The Switch to Digital: Part 2

72-digital-photography-part2.jpgWhen taking photographs with your digital camera, the same rules apply. The main difference is how a digital camera records an image versus film. A few aspects you might want to better understand before photographing your paintings are:

  1. Exposure—the amount of light recorded. If your digital camera offers a manual exposure setting, use it. A well-exposed image from  the camera is always superior to adjustments made in-computer. The camera doesn’t know what it is photographing. Left on automatic, it will average the reflected light entering the lenses. If a painting is dominated with lights or darks, this will produce an off exposure. A photographic gray card, available from most photo supply stores, is the best way to get an accurate reading. Position it where the painting will be photographed, fill the camera viewfinder with the gray-card, and adjust the shutter speed and aperture (f-stop) settings until a balanced exposure is obtained. A middle range aperture, like f8 or f11 will produce the sharpest image depending on the lens. Don’t adjust this setting no matter what the internal light meter reading states when pointed at the painting.
  2. ISO speed, or the sensitivity of the light sensor. Just like film, the higher the ISO number the grainier (pixilated) the image will be.  If your camera allows the ISO to be manually set, 100 ISO is best.
  3. Vibrancy enhancement, or the way the camera internally adjusts the image when producing it. If you shoot in a Jpg file format instead of Raw file format (some models don’t offer Raw), your camera may be making adjustments to the contrast and color vibrancy of the photo without your knowledge. This is especially true with full automatic or pre-set shooting modes. Check your owners manual for information on which modes have this auto adjust feature. Set image adjustment to normal when possible.
  4. White balance, or the color of light. With film we matched the light source to the film type – otherwise, color would be off. With digital, the internal electronics adjust for individual lighting situations.  The “auto” white balance setting works well most of the time. It averages the color temperature of the reflected light and automatically adjusts. When photographing artwork, it is best to set the white balance to “custom”, if available. This allows the true colors of the painting to be better recorded. The camera’s owner’s manual will provide the individual procedure for selecting this setting. A photographic gray card works better than a white card for this procedure. I have the white balance custom set for the lighting in my studio, allowing me to photograph any painting knowing the recorded color will be accurate. This step, along with a manual exposure setting, has proven the most helpful in producing a good
    digital file.
  5. Zoom lens setting. Position your camera, with your painting filling the viewfinder, so that the lens setting is above wide-angle. A moderate zoom of approximately 50mm on a standard digital camera will produce less distortion.
  6. Tripod for supporting the camera. If the area you will use to photograph your pastels has a bright light source, a tripod may not be necessary. I use my studio and the lighting is mild to moderate so a tripod is required. This also allows for a lower ISO setting and higher apertures (f stop) producing a sharper higher-quality file.
  7. Cable release or timed shutter setting. If your camera doesn’t accept a cable release cord, use the timed exposure setting. This can reduce the tendency for jiggle when pressing the shutter release button.

Next week: the process for saving your digital files.

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5 thoughts on “The Switch to Digital: Part 2

  1. Richard McKinley

    Casey, I use the light in my studio. The painting is on the easel under the moderate lighting I paint with. Using a tripod allows for longer exposers negating the necessity for intense light. Since pastel doesn’t suffer with the glare issues of oil, the positioning isn’t a big issue. Just make sure the illumination is evenly distributed. My studio lighting is florescent daylight-balanced bulbs, rated at 5000 kelvin (5000 to 6500 kelvin duplicates daylight to north light conditions). Fortunately these have become very accessible. The most important step is to custom white balance the camera for the lighting condition no matter what it is. Leave the camera on that custom setting until you move the camera to another setting. Hope this is a little helpful,

  2. Casey Klahn

    Richard, we are still using the Tungsten lights that we used for shooting the art with film slides. I do have occasional problems with overly warm, or just bad color accuracy.

    Anyway, I wonder what your your lighting is, more specifically? Thanks!

  3. Richard McKinley

    Janice, Glad the blog is helpful. I place the painting on an easel as vertical as possible – makes centering the camera (attached to a tripod) to the painting easier. I use the easel in my studio which has nice even lighting. If it is on a drawing board that is fine, you can crop the image in computer to cleanup any edges. Thanks,