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Cameras and Lenses for Photographing Art —
a short history and assessments of Digital Cameras & Lenses
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THIS PAGE:  Fill the Frame   Focus   Color   White Balance   Digital v. Analog   Shadows   Glass   Other Light   ISO  
One Photoshop Tip   Procedure   Camera LCDs and Monitors   The Rules   image file names and Copyright
What we see vs. what cameras see   Relative Sensor Sizes   Random helpful links  Credible Camera Review Sites  

How to Photograph Art

Kathy Boortz - Exacting Fiddler - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Kathy Boortz   Exacting Fiddler

Kathy's crab was photographed on a white board that I deleted all distractions from in Photoshop. I filled every space that's not crab and lightened the background till the shadows looked right, then inverted the selection to sharpen the crab.

If your art involves color, shape, dimension or texture, direct sunlight is the best light source, and it is widely available on this planet. Not talking about full — or open — shade (illuminated by the overly blue sky above), not dappled light (like from a tree's varying shadows), not overcast sky light (when the sun goes behind a cloud), but direct light beamed down 93 million miles from our local star.

Direct sunlight, however, is not always available, and other natural and unnatural light sources have their qualities, too. (See Other Light, below.) They're just not as good nor cheap nor easy to deal with as the light from the sun.

Fill the frame

Whatever size your camera's sensor or film is — or whatever the stated resolution (usually measured in megapixels) — from one of the dinky ones on an under $100 Point & Shoot to the much larger sensors on an expensive digital Single Lens Reflex (or even larger and much more expensive, large format cameras), if you fill the frame with your piece of art — get close enough so the art nearly fills the viewfinder — you'll make the best use of whatever resolution your camera has.

The more you crop (make the image smaller than the photographic frame — usually an LCD), the more you lose resolution.

Wide-angle Warning

You should not, however, fill the frame is if your lens is or is zoomed to wide-angle. From the 35mm-film-equivalent of 50mm to the medium telephoto equivalent of 150mm is the right zoom range for copying flat art. Wide-angle lenses can be very effective for sculpture, but in most cases, it's best to stick with medium telephoto lengths for two-dimensional art.

This is because wide-angle lenses tend to distort images, especially visible at the outer edges. If all you have is a wide-angle lens, fill the frame, then back off, so there's space around the art on the LCD. (It is on a tripod, right?). If you look at your viewfinder or LCD very carefully, you can see just when your flat, rectangular art is rendered flat and rectangular, not distorted. When I do distort paintings this way, I usually crop off the frame to render the image rectangular, even if the photo of it isn't completely.

Zoom lenses tend to distort at both the wide-angle and telephoto ends of the zoom range. Wide-angle lenses distort rectangles by bulging their middles out, and telephotos tend to bulge them in. Minimal distortion is usually obtained by using zoom lenses in the middles of their zoom ranges.

Never use digital zoom, which only magnifies the pixels. Use only optical zoom, which magnifies the image.

If it's not part of the art, the background is usually unimportant. You should minimize the area around the art. Let it go white or black, whichever looks best. If that area is colorful, the colors will detract from your art. Of course, you can always re-frame the image in Photoshop or other image software, but if you have to enlarge your art's image to do that, you lose resolution.

Five megapixels is plenty. Between about 8 and 14 megapixels, few people can tell the difference. My old Sony F707 has 5 megapixels; my Canon S5is has 8 and my Nikon D300 has 12 megapixels. I can barely tell the differences, even blown up on a big monitor, though I could probably tell those from a 48-megapixel image, in those few cases when megapixels aren't just hype.

Julia McClain - Howdy Ma'm - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Julia McLain   Howdy Do Ma'am   acrylic    24 x 24 inches

Photographed hand-held under tungsten lights on a wall in a gallery with a Canon S90 after setting the precise white balance.


Nothing can save it if you don't get the image in focus. Check and double-check apparent sharpness. If your digital camera will let you, magnify the image at least 5 times (5x). Some amateur cameras may not zoom that far, but if it's sharp blown up 3 - 5 times, it'll be probably be sharp enough.

Also realize that some cameras will allow you magnify (zoom into) images so much that everything looks out of focus, even when they are sharp. Experience should be your guide; it helps to know your camera. My dSLR (digital Single Lens Reflex) lets me blow images up to 20 times their size, and at that size, it can be very confusing. If I tap the enlarge-image button only 5, not the full 8 times, I get a better idea of what's actually sharp. Your camera may vary.

Also be aware that the LCDs on the back of most cameras show images that are much higher contrast than the image file really is. The unmagnified image usually looks sharp, and that can mislead you. Zoom in to be sure.



We think of sunlight as yellow, because we think the sun is yellow. But it isn't. The light it shines is blue because our sun burns blue hot (about 6,000 degrees Kelvin). We usually do not notice the color of sunlight because it is the light we expect. Our brains automatically adjust for the differences from one light source color to another, but film and digital cameras do not.

If you use light other than the mid-day (approximately 10 am till 4 pm) sun, precisely rendered colors are less likely. Early morning, late afternoon and evening sunlight is redder, and as lovely as that is, it is not much good for photographing art accurately.

Under midday direct sunlight, colors are easy. Most film and nearly all digital cameras (unless set otherwise) expect and assume sunlight. If you use something else, it is guesswork. Anything but sunlight tends to be confusing to both users and cameras/film.


Adjusting what we see as white

Thank goodness for digital cameras with adjustable White Balance settings.

I won't buy a serious camera without it, because I shoot under a variety of light sources, only some of which I have control over. Nine years ago, I had to wait six months to get my Sony F707, then the only Prosumer camera which had that feature.

Unfortunately, not many digital cameras have manual White Balance, and most automatic White Balance features on digital cameras (including expensive ones) don't work well under all lights. Canon cameras, for instance, have notoriously bad White Balance under tungsten lights (or else they believe consumers want to render light bulb light as reddish, which does look romantic). You still have to check feature lists and read camera reviews carefully.

My expensive Nikon D300 allows me to make color balance adjustments for a variety of light sources, so I can dial the exact color in degrees Kelvin for almost any kind of a source (halogen, fluorescent or tungsten bulb, lamp, candle or sunlight under differing circumstances), but it's still iffy with mixed light sources — like daylight plus the dreaded fluorescent and other light source combinations, and its automatic white balance fares poorly (goes reddish) with ordinary light bulbs.

Mixed lighting — like in galleries with big windows and light bulbs — can vary by the inch from warm to cool, and homes with mixed lighting can be a challenge to adjust to. Sometimes I can set the camera before I shoot. Sometimes, because I shoot Raw, I can change the color in Photoshop later. Sometimes I can't do either.

The Blue Egret - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Mixing light sources is a hassle. If you are shooting "indoor" film or digital with indoor lights, and there is an unblocked window letting in outside light (which is probably brighter than anything indoors) so it can shine on or reflect in your art, some or all of your art may be rendered blue instead of the color you expect. Not a major problem with digital (if you know how to use masking in an image manipulation program or how to tune that one color out), but tough luck on film.

If you shoot art inside or near color objects, those objects' color(s) can reflect in the art. I love my Parrot Green (It feels warm in winter and cool in summer.) living room, but I know better than to photograph art there, because when I did, the green walls turned it a sickly shade. Our brains adjust. Cameras and film don't.

Colored walls and ceilings are prime suspects for color shifts, but if you have a big red couch where it can reflect in your art, it can make your art pink. Even outside, a big green tree, a bright yellow garage or red bricks can alter color subtly or substantially. The blue paint on the ceiling of your porch can ruin warm hues.


Digital Vs. Analog

Before we jump into this century, which will eventually be all digital and is already rushing headlong in that direction, remember: If you need a lot of slides quickly, shoot slide film. It's probably cheaper.

But if you want to save your images in their true colors for a long, long time, forget film. Film fades. Film colors change according to temperature, humidity, storage methods and materials, time and the type of light used to view them. Slides can be made from digital images at any time in their long life cycle and still be great (but it's not necessarily cheap).

Fluorescent lights are especially dangerous to photographic prints as well as offset (printing press) printing and ink jet prints.

Properly stored digital images, however, will last centuries. A copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a digital image file is identical to its original. The first and every subsequent copy of a digital file remains the same.

The first and every subsequent analog copy of a color slide or print or negative will be different. Slightly at first, but after generations of analog copies of copies, your image can become unrecognizable.


Dayak Dragon Carving

Dayak Dragon   wood carving with natural pigment by the Dayak people of Borneo


The importance of shadows

Shadows are important to our perception of art, and not just for sculpture. Two or three or more lights illuminating artwork tends to either multiply or eliminate the shadows, including shadows that show us brushstrokes, subtle and overt textures, crinkles and creases, tears, cuts, protrusions, layers, etchings and other dimensional aspects.

Orient your art so sunlight falls on the top, and your art will likely look like it should and show the textures and colors you put into it, and more closely approximate the actual piece than any other lighting source can.

If you use two or more light sources of equal intensity, texture is more difficult, and all those shadows can confuse viewers.

For three-dimensional art, use a stronger light (neither of them has to be very bright if you use longer exposures and keep the camera steady) to illuminate your art and a less intense bulb (or more distant equal bulb, or white or silver reflector or fill-in flash) to fill in the shadows.

Hundreds of books explain the basics of multi-light setups for three-dimensional objects. I learned commercial lighting at East Texas State University (back when it was still called that) in the 1970s, but I usually wing it now, moving the one light I haven't knocked over and broken until it looks good on the camera's LCD, then I adjust significantly in Photoshop.

If you are new to this, don't try to judge it with your eyes. Look at the camera's LCD, which shows much higher contrast. LCDs make judging light evenness easier.

Bali Buffalo Mask - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Bali, Indonesia   Buffalo Mask   circa 1900   wood and paint   16 inches wide

I photographed this on Dallas' Valley House Gallery wall during the opening reception using gallery lighting. I had either photographed this same mask or one like it at Joel Cooner Gallery previously and have an affection for this vivid, perhaps demonic animal with rotting wooden teeth.

I used my pocket camera, the Canon SD780, clicked it once to use in a review, then shot the ID, so I could correctly identify it. Later, in Photoshop I lightened the shadow and background, so the piece visually popped off the wall.

If your work is in a frame or mat, be careful. Those protrusions may create shadows down and into your art. If your work is already framed or matted, tilt it back toward the sun and shoot down on it from an angle, so that the back of the camera parallels the artwork to render it rectilinearly correct. A little mat or frame shadow can be helpful (to show that it is matted or framed), but a lot can get in the way.

If you take your art to a Service Provider, they will probably use more than one light — maybe four — to evenly illuminate your artwork. Very nice for art that is high-contrast and physically flat, but problematic for creating a precise likeness of art that involves color, shape, dimension or texture.

Here on Earth we have one local star (the sun), so we are used to seeing things with only one set of shadows. Our brains expect it that way. We accept as realistic, objects that cast their shadows down and slightly to the right. Slightly to the left doesn't thwart that expectation too much and may be unavoidable. But shadows cast to the right (not down), left or (shudder) upward, tend to confuse our sense of depth.

Shadows and subtle tonalities are especially important when photographing sculpture, which needs to be immediately seen as three-dimensional. You do not have to use direct sunlight to show shadows and ranges of tonalities, but it helps.

Alex Troup - Zooamorph, 1988

Alex Troup   Zooamorph   1988   mixed media with butterfly, beetle,
wasp nest, cork, feathers and newsprint   10 x 32 x 4 inches
Photographed with a Nikon D300


Glass is not clear.

Photographing art behind glass can be a challenge. Glass reflects light like a mirror. Sunlight outdoors or gallery lights indoors or your own cockamamie lighting setup anywhere in between may well reflect in the glass you put over your art. I have often accidentally included me in photographs of art behind glass or art that is glass.

The best way to photograph art behind glass is to take off the glass. If you can't get rid of the glass, light the art through the glass obliquely from the sides and shoot straight into the image while hiding the camera (everything but the lens) behind something soft, non-reflective and black. I sometimes use a large piece of black mat board with a circle cut out for my lens — or a dark towel or whatever else is available to hide reflections of me, my camera or my bright metal tripod.

Dual lighting tends to flatten out texture, shape and shadows, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Glass steals focus and distorts your images. It is not clear. Sometimes — especially when it is lighted at angles — glass adds its own blue-green color and rippled texture. Worse, many camera auto focus systems focus on the first thing they're aimed at, not necessarily what you want in focus behind the glass.

If your glass is any distance from the surface of your art (and it often is) and your camera focuses on the glass, your art may may be rendered out of focus — soft and blurry looking.

Sonia King - Pathfinder

A quicker, easier shooting technique is to photograph the piece from an angle using direct flash. No tripod required.

In general, however, it's best not to use flash when photographing art.

Make sure no flash glare gets in the glass and that the entire piece is evenly illuminated and in sharp focus, then square the work up in Photoshop or other software that allows you to "distort" the image back to square. It is helpful to make another photo directly into the piece (probably with the flash reflecting in it), so its correct proportions are known, because the relative dimensions may not be obvious from the angled photo.

Glass flattens. If you take glass off thin or flimsy art, and you don't secure the art to something to flatten it, the piece can bend or warp or ripple. Warped base mediums show shadows that probably should not be visible. 

Richard Ray - Near Oak Cliff - Photograph Copyright 2009 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.


Other light

Sunlight is not perfect. Sometimes it rains or snows or is overcast or mostly cloudy. Sometimes the sky turns green and the sun disappears into tornado-like clouds. Often it's more comfortable or convenient to shoot indoors.

When I photograph Marty and Richard Ray's latest art for their member pages every year (an event I eagerly look forward to), we set up in one end of Marty's studio under a fluorescent tube that shines down from the ceiling. I adjust my camera for that specific color of fluorescent light, and we're off.


What we see and what a digital camera sees — the difference

Spectrum Differences

Something else you need to be aware of is the difference between what digital cameras "see" and what humans without color blindness see. This image is from an online ad for FullSpectrumRGB, software that supposedly made digital images more color correct. (I suspect it didn't work well, because the site is gone.) There's an elderly discussion of the product on Luminous Landscape.

Apparently, what's missing in most digital images are subtle variations in red, orange, purple and violet. I didn't try the software, but I'm curious about it, because some artists complain that digital photographs do not accurately reproduce the colors in their art.

Of course, you probably already know that the same piece of art looks different in different qualities of light. Cloudy skies render color differently than bright sunlight. Daylight is blue. Shade is bluer. Tungsten is red. Fluorescent's are green and sometimes blue. Etc. If you shoot the same piece in differing light without adjusting your camera — or if a mix of light types illuminate the same piece of art, the resulting digital images will not match the original.

At Joel Cooner Gallery, I usually have the piece I've shot right there for reference when I work the images up. When I work up most artist's work later, I have to guess.


ISO and Visual Noise

Film and other materials are rated by the International Standards Organization (ISO) according to their relative sensitivity to light. If you use film, use slow film to photograph art. If you use digital, set the camera to a low ISO setting.

We used to call this sensitivity "film speed" or "ASA" (American Standards Association), and it is still expressed as a number, with lower numbers indicating less sensitivity.

With either film or digital, the lower the speed, the lower the visual noise and the higher the contrast. Conversely, the higher the ISO, the higher the noise and the lower the apparent contrast. Grain looks like noise in the image. Fine grain usually looks better than coarse grain.

In film, visible grain was a clumping of light-sensitive silver halides suspended in the hardened gelatin of the film.

In digital, the same effect is caused by other factors, which can be somewhat controlled in PP (Post Production) via image-editing software or a plug-in noise-remover. In digital that "graininess" is called visual noise, which comes in two varieties — color noise and contrast noise — with essentially similar results that look a lot like film grain.

Low & High ISO - Copyright 2008 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

I often use Nik's DFine plug-in for the full-blown (and expensive) version of Photoshop, but there are other noise-reduction plug-ins that work with that and other programs. Photoshop Elements is a good, inexpensive — about $70 — program that will probably suit your art-photographing needs at first. Using digital photographs without editing tends to look amateurish and does not show your art to its best advantage.

At the least, you should correct the tonal range, contrast, color saturation and composition of your images, although more discussion of those techniques is beyond the scope of this article. (See Levels, below.)

80 or 100 is the lowest ISO available on most digital cameras, although 200 is the base ISO of my dSLR. Some even very expensive digital cameras render images that are so noisy at any rating higher than 100, that they are unusable for photographing art. Newer, better and only sometimes more expensive digicams can render images at higher ISO ratings very well. Most professional camera reviews show sample photographs at different ISO settings.

Some cameras are much better than others at controlling noise in high-ISO photographs.

I'll repeat: in general, it is best to use low ISO camera settings when photographing art. Putting the camera on a firm, secure tripod is also recommended.

Probably the best explanation of Image Noise is on Wikipedia.

Don't ask me to recommend a camera and/or lens for you.

That decision is entirely up to you and your budget and your skill level and what else you plan to do with your camera. I do, however, write about the cameras I use and those I lust after on a related page.

There are inexpensive digital cameras whose features fit neatly into the categories I've outlined in this story. My favorite digital camera site tested nine cameras that cost less than $150 in November 2008, and that test, especially on its Conclusions & Ratings page at the end, Highly Recommends two cameras that would be ideal for photographing your art, if you don't already have or can't afford a more expensive one.

Probably my favorite photography site is Digital Photography Review, which has photo news, forums, reviews and many other features. Second is Ken Rockwell dot com. Like me, Ken's a bit of a curmudgeon, but he likes what he likes regardless of fad or fashion, and he uses the cameras he recommends and explains how to use them to their best potential. I learned more about my big, expensive digital Single Lens Reflex from him than I did from its manufacturer or the books I bought about it.

I have no financial stake in Digital Photography Review (although Amazon does), but it's the only online photography site I check every day — although it does not change that often. I go through a lot of other websites about photography. The latest and greatest of those are linked on my personal Links page.

Their other great feature are the camera, lens and other photography-related forums in which real people talk about their cameras, lenses and other photo equipment in no-holds barred personal evaluation. You have to register — it's free — to respond, but you can read all you want for free.

Ken Rockwell has a credible page of Recommended Cameras that include a variety of cameras and budget ranges, although he sometimes gets carried away about new ones. But when he's wrong, he admits it.

The most credible digicam review sites include: Digital Photography Review, Imaging Resource, Steve's Digicams and Ken Rockwell. There are many others. Some are good; some just want to sell you something and others just want to waste your time.

The most credible lens review site is photozone.

Consumer Reports often tests different types of digital cameras. Sometimes I agree with their evaluations. Sometimes not. But I subscribe and pay attention to what they say. Often the cameras I eventually choose end up near the tops of their recommended cameras.

Cecilia Thuman - Fish Gotta Swim, 2009

Cecilia Thurman    Fish Gotta Swim, 2009
oil on paper collage diptych   34 x 32 inches


One Photoshop Tip

There are whole giant books and multi-semester classes on Photoshop — either the cheap Elements version or the big, expensive, professional, full-blown Photoshop. I'm going to assume you know what you need to know about whichever version you use, and I won't talk about all that other stuff.

But one thing I know is that you probably do not employ the correct settings to adjust Levels (command l [for Levels] in Mac; control l in PC — and yes, those are lower case Ls.), because most of the images I get from artists are incorrectly adjusted — with the black triangle at the left edge of the foothills to that first peak. I know professional photographers who do not know how to align the Levels dialog, and their images lack deep blacks and details in bright highlights.

The correct way to adjust Levels in Photoshop:

Correct Level Adjustment

Correct Level Adjustment

This is approximately the ideal setting for images with a full tonal range, though you still have a lot of leeway.

The idea is to get that left, black triangle as close as possible to pointing up into the highest peak on the left of the graph.

That triangle adjusts the shadow/darks of your image. Remember, however, that there are many images for which this setting will render your image too dark. Be careful. Use those artist's eyes of yours. Carefully observe the image on the screen as you move the triangles.

If the image is too dark, adjust the black triangle back toward the left until you see exactly what you want in the image on the monitor (which we'll assume is correctly optimized. More information about optimizing monitors is just below). What your image looks like is more important than where the triangles are. But this is the correct starting point if you want your image to have dark darks and light lights.

You should know that it is impossible to include all the intermediate tones of a work of art in an image of it. We can only hope to make a reasonably accurate portrayal of your art. No digital copy of analog art is ever perfect. Neither is any analog (film) copy.

According to the sign on my kitchen door, "Perfection is unlikely."

If you want lighter grays (middle tones), move the middle, gray triangle toward the left. Darker to the right. Usually, however, you should leave it where Photoshop puts it. Moving the middle triangle makes subtler changes than the other two triangles.

There are other miracles that the Levels adjustment provides, some of which involve those droppers. Click the white one on what you know is white (not buff or cream or beige or yellowish or tan, etc.) regardless of what color it seems to be, in your image, and it will be rendered pure white, adjusting everything else in the pic. I never use the black dipper, and the gray one only rarely, though it has been helpful when I'm paying close attention. More than that you'll have to find information about elsewhere.

My favorite on-line training site is Lynda.com. Their online videos teach a wild variety of software, including both versions of Photoshop, with unlimited access to any classes for $25 a month. Some tutorials are free, so you can try before you buy. Like many artists, I learn better and faster by watching than by reading.

Many community and other colleges offer classes in digital photography and image manipulation.

Camera LCDs (liquid crystal displays) can mislead.

Because of their small size, low resolution, angle of view and construction, most digital camera LCDs show images that are very contrasty (so images look sharp and in focus, even when they are not), and it is often difficult to see detail.

Worse, many camera LCDs show colors or tonal ranges substantially different from how you will see the same images on your monitor or printed from your printer.

If you can just barely see the edges between the darker colors — especially in the black and magenta, your monitor is adjusted about as well as mine is, and mine is set pretty good, now, finally ...

Your monitor is calibrated, isn't it?

That's probably the only way you can half-way guarantee that what you see on your monitor is essentially similar to what others will see on theirs.

The color chart above can help you begin to calibrate your monitor by setting the brightness to its maximum, then adjusting the contrast till you see the tonal range of all the colors, especially the magentas. Don't worry about the yellow.

To accurately calibrate your monitor, you can use the software or the instructions that came with your monitor; Adobe Gamma with its built-in step-by-step instructions; Macintosh's system software (under the Apple Menu, click "Displays," then "Color," then "Calibrate," and follow the instructions precisely. (I don't know about that other system.) or the controls built into your monitor (Dell, among others) — all of which can help you achieve the best and most accurate view on your monitor.

It helps if there's no ambient light in the room where your monitor is, although some monitors can be optimized for use in specific light sources. That's way too complicated to get into there.

I collect these tone and color scales. My collection is gathered on the bottom of this site's Contact Us page.


Fannie Brito - Atardecer

Fannie Brito    Atardecer
pigment and acrylic  12 x 36 inches

I like photographing art on a truly white wall (although there are always shadows and tones. With a white reference, I can easily adjust the colors with the Level Command white dropper in Photoshop. Of course, I usually crop the wall and shadow parts out. This method is especially good for rendering subtle colors like these. Photographed with a Nikon D300.


Copyright Notices + Image File Names

If you are certain your image file will never, ever be used on the Internet or by anybody but yourself, you can probably get away with naming it anything that suits your fancy, and you may not need to protect it with copyright.

But if anyone else might ever use your image file(s), or if there is any chance whatsoever that they will be published, especially online — either with or without your permission, you should have your name and the title included in the file name, and you should probably park a copyright notice on the image.

Supposedly your image is copyrighted to you soon as you publish it on your site or blog, but if you don't have proof of that happening or have not shown your ownership of your image by overtly copyrighting it, it will be more difficult to prove.

J R Compton - Bright Dark Sky - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

File Name:  JRCompton-Bright-Dark-Sky_1442.jpg

The correct format/syntax for a legal U.S. Copyright notice is the word "Copyright," followed by the year date, the first and last name of the image's creator, followed by "All Rights Reserved." The word copyright may be substituted by the circled c (©) symbol, although that symbol is missing from many keyboards and may not show on all computers. On a Mac keyboard, it is option-g. The number at the end of the file name above is the number assigned by my camera. This was the 1,442nd shot created on my new Canon s90.

I usually add the dot com, etc. after my name on the image, so people can find me.

Legally, the "All Rights Reserved" only officially extends copyright protection to include Honduras and Bolivia. But for practical purposes, that additional notice keeps those ignorant of our copyright laws — almost everybody online — from using the image, because it so clearly states that all rights are reserved. All the copyright infringements of my own images that I've discovered (and got removed) were only marked with the copyright notice.

More information about Copyright and getting stolen material removed from sites or blogs:

Google's Digital Millennium Copyright Act - Blogger page.
The Law - Building a Copyright Notice

In addition to copyright information in the EXIF (EXposure Information File) in the meta-data of the code that comprises the original photoshop image, my camera automatically includes a properly formatted copyright notice on every image. Unfortunately, neither of those automatic notices translate to the JPG file created from the camera or Photoshop original, but once the notice is placed on the image, it stays there unless cropped out.

Image File Names

DallasArtsRevue receives many images for the Calendar and Supporting Members' pages. If I can immediately see who the artist is, and what is the title, I can easily caption the image with that information. A properly credited photo can be an important, though subtle, way to promote artists. Often, there's no way I can track down who did the piece or what its title is, so nobody gets credited or promoted.

Also — and importantly — because Google Images uses data in the file name to build their image searchable database, it is helpful to have your name in the image file name. Much more information about what Google looks for is at Google Webmaster Central.

Your name and the title is plenty in a file name. Do not include punctuation in the file name. That means no space-bar spaces, no number signs (#), commas (,), inch marks ("), foot marks or apostrophes ('), equal signs (=), percentages (%), exclamations (!), parentheses )( or question marks (?), and use only one period just before the suffix. I.e., .jpg

Because those symbols make it difficult to use such named files — image files with spacebar spaces or # signs won't even show up in web pages delivered by one of my webhosts — so I have to go in and edit the file name, which effort earns the artist my enmity. 


Some photographic rules

Yes, rules are made to be broken, but it's easier to break them, if you know what they are, so you can break them intelligently

When photographing 3-D work, use a neutral gray or white background. Almost all of Kathy Boortz' work as long as I've been shooting it, has been photographed on a hinged white folding panel that I white out the slots and edges of, making her sculpture — like the Fiddler Crab on the top of this page — seem to float.

Avoid bright colors or black when shooting light, metallic or reflective art.

If art is translucent (light passes through it) — like glass, film or sheer material, photograph it with light passing through it. The light source should be behind the art, perhaps aimed up or down into the art, but the source should probably not be visible. The light should be the same color as the light illuminating the rest of the art, and don't let anything else show through the translucent parts, unless you really want them visible.

Diana Chase - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Diana Chase   Jump Right In   cast and fused glass   16 inches diameter

I was photographing work in The Back-room Invitational trying to avoid a large bright area of sunlight from one of the high windows when I realized the light was coming through this piece as I had recommended just above.

Using my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens with the camera on a tripod, I moved in on the piece, composing so it showed about this much background and the sunlight glowing through the glass. I cropped most of the black area at the top of the original shot. Later in Photoshop, I darkened the bottom left corner to match the bottom right, cropped out most of the wood stand and darkened the rest of it.

For 2-D work, it's better if the background (behind the art) is black, so there are no details to distract viewers.

With film, you'll either have to use felt or a velvet-like material that does not reflect light or paint a wall or large-enough piece of wood black (or carefully not light it). With digital you can add or correct the background in software. You can crop a slide image with metallic tape (that you've scrupulously kept clean, so dust or hair doesn't intrude into your image), but it's always messy.

Do not include the mat or frame in the image, so the image appears relatively larger, and those brighter elements do not distract. Framing tastes vary widely.


Make sure the camera is steady.

If you don't have a tripod, borrow one. This is important. Tripods' most important job is to hold the camera steady, but they also hold it in the same place, which can be helpful when shooting more than one piece of art that's the same or similar size.

Use a self-timer, if your camera has one. Probably it does. Use it.
Don't touch the camera while it's self-timing.
Don't walk around if your floor shakes


Most lenses give their best quality when stopped down two stops from wide open.

This can make a big difference in resolution, color, apparent focus and sharpness. Read camera and lens tests to learn your lens' optimum f/stops.

F/stops are fractions, so bigger f/ numbers mean smaller apertures (holes) and less light.

The major f-stops, from large to small, are f/ 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22 and 32.
Each succeeding smaller aperture
allows half the light of the previous one.
Each succeeding faster shutter speed
lets in half the light of the previous one.

Shutter speeds are also expressed as fractions, so bigger numbers mean faster shutters and less light.

Unless you have discovered your lens' optimum aperture in a lens test, close it down two stops. If you have an f/3.5 lens, click two clicks down to between 5.6 and 8, unless your art is three-dimensional and more than a few inches deep, so it will need more depth of field.

Find the correct exposure

The best / easiest / quickest way to find the correct exposure is to take a shot, look at it on the LCD, change something. Then take another shot and look at that one. You'll figure it out quicker that way than if you attempt to follow rules or slavishly follow the exposure meter. After you've been doing it for awhile, you'll know when to adjust exposure compensation. Everybody's correct exposure is different.

Avoid mixing light colors

If you are shooting Outdoor film (Daylight) or have your camera set for Daylight, don't let any other kind of light shine on your art. You may not be able to tell the difference, but your film or digital camera will. Study your previously shot images often.

Make sure your camera is set for the kind of light you are using. If your camera is set for Tungsten (Indoor or "Type B" lighting), don't let daylight reflect into the subject.

To make 3-D work look dimensional, light it from behind then fill in some of the shadows with a bright white reflector:

Caldwell Chunk - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

The Calwell Chunk — Design Attributed to Dallas Photographer Tom Jenkins

Not, perhaps, the greatest art object ever, but its other part is much more intriguing. This was informally photographed on my living room floor using what I call my Utterly Simple Light Setup for Sculpture, which comprises a light bulb in a reflector on a light stand, a bright white reflector (styrofoam-like packing material that came with something I mail ordered) and not much more.

Utterly Simple Light Set-up for Sculpture - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

This is the entire setup. I sat on the love seat at left, held the camera still on the arm, and shot down on the object — instant studio lighting. I probably could have cleared the area of dark shapes, but for this, I really didn't care. It could as easily have been set up on a tabletop using a less interesting background.

Check exposure on the art itself by zooming or moving the camera closer, to fill the LCD or viewfinder with the image. Dark objects need more light (longer shutter speeds or bigger apertures) and lighter objects need less.

Make sure the meter doesn't "see" the white mat or dark background, which can throw off the correct exposure.

If you have a gray card (18% reflectance) or or something in a medium green (grass outside), use that to make a substitute reading, but be sure it is in the same light and facing the camera the same way your art does.

To determine correct exposure, point your camera or light meter at a medium gray object.

If you point a camera or light meter at a white object, the object will be underexposed
If you point a camera or light meter at a dark object, the object will be overexposed.
Move the camera closer to the work to check the exposure.


Make sure rectangular work is straight and the whole surface is in focus. Don't let it tilt.

Photoshop and some other software can correct for un-straight, even tilted art, but if part of the image is out of focus, it cannot be saved.

Focus, focus, focus.

In some digital cameras, the image on the LCD can be zoomed or magnified, so we can check focus and details, but the LCDs on many cameras are too small for much precision or they do not accurately reflect tonal ranges. LCDs show images with a lot of contrast that makes even out of focus shots look good. If you can magnify the image, you'll see what the image is really like.


Marty Ray pot

Marty Ray   Photographed with a Nikon D300 camera

My photographic procedure

  1. Make certain only one light source illuminates the art. If you are using overhead fluorescent (green, yellow or blue), ma[green or yellow] fluorescent lighting gets in your photographs. Our eyes adjust. Cameras do not.

  2. Set the White Balance for the light source by filling the image view with white (I usually use a piece of typing paper.) and pushing the right buttons in the right sequence for the camera, or by setting the correct color balance via menu or dial. Or stick with daylight.

  3. Set the camera to Manual mode.

  4. Secure the camera to a sturdy tripod, so it is level and aimed at the center of whatever flat art or whatever angle looks best for 3-D art.

  5. Set zooms to middle range, so the spatial distortion (usually barrel at wide angle; pincushion at telephoto) created by zoom lenses is minimized. Reading lens tests will help you learn the best zoom setting for your lens. It's not always in the middle.

  6. Carefully align each image in the camera, so the sides are straight and tops and bottoms are level in your viewfinder or LCD. Even if you cannot square all the lines, if the entire piece of art is in sharp focus, the image can be squared in Photoshop or other image software.

  7. Use the self-timer, so any motion from pushing the shutter button, touching the camera or walking is dissipated by the time the shutter actually goes off.

  8. Look at the image on the LCD. Enlarge that image several times if you can. Make sure it's in sharp focus and that the colors look exactly like the art. That the exposure shows the lights as lights and the darks as darks.

  9. If I only need one shot, I try to get the best possible angle. Turn it around or walk around it to find the angle that is most beautiful or representative of the piece. Maybe find several possibilities and shoot them all.
  10. If I need, several shots, shoot a straight front view even with the piece, a one-quarter view, three-quarter view, side or profile view, even a back view if there's something back there that's interesting. Shoot details of noticeable features. For most flat work, of course, you probably only need one front shot.
  11. I used to shoot at least three shots of every piece — one at what the camera/meter indicated was the correct exposure; one one-stop over; and one under-exposed — even if it looks great on the LCD. At least until you figure out the differences between your LCD's view and the resulting images. Most art shot outside looks better with slight underexposure. (Most everything else does, too — except indoor things and people.)

    Light art will probably need less exposure (smaller apertures — bigger f numbers at the same shutter speed), and dark art probably needs more exposure (wider apertures — smaller f numbers). Pointing the camera at gray art will probably net the best exposure.

    Essentially, when a light meter points at something, it wants to turn it into a middle gray — because most things reflect 'middle gray' light. Solid and especially bright white objects require more exposure not less, and darker and especially black objects need less exposure.
  12. Place each new piece in the same place as the last, so the camera does not have to be moved around or re-aimed. An easel can be helpful, but a neutral background (a nail in a plain wall where you can hang art) is best. None of the works on this page were shot in a studio. All used improvised lighting.

    * = And, of course, Photoshop. 

My article about The Cameras & Lenses I use (and lust after) that started here is now on its own page. It provides an introduction to the complexities of choosing a camera and lens.

Random helpful links

Setting up a backdrop for product photography (art is a product) on Steve's Digicams

Alltop - list of Photography-related sites

Nikon Rumors  m45 Rumors   Canon Rumors   Nikon Rumors

Recommended Reading: Books and eBooks for Digicam Users


There is no one camera perfect for all jobs, but even one of the really imperfect ones can photograph art very well, if you're careful.

Much more information about Cameras & Lenses Useful for Photographing Art, see my page about that.

The camera you use to photograph art really does matter, but it probably doesn't matter as much as you might think. Read Ken Rockwell's impassioned Your Camera Doesn't Matter and check out my discussion of my Canon SD780-IS on Cameras & Lenses page above. Ken's page of Recommended Cameras will surely have something that's perfect for you, for art that doesn't move, and everything else, that does.


Relative Sizes of Digital Camera Sensors

Comparative Digital Camera Sensor Sizes

This diagram is from Wikipedia. I have deleted the one format larger than 35mm, because I've never heard of it, and it only adds to the confusion. 35mm format has become the standard against which every camera is compared.

Basically, the larger the sensor
and less dense its pixels,
the better its image quality will be.


PLEASE NOTE: This image is much larger than reality, which means the smaller formats are actually much smaller. The standard 35mm "full frame" size (FX) is slightly smaller than 1 inch tall x 1.5 inches wide. Its exact apparent size here depends on the resolution of your screen.

My Nikons are APS-C size (DX). The Canon G11 uses the 1/1.7" sensor, which are tiny. The Canon S5-IS's 1/2.5" sensor is even smaller, and the Canon SD780-IS has a 1/2.3" sensor that's only slightly larger than the smallest size shown in this graphic.

A rating closely related to sensor size is the pixel density rating, which is explained near the bottom of the Cameras and Lenses I Use page.