Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rant: Resolution Confusion

I was never so happy as when the art world finally gave up its Luddite adherence to the rule that all images for art shows and galleries must be submitted on 35mm slides! They were not the last to join the digital revolution by a long shot (have you peeked into the records room at your doctor’s office?) but it made the lives of artists so much easier.

That said, all we have to do now is get art professionals to list correct submission guideline! Rare is the week that I don't email a show organizer to tell them that their guidelines for art image files are useless (though, I’m always much more diplomatic than that!) To be fair, describing this sort of thing in a way that a non-digitally-minded person can understand is difficult.

Here is the problem: The terms “dpi” (dots per inch), and “resolution” are meaningless as a guideline unless they are paired with a physical dimension in inches (or millimeters.) An image that is the size of a postage stamp can be 300dpi, and so can one that is the size of a bed sheet. What “dpi” means is simply, how many pixels would you count in one inch of an image if you slapped a ruler on top of it.

There are 2 solutions to these error-prone guidelines:
1) If you want to tell people a dots-per-inch measure (even my mother, who is in her 70s and a wonderful painter, has heard of dpi) you must also list a picture size. This is acceptable: “All images submitted must be 300dpi and approximately 4 inches by 6 inches in size.” See? You're telling people that if you make your image 4 inches in the short direction, and the resolution of your image is set to 300dpi, then you will be submitting an image that has 1200 pixels counted along the short dimension. 4 inches times 300 dots (pixels) per inch equals 1200 pixels.

2) I prefer to forget about “dpi” and “resolution” altogether. These terms are confusing. Tell artists that the longest dimension of their image(s) should be between 1000 and 1200 pixels, or between something and something. All they have to do is get their image to a pixel length that falls in that range and they’re golden.

That’s all the ranting I have time for today. I've got to submit some images to a show. Now, they say 300dpi. So, do they want a postage stamp or a laptop-screen-sized image? Hmmmmmmm. I’m going to guess...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Photographing Your Art: See Your Weatherman!

Photographing your art is one of the more challenging aspects of producing (and, it’s hoped, selling) your art. If you’re like me, you don’t have tons of money to throw at photographers to shoot your finished paintings. But, if you have some knowledge of cameras and lighting, you can do most of your photography for your fine art website or art-show submissions yourself.

You will find many differing opinions of how you should be photographing your work, and I’m here to tell you the correct way! Getting studio lighting right so that it won’t make hot spots or color casts that are way off is a problem that has dogged me (and myriad photographers). In the studio I have used a *fairly* sophisticated setup of 2 spotlights with diffusers and a digital SLR to get my shots, but this process is still fraught with often-unsatisfactory results. So, like most of the solutions to problems one encounters in art, I suggest you go back to nature. The standard for viewing art is under daylight. Daylight is basically sunlight, minus any color added by reflection or filtering.

Here is the quickest and simplest way to take photos of your art that are undistorted and mostly color-accurate:

1) Shoot you paintings outdoors on an easel with your camera on a tripod perpendicular to the painting’s surface. Make sure you line up your camera so that it is perpendicular to the center of your artwork’s surface plane. This will lessen distortion caused by perspective. If your camera has a zoom lens move your tripod back and zoom in. Fill the frame with your art. This will reduce edge distortion that is caused by the wide angle setting that most point-and-shoot cameras default to.

2) Do not photograph your work in direct sunlight — it is too warm and way too bright. Also, direct sunlight on your painting will yield a much-too-warm image.

3) Do not shoot in the shade on a sunny day either — the light you are recording is reflected/filtered by the sky and will make your images much too blue.

4) The best source of clean diffuse daylight is the sky on a BRIGHT, but OVERCAST day. The light will be subdued, so, not too harsh. The clouds will neutralize much of the blue cast of a clear sky. These days are not super-rare. Save up your painting photography and keep your eyes open for these weather conditions. If you don't believe me, wait for one of these days, go outside, and look at items in the landscape whose local color is white, gray, or black (houses painted flat white, gray rocks, black or gray asphalt. You will see that any color cast that sunlight or blue sky might produce to your eye, is suddenly gone. That is what you want. You want the camera to read the paint on your painting.

For me, photographing my art is never fun, but it can be kept fairly simple, leaving me time to do what I want to be doing — painting!