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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Protip: Photograph Artwork in Natural Light

These images were taken at different times, as you can see from the increased completeness of the drawing. The left one was taken indoors, the right one outdoors, under an awning on a sunny day. Neither has been retouched (except to crop them, etc) and use the exact same camera and settings. The difference is tremendous.

Cameras don’t perceive light the same way our eyes do. Our eyes have evolved to react intelligently and also have our brains working with them to improve our perceptions of the light that meets our eyes. My old Photography professor would harp on us that our eyes were poor judges of how much light is actually visible, and this is why.
Cameras are actually sort of dumb in comparison. The soft yellow light I have inside my house provides the camera with poor contrast and a yellow cast over the image.
Light from the sun is near optimal for photographing artwork. It is near unto white (with only a slight yellow shift as our sun is a “yellow” star) and bright enough for cameras to capture images  without blurring from involuntary hand tremors, etc. The contrast is also better, straight off of the memory card as well.
Try to recreate my conditions in order to get results you’re happiest with:
  • Shoot images outdoors
  • Don’t shoot in direct sunlight to avoid glare and shadows
  • Shoot on bright, sunny days
  • Shoot artwork against contrasting background (non-reflecting black is best) for easier cropping later in PS
  • Straighten crooked images in Photoshop or use a tri-pod to avoid shooting images skewed or in perspective
  • Use double stick tape to lightly tack your drawings down to avoid the breeze ruining your shots
The Final Word: If you’re like me and don’t like scanning, you can often get away with this. I don’t think I’ll ever shoot another piece indoors ever again. (By the by, I knew my pictures would turn out better outdoors, but I would keep shooting them indoors for reasons closely relating to laziness.)
Images © 2010 the author, Eric Z Goodnight. Do not reuse under any circumstances without permission.

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