color of light. They come in several varieties, each of which emit different colors. If you are using incandescent lighting with a window open to daylight, you are still mixing colors, so shutter the window. I like the Daylight Blue bulbs best, but even they vary.

eHow's Fluorescent Tube Colors page explains and describes which fluorescents emit which colors.

If you use all the same color of light, it is easier to correct your image colors later in software. If you mix light colors, you may never get it to look real or correct. Our eyes adjust. Cameras do not. You can see the color effects in some LCDs/viewfinders, but they tend to be subtle in that high contrast view.
 

Set the White Balance for the light source by clicking the correct icon on your camera (the easy way) or by filling the image view with something that's white (I usually use a piece of typing paper.) and pushing the correct buttons in the right sequence, or by setting the color balance via menu or dial. Or simply stick with daylight.

DPReview.com has a White Balance page that must explain something.
Wikipedia's starts out good then, after scaling monitors, gets seriously OT (off topic) and complex, although Wiki pages change often.
 

Set the camera to the correct mode. I used to always use Manual, but many cameras do not offer manual exposure. I still use it when nothing else works, but my normal mode for tripod photographing is Aperture mode (A). Shutter speeds are not important when a camera is on a tripod, and the subject is not moving. I set the aperture to that lens' best aperture so it will render the best image quality with enough depth-of-field to render the object sharp. This is easier for flat art.

Secure the camera to a sturdy tripod, so its back (and sensor) are parallel to the surface of the art and aimed at flat art's center or whatever looks best for 3–D.

Set zoom to middle range, so the distortion (usually barrel at wide angle; pincushion at telephoto) is minimized. Reading lens tests helps us learn the best zoom setting for a lens. It's not always in the middle.

DPReview.com has a Barrel Distortion page and a Pincushion Distortion page that explains the terms simply and visually. Other Optical terms are linked from their Optical Glossary page or their photo Glossary index.
 

Carefully align each image in the camera, so the sides appear straight and tops and bottoms are level. Even if you cannot square all the edges, if the entire piece is sharp, the image can be squared later in using "distort."

Activate the self-timer, so any motion from pushing the shutter button, touching the camera or walking in that room is dissipated by the time the shutter goes off. Sometimes when I'm shooting a lot of somethings, I set my self-timer for just a couple seconds (Few cameras offer that option, but waiting ten seconds each time gets to be a drag).

Look at the image you just shot on the LCD. Enlarge it several times if you can. Make sure it's in sharp focus and that the colors look like the art, and that the exposure shows the lights as lights and the darks as darks.

Take more images than you need — at different exposures, angles and other possibilities, just in case.
 

If I only need one shot, I try to get the best possible angle. Turn it around or walk around it to find the view that is most attractive or representative. Maybe find several possibilities and shoot them all. Choose among them later.

If I need several shots, I shoot a straight front view even with the piece, a one-quarter view, three-quarter view, side or profile view, even a back or bottom view if there's something interesting. Shoot details of noticeable features. For most flat work you probably only need one front shot.

When I shot objects at Joel Cooner Gallery, I shot detail views of anything that seemed interesting. Faces, flaws, details, even tags that showed provenance, or signatures, because those are of interest to collectors.

I used to shoot at least three shots of every piece — one at what the camera/meter indicated was the correct exposure; one one-stop over; and one a half-stop under — even if it looked great on the LCD. Until I figured out the differences between that camera's LCD's view and the resulting images. Eventually, I settled for two shots, "correct" and one-stop underexposed. Most art shot in bright sunlight looks better with underexposure. (Most everything else does, too, but that universal rule doesn't apply to things indoors, especially people.)
 

Make sure the exposure is correct.

Light art will probably need less exposure (smaller apertures — bigger f numbers at the same shutter speed), and dark art probably needs more exposure (wider apertures — smaller f numbers). Pointing the camera at gray art will probably net the best exposure most of the time.

If you are unsure — or even if you are not — take shots at different exposure settings until you learn your camera. You can always delete the extras.

Place each new piece in the same place as the last, so the camera does not have to be moved around or re-aimed. An easel can be helpful, but a neutral background (a nail in a plain wall where you can hang art) is best. None of the works on this page were shot in an actual photo studio — although Renoir's Onions above were shot in a museum.

* = And, of course, Photoshop. 

  

Don't ask me to recommend a camera or lens for you.

Alpa Reflex photo by Rama

The Alpa Reflex was introduced in 1944.    Photograph by Rama.

That decision is entirely up to you and your budget and your skill level, and what else you plan to do with your camera. There are dozens of inexpensive digital cameras whose features fit neatly into the categories I've outlined on this page.

In general, the larger the sensor, the better the image quality — and the more expensive the camera. Actual sensor size is not directly related to megapixels advertised. So the larger the resulting image can be made without pixelizing and the less visual noise it will show. When curators or jurors look at images for shows, they are sometimes projected (often badly) but higher resolution images still show better.

There are bargains in larger-sensor cameras that have been around awhile or have been factory-refurbished, but cameras with larger sensors usually cost more. Often a lot more. There's good reasons for that. Quality — and the technology that helps create it — costs.

It may be best to avoid brand new camera models. Early adopters pay more and sometimes get stuck with issues that may get fixed in later models. Camera companies do test their cameras, but having eager early adopters do their beta testing saves them time and money. I wait six months to a year after the latest and greatest cameras come out. By then prices are lower and most of the things wrong are fixed. Don't get fooled by the hype.

My favorite photo test site used to be Digital Photography Review, which has photo news, forums, reviews and other features. Unfortunately, they test far more mediocre products for amateurs, who still comprise the majority of the camera market, but they also test the latest and greatest technologies and newest cameras of value to enthusiasts and professionals.

But DPR's most important feature is their photography-related forums that let real people talk about their cameras, lenses and other photo equipment in few-holds barred personal evaluation. There are rules to post, but you can read all you want for free. That's called "lurking," and it's what I usually do there. You have to register to respond, but that's free, too, once you sign up, which is a minor hassle. Their discussion Forums are still good, although I think that surely Amazon/DPR will figure out a way to screw those up, too,

My new favorite photo-related websites are Imaging Resource and Camera Labs. They're as honest and straightforward as DPR used to be. Thom Hogan is an excellent resource for the few camera types he covers. Next down the list may be Luminous Landscape, which publishes a spare few, great, long reviews and reports. There are new photo sites every day. Digital Rev TV has an attitude I appreciate but he's dead wrong about some things, like putting your copyright notice on the photographs we publish online.

YouTube lists many camera reviews, but these are usually done by people who don't know much about video presentation or camera technology.

I go to — and through — many other websites about photography. When I find more winners, I eventually list them near the bottom of this page.

Whatever camera you think you want, try before you buy. Hold it. Does it fit well in your hand? Holding it comfortably, can you easily reach the controls? Does it feel balanced? Take some pictures with it on your own card, so you can check out the images on your own monitor and compare them. Photograph hand-written notes on each camera or lens you try, so you'll remember which cam or lens you used.

After you've thoroughly digested reviews to learn how, can you easily change such things as aperture, shutter speed, ISO exposure compensation and white balance? Does it let you use your gathering collection of lenses?


LCD vs. Viewfinder Viewing

If the camera you want has only an LCD for viewing, you will always be engaged in an uphill battle when you use it off of a tripod in any light less intense than direct sunlight. You will have to hold the silly thing out in front of you, and invariably it will waver out there, which means you will not get the benefit of most of that camera's technology, and your images will blur a little or a lot.

You'll probably think it works great, because of the shots you took in bright sunlight. More photographs are ruined by photographer-induced camera movement than any other cause. If your camera has a viewfinder (not an LCD), you can park it against your forehead to hold it steady. If not, you can't.

I keep recommending a tripod, and for shooting art, that's a necessary and good thing. Sometimes, in the field or gallery, I park my camera against anything else I can find — riser, wall, door, etc. to hold it steady.
 
 

Articulating LCD Viewfinders
 

Lumix G3 with articulating LCD

image from Imaging Resource's review of the older Panasonic Lumix G3

The one other camera option I urge you to try is an articulating LCD viewfinder.

I have big, bad, and expensive, Nikon dSLRs that offer better overall image quality at any ISO, but I often eschew them for my handy little Panasonic Lumix G5 when I photograph art, because it is smaller, lighter and I can see the exact exposure, white balance and shutter-speed effect before I take the photo. I often stand in front of a work of art in a gallery, fiddling the dials and switches till what I see in the LCD matches what I see on the wall. It also has a swinging, tilting and twisting LCD that makes it more likely I'll be able to aim it from higher than my eyes can reach, lower than I care to bend or around corners.

I got it for the articulating screen and because it's small and so are its lenses. One of its best features is that all the camera's important settings can be adjusted via touchscreen menus on the LCD, not lost in the menus (which it also has). Small, light and easy to carry, it is my favorite camera, even if it doesn't fit in my pocket. When I travel, it goes with me.

Panasonic's G series is great for any situation that does not require fast focusing. For anything that moves — kids, animals, birds, cars, etc., it is less useful, which is why I still keep my much heavier Nikons.

When I scout galleries to find art to review and photograph, I take my G5. I usually use it off-tripod, but when it's on a tripod, that articulating LCD really shines.

Unlike dSLRs' combination of an optical viewfinder and an electronic LCD, the G-series' LCD and eye-level viewfinder both render electronic images that show the image very like it will be when you load it into your computer, so there's much less messing with it. Plus, setting its white balance to perfectly match art almost anywhere is miles easier than on my big, clunky Nikons.

I am not saying electronic viewfinders are always better than optical viewfinders, although in my experience, they are. I wish there were quality cameras with full-frame, APS-C and micro four-thirds sensors with both, so I could choose viewfinders and still use the lenses I've been buying since I was a photographer for a mediocre metropolitan newspaper in the early 1970s. I'm sure there are benefits optical viewfinders offer that electronic does not, but now I've extensively used both, I can't think of any.

Some Nikons and other cameras have partially articulating LCDs that either tilt or swing, not both. But Panasonic and Canon offer some cameras with fully articulating LCDs, that tilt, swing and twist like in the animated image above. The differences can be significant. Some camera-makers (including Nikon) place their partially articulating LCDs where they block tripod use and create other indignities. Try before you buy, or read the reviews carefully.
 

Amazon Photo Equipment Buying Warnings

If the item is in short supply or they've nearly run out, beware of buying stuff from Amazon— even if the say "more are on the way." They often increase the price significantly just because they can. Check prices at other reputable dealers — including Adorama and B&B&H Photo before you buy. I used to recommend Amazon, but I have doubts, although their return policy is generous, and their Prime membership at $90/year gets you quick, otherwise free, 3-day delivery for any ordered item that shows the Prime insignia and free access to their stupidly complex system of streaming movies.

Unlike Adorama and B&H Photo, Amazon charges local tax percentage add-on to purhases sent to Texas. That's 8.25% added to your bill.

B&H Photo has sold me used equipment (with somebody else's data and images on it) as new — twice. So despite raves by friends, I don't buy from them unless nobody else has what I need. Even though I got my money back both times‚ it was a hassle.

Many deep discount photo (and other) dealers will attempt to pad your purchase with cheap, useless, junk "kits" that you don't need. Know exactly what you want, and say no to the rest. Skip the junk you don't need.
 

If you are buying a camera to photograph art,
you 
can get away with pretty cheap.
 

The best places I've found for discounted cameras are the Rumor sites, like Nikon Rumors, Micro four-thrids Rumors and Canon Rumors. But beware, those ad keep those sites in business. There are probably other brands of rumor sites, but these are the ones I check often. When they can't find rumors, and need something to fill ths space, they provide links to camera sales. Sometimes those notices are paid for by the camera companies or stores, sometimes it's a site service.

They usually link several purchase sites, like Amazon, Adorama, B&H and others. Don't buy from European or Asian stores, unless you know what you are doing, because American stores offer USA Warranties, so if you get a lemon, you won't be able to get it fixe free, maybe at all, here.

Availability for these recommendations change too often to keep up with, but these image-stabilized inexpensive cameras are especially worthwhile, now that they are not new anymore but still available.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 has held its $85 price for years, but once a camera is no longer being produced, they sometimes sell at an absurd premium to their former bargain-basement prices. See reviews of the S3 at Consumer Reports   PC Magazine   Amazon

It's not a great camera, because it has a tiny sensor, but the brand is good, and the camera is inexpensive at $85 for the black one. The red one is about twice that now. (The price keeps changing. If you're strapped for cash, it would probably be good enough, not great, and it'll probably fit in a pocket. But it has a tiny sensor, so don't expect image quality miracles.)

The other cameras I used to tout here are no longer available at bargain prices. The Olympus Pen E-PL1's price has more than doubled, because there's few of them left in the market. But when I started listing it here, it was only $150 with a decent lens, and an image size nine times that of the piddling little sensors on cheap little Point & Shoot cameras like this one.

Adorama had when I wrote this a factory-refurbished Nikon D3100 for $374 with a 18-55mm zoom, battery, charger, a 90-day warranty and free shipping. Its sensor is full APS-C (Nikon calls it DX) size, which is 13.5 times larger than the sensor on the Panasonic above. And, because it is a digital single lens reflex, it will focus fairly fast on moving things like kids, cats, dogs and birds flying, so it is a substantially better camera than the littleLumix. Althoug there are other criteria besides sensor size for calling a camera better, it is one of the more important measures.

It's cheap, because it's not the latest model, but Ken Rockwell recommends it. He calls it one of his "Best Serious Cameras (DSLRs)."

The dancer picture below and several photographs I've showed as Fine Art in art galleries were taken with my SD780 IS, which was (it died when I fell on it.) much less good than the Panasonic above. Images that look good on the web, do not necessarily look good in big prints. Web images are very low resolution — 72 (Mac) or 82 (PC) dpi. Prints are usually at least double that (at least four times the number of pixels).

Another source for lower-priced camera is camera so-called rumor sites, like 4/3 Rumors, Nikon Rumors, Mirrorless Rumors, Canon Rumors and probably rumors for other camera companies, where they run bargains (often as advertisements, so be careful and know the current usual price before you buy.) when they can't find rumors.

But that's how I learned that the price for my latest camera, the Panasonic G5, had come down a couple hundred dollars, just the incentive to buy I was waiting for.
 

Point+Shoot (P+S) cameras are comparatively inexpensive, usually costing less than $300 — sometimes a lot less. dSLRs and Micro-Four-Thirds (m43) cameras cost from three hundred to thousands of dollars — and offer significantly better IQ (Image Quality), ease of use, speed and customization. dSLR cameras are also great for photographing moving subjects and just about everything else. But they are larger and heavier and are more complicated than P+Ss and more expensive.

P+Ss are all but useless for photographing things that move fast — kids, pets, birds, sports, etc. Luckily, most art just sits there waiting for you to take its picture. Now, places that need photographs of your art — your own archives, publishers, exhibition curators, competitions and job opportunities — insist on digital images. Without film, you can do almost everything by yourself — if you have the software, the skills, and you have been practicing.
 

Tiana Wages - Was It Here or Was It There

 

Helpful links

Mirrorless Vs. dSLR — ane outstandingly solid explanation of the differences between the two main camera types now availabe, with excellent visuals that make it clear, by camera and lens expert Nasim Mansurov.

Strobist — this robust site, which appears to be free, though I have not visited many pages yet. They are all about off-camera strobes (electronic flash for a camera), and they get interesting images. Might be worthwhile for art, too. Their Lighting 101 seems a good place to start, although they do have a page called Welcome to Strobist.

Vimeo has a wonderful series of 90-second videos that visually explain many otherwise complicated aspects of photography. Vimeo is about video, but video and photography have enough in common that if you learn the basics in one, you can apply it to the other.

PetaPixel is about photography, often using short videos. I find its diversity fascinating, and I check it several times a week.

Dylan Bennett has a really informative and helpful (but math-filled) video explaining f/stops and aperture

Can too many choices lead to buying the wrong digital camera? Here are a few tips to help you choose by Steve Meltzer on Imaging Resource.

Load one very recent image file from a camera to Camera Shutter Count, and the site will tell you how many times that camera's shutter has been clicked. Free, and they don't store the image. My elderly Nikon D300 has been fired 103,663 times, but I should note that it is on its second shutter assembly.

 

How To

Cameras & Lenses

How to Get Better at Photography by Thom Hogan

How to Buy Used Lenses includes a video and links to info about how to clean all the other parts of a camera and shows one way to clean camera and lens.

How To Photography Tutorials from Camera Labs.
 

Perception

How Humans Perceive and React to Color and more
 

Sharpness / Focus Issues

The Mansurovs' How to Take Sharp Photos

Nasim Mansurov's How to Quickly Test Your DSLR for Autofocus Issues and the much more technical Lens Calibration Explained are, as Mansurov notes, "for uber geeks only!" but they might help.
 

Other

How to Start Showing Your Art (including photography)

How to Design an Invitational Postcard

Macro Photography Tips


 

Photoshop

There's probably one giant list of all Photoshop links, but until I stumble on that gargantua, I'll post the ocassional link I've found useful. These are listed in alphabetical order:

AG Design's List of Photoshop Resource Sites - ugly page but useful.

B&H Photo has a kazillion tutorials and other helpful links, some are light and airy and fun, and others are stodgy and replete.

Clearly NOT Everything You Need to Know about Photoshop, but it's a start.

My favorite speaker so far is photographer and author Tim Gray, who often makes me smile. This is his 2-hour Image Cleanup in Adobe Photoshop show and tell on B&H.

Andy Graber's style is a little less light, but it's the first Introduction to Photoshop CS6 I saw, so it's here until I replace it with somebody else's.

gold glob The Simplified Guide to Getting Started in Photoshop


 

Photoshop Alternatives

More Photoshop Alternatives keep showing up. I updated this alphabetically arranged list on July 11 2014:

ACDsee Pro3 for Macintosh is $75 (50% more than last year) and offers a downloadable free trial.

Acorn 4 for Macintosh is $30 has no tutorials on top of its site.

Gimp has been around for many years, iis free and offers photo retouching, composition, authoring and more.

Iridient Developer "is a powerful RAW image conversion application designed and optimized specifically for Mac OS X. Iridient Developer gives advanced photographers total control over every aspect of their digital camera's output, yet still provides easy drag and drop batch conversion and access to basic adjustments for the casual user." But its home page has no pictures, indicating it mught not offer much in that department. Very strange.

LightZone's site has only one image (of a pretty mountain) and so many boxes of warnings that it never quite gets around to describing their product. Whatever it does, it is free, but you have to be a member, "for security purposes". And they're amzed yet very proud of their 50,000 members. It is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac, but I still don't see a description of what their software is or does.

Pixelmator may be the best and easiest to learn Photoshop alternative, and it understands PSDs (PhotoShop Documents), Photoshop's native image format, which means it will work well with all our old PSDs as well as JPEG images. Its home page offers many vivid tutorials, and It looks like a professional outfit.

PhotoLine has a 30-day trial version and works with Windows or Mac, and apparently does image & photo processing, vector graphics, Desktop Publishing, layout and text, image dbs, has a raw converter and offers animation and Flash. It costs 59 Euro and its manuals are in German, English and Italian, and apparently is a German company.


arranged alphabetically and thematically:

AlternativeTo Adobe Photoshop CC includes 137! Photoshop alternatives arranged according to their popularity with AlternativeTo's readers, each with a short description and a link to alternativeTo's short page on that program that includes download, information and official website links.

Free Photoshop Alternatives for Editing Photos list by Kevin Muldoon in DEESIGN, Tools includes apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, Online and Mobile Devices.

Fifteen Great and Free Photoshop Alternatives

Lifehacker's Five Best Photoshop Alternatives

Macworld's Photoshop killers: Nine OSX alternatives to Photoshop has outdate information including prices and availability, but it hits the highpoints for Mac programs. November 27 2013

PC Magazine's 7 Adobe Photoshop CC Alternatives has full reviews of each of those seven: ACDSee, Corel Paintshop Pro, GIMP, Paint.net, Photoshop Elements, Pixler and Serif PhotoPlus

TechRadarPro's Best Photoshop alternatives: six we recommend Buying Guide offers a very limited selection.

The Best Photoshop Alternatives That Are Totally Free

23 Alternatives to Photoshop includes many free applications.

When Adobe started wanting Photoshop users to pay by the month, I emailed Thom Hogan, whose photographic site I read often, recommend a Photoshop alternative, he said, "On a Mac, Pixelmator does almost everything Photoshop and understands PSD files." It's free to try for 30 days, and only $59 to buy. I'm going through it slowly, and may end up replacing Adobe's Evil Empire with it.

Hongkiat's Resize Your Images Online Without Photoshop is a link list of online resources for resizing images only.

 

 

Accessories

Tripods

What tripod? - The Nikonians

Five of the best tripods for under $450 - Digital Photography Review

Is this the world's best tripod? - Luminous Landscape

How to Choose and Buy a Tripod for a DSLR Camera - Nasim Mansurov

Best tripods and camera supports: 15 tested - TechRadar

 

Memory Cards

CF/SD/XQD Performance Database introduction to camera memory cards by Rob Galbraith, who used to exhaustively test cards for newly introduced Nikon and Cannon cameras, which are linked in the drop-down menu at top right. Unfortunately for us, Galbraith has since got a full-time teaching gig, and no longer does the memory card tests I have relied upon for so long.

Compact Flash Card Readers tested - by Rob Galbraith

Strobist - Learn How to Light

 

Books

Thom Hogan's Photography Books

Ken Rockwell's Recommended Books

Ten Best Photography Books for Beginners + More to Consider

There are, of course, thousands of photography books.

 

 

JPEGs

JPEG Myths & Facts is fairly self-explanatory.

Higher Resolution or Lower Compression JPEGs? is visually interesting but was confusing the first dozen times I read it very carefully. Eventually some of it began to seep in.

Wikipedia is very informative on JPEG and other Photographic Terms, but they are notorious for having incorrect information sometimes.

 

 

Personality sites

Thom Hogan writes books that he sells, but he also provides good information for free on his site. Lots of good information. If you need to work on composition, Thom suggests you take a drawing course. He says, "most photography-as-art books are shallow and incomplete compared to the technique side. You'll have to look harder and dig deeper to improve on the art side than you will on the craft side. His Getting Better at Photography essay is superb. He sells books, and those and his freebies are listed on his site index and his Nikon Digital Camera and Photography Articles page.

Nasim Mansurov has advanced photography tutorials, reviews, tips and guides.

Ken Rockwell may well be a blowhard, but I've learned a lot from him, even if people on online photo forums often hold him in contempt, because he sometimes reviews equipment that is not yet available, and he is inordinantly prejudiced for Canon and Nikon cameras, among others of his human flaws. He has writeen that he just makes stuff up sometimes.


 

Photo terminology

Many of the more important Digital & Photographic Terms are defined on my Cameras & Lenses: Past & Future page.

Equivalent Focal Length and Field of View — This explanation by Nasim Masurov is the best I've seen.

How to Reat MTF Charts - Nasim Mansurov

 


Photo Rumors

Photo rumor sites are growing in importance, size and readership. I check Nikon and m43 rumors at least several times a week to learn about the latest potential products (Some never do pan out.), the latest reviews, bargain prices usually on older cameras and lenses, as well as pure scuttlebutt.

Photo Rumors   Nikon Rumors   Micro Four-Thirds Rumors   Canon Rumors   Mirrorless Rumors


 

Books

Lighting Equipment: A Comprehensive Guide for Digital Photographers sounds like an intelligent approach

Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It seems to make sense, although the author's advice may be more complicated than we'd need for photographing art.

Paul Fuqua's Light Science and Magic, Fourth Edition: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, looks heavy on glitz.

Recommended Reading: Books and eBooks and sites for Digicam Users

 

 

Other Sites

Home Studio Lighting Gear for Students and others

While I usually only use one light and one reflective fill, many professionals use three lights. The best explanation I've found for where to aim them and how to use them is on 3dRender.com, from whence it has been adapted and shortened from the Digital Lighting & Rendering book by Jeremy Birn.

Alltop - oft-updated list of a huge number of Photography-related sites

 

 

My latest email address is always on this sites's Contact us page. Yes, I do answer reader questions; I appreciate suggestions; and both have led to additions and corrections to this page.

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