Part IV: Photographic Accessories for Photographing Your Artwork


by Mark Thellmann, InLiquid artist

In the last ACF News photocolumn, I discussed the need for a fully manual 35mm SLR camera and a flat field copy lens for close-ups, but there are some additional items which will make your slides even better when photographing your artwork.

A sturdy tripod is imperative. Shutter speeds slower than 1/60th of a second are difficult to hand hold without picking up some camera shake, and its almost impossible to keep the edges of a painting parallel in your cameras viewfinder. A cable release helps prevent shaking the camera when depressing the shutter release button. Some cameras have a mirror lock-up switch, which further reduces vibration by preventing the mirror from slapping up out of the way when the shutter release button is pressed. Employing this feature makes a tripod mandatory for when the mirror is locked up, everything goes black.

Kodak makes what is called a gray card, as an aid to perfect exposures, but I have always found this term misleading. This card just happens to have been printed a neutral gray color, but more importantly it is a surface which reflects exactly 18% of the light which strikes it. Many other colors can do this if they are of like density, not just the color gray. I will devote an entire column to the subject of exposure in a later issue. Although your in-camera light meter may give you perfect exposures most of the time, it only measures reflected light. A hand held light meter, which measures incident light, can be used to measure the relative brightness of every light in your lighting setup. This is very handy when two lights have to be of the same luminosity as when you copy flat, two dimensional artwork like a painting. You don’t want one half of your painting brighter than the other half, unless you painted it that way.

A sturdy easel is probably the most logical piece of equipment to use in displaying flat, reflective artwork, such as paintings. Place a piece of white foamcore, larger than the painting, behind the painting for support. This will also give you a white background in case the dimensions of the painting are not the same ratio (2:3) as the 35mm frame. This sure beats seeing the wallpaper and knickknack shelf in the background. White foamcore also makes an inexpensive light reflector. Black velvet is great for almost total light absorption. It serves as a nifty background for jewelry and if you desire black borders around your artwork, throw a big piece of it over the foamcore behind your painting. Watch out for dust! Pick up a lint roller.

When photographing for printed reproduction: post cards, business cards, greeting or note cards, catalog sheets, posters, etc., the printer loves to have a reference point. If you place the Kodak Color Control Patches in the scene, he will be appreciative and you will have an even better chance of obtaining accurate color reproduction on your printed piece. These items will help make your slides look much more professional and at the same time make photographing your artwork much easier. The black velvet can be purchased at a fabric shop, the foamcore at an art supply store and everything else at a professional photography store.

Mark D. Thellmann has been an art photographer, fine artist, and photography instructor for the past 25 years. He has recently produced a video entitled Take Perfect Photos of Your Art and Craftwork which discusses and demonstrates the necessary camera equipment, lighting, film exposure and methods of photographing paintings, sculpture, woodworking projects, fabric art and jewelry.

A second video entitled Alternative Photographic Processes with Polaroid Films (time-Zero film manipulation, image transfer and emulsion transfer) reveals the techniques Mark uses to create fine art. These fine art images can be found in the Polaroid Museum Collection and on greeting cards and posters throughout Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

All materials copyright Mark Thellmann. No reproduction without permission. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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