Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tips on Photographing your Artwork and Making Prints

I thought I would write a little about how I take pictures of my artwork for use in making my own prints. None of this is very profound, just some practical tips gathered from my own experiences and experiments. If this is of interest to you please read on.

It has been a long and interesting journey to get to the point where I actually produced a print I liked. Some of the important factors in getting a good result have been; lighting and set up, a good camera, a good printer, a bit of knowledge about using ICC profiles with Photoshop (or any graphics software) and having proper art paper for printing.

Lighting and Set Up

My first tries taking photos were with digital cameras many years ago, so the resolutions were low, but still I was able to get some decent pictures, if only for posting on the web.

I had no special equipment except for a newfangled digital camera. I would prop up the artwork somewhere and take hand held shots. I realized pretty soon that I needed a tripod, no way around it. So we bought a tripod.

I also started taping the artwork up on my art easel and paying more attention to lining up the camera as perpendicularly as possible to the surface of the artwork. I learned to zoom the lens in to avoid distortions caused by wide angle shots.

I experimented with using natural light and/or the flash. When I used the flash indoors, I could get a clear enough picture, but I didn't like the cold washed-out look it gave to the artwork. If I turned on overhead fluorescent lights I'd get weird color casts that I couldn't get rid of entirely. If I tried using natural light from a window, I had to wait for bright days in the early afternoon, and even then, depending on how I placed the easel and camera in regards to the window, I might get a shot too bright on one side and shadowy on the other. My best results were achieved when I took the whole shebang outside to the yard on a clear day. I could get fairly sharp, color correct pictures. Windy days were annoying because then I had to hurry and take shots before the wind knocked things down.

My back patio was another good option because on sunny days I could get some bright diffused daylight back there without having to worry about the wind or curious pets. Also helpful was learning a little about the white balance settings on my camera and making sure to choose the best one for the type of light I was attempting to shoot in; fluorescent, incandescent, daylight, etc. When I didn't have the ideal shooting conditions, using the correct white balance setting really helped to tone down unwanted color casts.

Over the years, my lighting set up has gotten more sophisticated. Thanks to my supportive and ever more knowledgeable hubby, we have accumulated some great equipment.

Our current set up includes:

* Canon 5D Mark II camera with a 24-70mm F2.8 L lens
* Canon Timer Remote Controller
* Bogen / Manfrotto Tripod with 3-Way Head
* Gossen Digipro F - Digital Incident, Reflected and Flash Light Meter
* Photogenic StudioMax III 2-Light Basic Studio Kit

Now I can take pictures anytime, and indoors too. Thank goodness.


We have migrated through 5 generations of digital cameras. First was a 1 megapixel Kodak, then there were two Nikons ( 5 and 8 megapixels respectively) and lastly, the Canons; the 8 megapixel 20D and most recently the 5D Mark II (21.1 megapixels!!)

What I learned was that the more megapixels , the better, though honestly, I don't think I'll be needing any more than 21.1megapixels. Up until this last camera, I never felt that I could get images sharp enough to print well at large sizes. I got nice enough pictures to post to my websites, but not to print. The 21 megapixels have made the difference. The 13 x 19 inch prints that I have been able to produce with the files from this camera are faithful reproductions of my artwork.

Printer, Profiles and Photoshop

We have had an Epson 2200 printer for many years, but only recently have been able to take advantage of it's excellent photo (and art) printing capability. Previously when I tried to print a photo I would get a hideous off-color version of my beautiful shot. I sporadically read books about color management and searched the web for information. Over time,I did learn a lot, like what ICC profiles were and how to use them. I learned about work flows and monitor calibrations and color spaces. But somehow I always managed to fall short of producing a nice color print of anything.

The new camera spurred me on to try again to get a great image on to paper faithfully. I had the right lighting set up to capture good color, I had the camera that took great high resolution photos. I had a large-format printer that was supposedly capable of producing high quality prints. All I needed was to work the kinks out of my work flow.

It helped that I had a nice new 24 inch LCD monitor to view my raw camera image. I opened the file in Digital Photo Professional, a graphics utility program that came with the 5D camera. I was able to do some extra sharpening and white balance corrections using the raw format file before transferring it directly to Photoshop as a tif file. In Photoshop I tweaked the color some more with the original sitting next to the monitor as a reference. I loved the image I saw on my monitor but I knew that getting it on to the paper would be the hard part.

My next step was to start printing proofs. I cut down pieces of regular watercolor paper to 13 inch widths, which is the largest paper width that the Epson 2200 can accept. I sized my image in Photoshop to 12 x 18 inches so as to leave a half inch border all around.

For the sake of not using up too much paper and ink, I would temporarily crop a slice out of my picture that represented the most critical color areas. In the Photoshop print dialogue box I chose what I thought would be the closest Epson profile match to the paper I was using. It was called "SP2200 Watercolor - RW_PK". The RW stands for radiant white and the P for the photo black ink cartridge in my printer, as opposed to a matte black cartridge.

There is a good tutorial available on the Epson website called "Color Management Workbook" . It shows you how to set up the print dialogues in Photoshop to use Epson profiles in your color managed prints. You can also find all the latest and greatest paper ICC profiles and instructions on how to install them to your computer.

Printer Art Paper

To tell the truth, the proofs I did with the watercolor RW_PK profile turned out pretty crappy. This was probably because the profile was not created for the watercolor paper I was using. My paper certainly was not radiant white and it was real watercolor paper, not specially designed Epson watercolor art paper. Switching to other profiles, I achieved the best results using the generic "Stylus Photo 2200" profile, and also one called "Adobe RGB (1998)"

After getting these wacky colors on my proofs, I realized that I was going to have to buy some real honest-to-goodness Epson art paper. The knowledge finally consolidated in my head, I needed the correct ink jet art paper, I needed the correct Epson paper profile. I put away my proofs and ordered some Epson Velvet Fine Art Paper.

It arrived about a week later and I tried again. This time I made sure to get the Velvet Fine Art Paper profile from the Epson web site before even starting. A few more slices of Dean's face later and I was thrilled to see some true resemblance of the colors on the paper to the ones on the screen.

I bounced around my house like an idiot for a little while. After all, this was a watershed moment, the culmination of many years of trying. I deserved my happy time. :-)

When I calmed down I continued my proofing process, with suitably small tweaks, until I had it, a print I could be proud of. Here is a picture of my first proofs on top and then the second truer batch on the Velvet Fine paper below.

My reward for persisting in my quest for producing a "print to be proud of", was being able to take copies of my colored pencil Dean portrait to the LA Supernatural convention in March to get autographed and to give away to friends. Just in time too! :-)

There it is folks. My adventures in making prints, with a happy ending, no less. Thanks for reading!

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