After we learn to photograph our paintings digitally, the next step is to learn how to save them and put them to use. At this stage the images are just digital files containing information. They now need to be processed for specific uses, such as printing, projection and web circulation. All of these functions involve different standards and require individual attention.
Have Back-Up: Before making any adjustments to the original files on your computer, it’s wise to save an unaltered version. I save a working copy onto an external hard-drive attached to a computer dedicated just for these files. This hard-drive allows me to keep a digital filing cabinet that can be easily transferred to another computer when needed. Next, I burn a CD or DVD disk of image files, depending on the size of the file, and store it in a fireproof safe. By having the hard-drive and CD/DVD backup copy, I know the original files are always available for further adjustment. I save any altered or adjusted files in another folder, so as not to confuse them with the originals.
Label: To keep files and images organized, I label them with a date as well as a title. It can also be helpful to label according to medium if you work in more than one.
Know the Purpose of the Image File: When processing an image, decide what its purpose will be: Will it be printed on a home RGB (red, green, black) computer printer or submitted for a print publication requiring a CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) four-color process? Is it being prepared for the Internet or digital projection? These choices affect image resolution and color profile adjustments. The web requires smaller low-resolution images and is better suited to sRGB color profile (the most widely available and used profile). Even those attached images you email to friends and clients should be sized to better optimize performance. Photo-quality printing requires larger, high-resolution images. If your printer is high-end photo-quality, a wide-range color space profile like AbobeRGB is best. Standard consumer level printers are better served with the sRGB standard color profile. For CMYK printing, embed the AdobeRGB profile.
Sizing an Image: When it comes to sizing an image, a good standard for the web is 72 to 90 dpi, for home RGB printers 120 to 240 dpi (depending on the model), and for CYMK publication 300 dpi.
Photo Fix-Up: Remember having to mask slides? Well, that is a thing of the past. Distracting edges and backgrounds can be eliminated with the photo-processing program. When you have finished adjusting the image contrast/brightness, color saturation and sharpness, and you are happy with the results, it’s time to save the file.
Save It: The two most commonly used formats for image files are JPEG and TIFF. JPEG condenses the file, requiring less space. This is a must for Internet usage. TIFF retains a large file and is best suited for images where high quality is of the utmost concern.
All of this can get a little technical. Good books are available for continued study, and it’s always helpful to seek the advice of other artists who have mastered the process. More and more digital workshops are being offered with artists in mind. Check in with your local arts organization or keep an eye on the national workshop listing for one that might work for you. One thing is a given, technology will continue to move forward. We have to keep up or be left behind.
Editor’s Note: Due to the holidays, Richard’s next blog entry will be Monday, January 5, when he will discuss how to turn a digital file into a slide for those exhibitions that still require them. Have a happy new year!