How to Trouble-Shoot Problems with Your Photos

Over- or Underexposure
Even if you do everything correctly when setting the exposure on your camera, things can still go wrong. The best insurance is to bracket your shots. Take photos at f-stops on either side of your standard f-stop setting (using the same shutter speed for all three) to get a variety of exposures to choose from.

Poor Focus
This problem is fairly self-explanatory, but the solution can be elusive. Sometimes the image in your viewfinder may be perfectly in focus, but a wide aperture setting (f-stop of 5.6 or lower) reduces the depth of field, causing parts of the image to be out of focus. Try using a smaller aperture (f8 or f11). A smaller aperture requires a slower shutter speed to get a decent exposure. If the shutter speed recommended by your meter is below 1/60th of a second, you need more light.

Bad Color
Off-color images usually mean that your film type or your digital camera’s white balance setting does not match the type of light you are using. Make sure you have the proper film (if applicable) and daylight-balanced (approximately 5,000 K) floodlight bulbs. Also make sure the lens of your camera is clean. A dirty lens will cut contrast and subdue the colors.

If you’re doing traditional film photography, off-color slides are usually indicative of using the wrong type of light for a given film (or vice versa). Incandescent lighting used with tungsten film produces yellow slides. Daylight film exposed under tungsten light tends to give yellow-brown results. Fluorescent lighting will give a greenish tint to your slides. If you shoot with Ektachrome film and get a blue cast, the film was underexposed. You must increase your exposure time or open the aperture one f-stop or use f5.6 for your first shot and bracket from there. Purple is usually an indicator of shoddy processing; all you can do is send your film elsewhere.

Background Clutter
Fill the viewfinder with the artwork. The artwork and the color or grayscale bars should be as close to the edges of the image as possible.

Don’t use a camera-mounted flash when photographing art. Its light will bounce from the subject straight back to the lens, creating a large white spot. Disable your camera-mounted flash and use the floodlights described above to light the work. Aim each light at a 45-degree angle to the artwork.

When photographing your artwork, you might experience some glare, especially if the surface of the a is shiny or wet. Try setting the lights at an angle of 35 degrees to the art instead of 45 degrees. You can continue to reduce the angle if needed, but make it any smaller than about 15 degrees. It’s not always desirable to eliminate all glare, especially if the work has heavy brushstrokes or other texture.

Out-of-Square Images (Parallax)
Parallax is caused when the camera’s line of sight is not perfectly perpendicular to the surface of the artwork. If the painting is propped up at an angle, the camera must be tilted forward to match. Otherwise your painting will look like a trapezoid instead of a rectangle. See the troubleshooting guide included in the article, “Take Your Best Shot,” in the October 2009 issue of Watercolor Artist   for help figuring out how to adjust your tripod.

If your shots of three-dimensional images have shadows in them, use only one floodlight instead of two, and aim it directly at your painting. To avoid harsh shadows, keep the single light at least five feet away from the subject If the shadows are still unpleasantly harsh, try bouncing or diffusing the light, as explained below.

Bouncing Light
A photographic umbrella makes it easy to soften the light. It has a white or silver lining which acts as a reflector, bouncing the light from your floodlights onto the subject in a way that softens and lightens the shadows. They cost  anywhere from $30 to $60, depending on size and style, and they must be secured in the appropriate position. You can buy fixtures for this purpose, but clamps and duct tape can also do the job. Aim the inside of the umbrella at the work, and point your lights away from the work into the umbrella.

You can also bounce light toward the work with a large white card, board or sheet. If convenient, you can also use an adjacent wall or low ceiling as a bounce surface, but it must be white or neutral in tone.

Diffused Light
Another way to soften the light is by diffusing it. You aim the light directly at the work, but diffuse it with a piece of translucent material in between the light and the work. White plastic garbage bags, colorless shower curtains or white sheets can all work. You can also buy diffusion film, available in sheets or rolls, at professional photography stores. It comes in different degrees of translucency; get one that is thick enough to soften the light but not so thick that it severely reduces the light level.
Be sure your bouncing and diffusing materials are several feet away from your lights to avoid fires.

Check out the October 2009 issue of Watercolor Artist for an easy to follow step-by-step guide to photographing your artwork. Plus, meet 10 of today’s most promising watercolor artists, learn how to paint leaves, grasses and pebbles in 11 simple steps and find an exciting pouring exercise guaranteed to help you loosen up.



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