Saturday, July 19, 2014

Revisiting my artwork photography tutorial




David Palumbo

Just about a year back, I wrote an article on photographing your own artwork (find it here if you missed it).  While I still follow the same basic method, I’ve learned a few new things since then and felt a brief update might be useful.

To begin, my original article suggested the choices of camera be either a DSLR or a point-and-shoot, with the point-and-shoot being the budget friendly option.  I have two thoughts that I’d like to add to this.


Buying Used

It was a major oversight to not suggest shopping for DSLRs used.  A DSLR can be had for quite the bargain if you buy a slightly out of date model which still has everything that you need.  I buy most of my camera gear used these days either through eBay or a dealer (KEH, Adorama, and B&H Photo are all excellent) and have found amazing deals on things I otherwise would not have been able to afford.  On eBay of course you have to be a bit more careful, but I see Canon Rebels of various types for $200-$300 with lens included, which is a great deal for a basic kit.  As stated in the original article, you’ll want to make sure that the model you are getting is a minimum of 12 mega pixels.  Of course, buying from a major dealer carries less risk.  I’ve never yet been burned on an eBay purchase, knock on wood, but dealers can be relied on to list accurate condition and they can also get on the phone and answer any questions you could think of.  Two big advantages over the slightly back alley feel of some eBay purchases that I’ve made.  The other glaring omission in choosing a camera was:

Mirrorless Systems

Many people will tell you that DSLR is on its way out anyway, to be replaced by mirrorless system cameras.  This class of camera should give every bit the same control and flexibility as a DSLR but in a smaller form (no flipping mirrors and whatnot inside) and often at a very reasonable price.  Interestingly, the big two camera companies, Canon and Nikon, seem to be late to the party here and if I were shopping mirrorless I’d be looking at Olympus, Sony, Panasonic, and Fuji.  Latest offerings will be pricier (though often still cheaper than DSLR), but last year’s model can often be had for a steal.



And some additional notes and thoughts:

Locking up the mirror on a DSLR for sharper images

Using the tripod and long exposure method, you shouldn’t likely have blurry images but occasionally I would still notice some softness.  It was suggested to me that I try shooting with the mirror already locked up as the mirror flip can slightly jostle the camera.  On my Canon, I solved this by setting my camera for Live View, where the rear screen displays the view through the lens as though shooting video.  I’d imagine most DSLRs will have a similar feature.  Since implementing this, ever single shot has been razor sharp.

Program your settings to a custom slot

If your camera is one which features savable custom set modes, it can be handy to set one up exclusively for artwork.  My 5dmk2 has this feature though I didn’t know it until I finally read the manual sometime last year.  On the 5dmk2, there are shooting modes labeled C1,C2, and C3 on the exposure mode dial.  I have C1 programmed for shooting my paintings, which means I flip the dial to C1 and instantly I have: ISO100, White Balance corrected for the temperature of my lights, Aperture Priority mode, aperture set for f5.6 (the ideal for my chosen lens), all live view options pre-set (grid lines for squaring the image on screen, still photo mode instead of movie, etc.), RAW format, and the self timer turned on.   Before discovering the custom set modes, I would often forget one of these many details.  Now I just switch to C1 and I’m ready to go.  Of course I don’t know which cameras do and do not have this feature, so I recommend checking in your manual.

Macro Lenses?

I had a question last time about using macro lenses which I’m sorry to say I did not answer very well (sorry Joshua!)  Though it is true that macro lenses are designed for shooting at very close distances which is not really relevant to shooting artwork and it is also true that many many non-macro lenses will have sufficient resolution and build quality to deliver stellar results, I overlooked one important detail about macro lenses: they are resolution badasses through and through.  While most modern lenses should do fine, some even outperforming the current camera sensors, you can always count on a macro lens to give excellent quality.  I currently shoot my work with a 100mm macro. 

So that’s it really, just a few random extra notes that I wanted to add.  I’ll do my best if there are any new follow-up questions!

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