May 22, 2013
We’ve seen some samples of the difference between standard copy-board lighting and what is pretty typical for an artist’s studio. Let’s take it a step further and look at what we can do using basic lighting techniques. If you’ve been the victim of one of my lighting classes, this is going to look familiar.
This is an example of what you’d typically see in an artist’s studio or a gallery. It’s lit with a spot from above, and has all the characteristics of that type of lighting – lots of texture, rich colors, deep shadows, bright highlights. This is “hard-edged closed shadows”, that is, the shadows have a hard edge, but are closed up, or dark.
This is the same light, but simply adding fill. ”Hard-edged open shadows”. Take a good look, the shadows themselves still have a hard edge, but they’re now brighter, and show color and detail.
These last two examples are lit with a very soft, very diffuse light source. Typically a “North Light Studio” would look like this, but the first one has no fill in the shadows. Thus, it’s called “soft edged, closed shadows”. We still get a fair amount of texture and the appearance of relief, but the effect is less dramatic, more flat, with the overall contrast lower and less saturated colors. It’s more forgiving, but has far less impact.
Finally, we take soft, diffuse lighting and add fill. This almost completely flattens out the work, showing very little texture, very diffuse colors, and very low contrast. You’d use this if, for example, you had an original that had major surface flaws that you didn’t want to call attention to.
Go ahead and click on each image to take a good close enlarged look.
These are what I consider to be the four basic building blocks of lighting. What gets interesting is where you start working with degrees of these techniques – starting with hard-edged closed lighting and adding just a little fill… controlling the degree of softness in soft-edged closed shadows – or any combination of types. Not only do I get 4 basic flavors, but I can mix and match and hit somewhere in between.
This is photographic lighting, and why it’s so powerful in redering artwork in a way that’s faithful to the artist’s vision. It’s possible through no other process – no scan system or copyboard lighting can achieve these kinds of results.
May 16, 2013
Here’s a look at some work that’s a little different that what I’ve shown here in the past. Yet, it’s exactly what I’ve been trying to show. This mixed-media work by Shannon McDonald is a rich example of dimension. Look closely at the edges and wrinkles, but look particularly at the gold leaf at the top of the painting. Light that material with traditional copyboard lighting, and it will turn to brownish gray. Light it as you would any three-dimensional object, like jewelry? You’ll see all the sparkle and shine, as well as the true color, of the gold leaf. Click on the image to see it full size.
Here’s another example.
This remarkable piece has a rich texture of found objects making up the subjects headpiece. Again, we approached the lighting duplicating the artist’s studio. The relief and modeling on the work is precisely as she created and intended the piece to feel. Look closely at the grain and relief of the wood, especially in the light areas at the top. Also important is how the blue translucent panel reads in the image. Copyboard lighting would have made it a confusing mixup of overlapping shadows from unnatural directions. The shadow here is simple, clean, and is identical to how the piece is intended to be seen.
See more of Shannon’s work at her site: Shannon McDonald Fine Art.
Let’s work from a basic premise: a painting, and even a drawing, is not a 2-dimensional subject. It has depth and texture.
If you accept that premise, you can only conclude that to reproduce it well, you have to light it and photograph it like any other 3-dimensional subject. Most Fine Art reproduction is using traditional copy-board lighting technique, which places light sources on either side of the work, at equal distance, at 45º. This introduces some familiar effects, such as specular glare and highlights, as well as fairly uneven lighting. Learning correct methods for copy lighting is the process of learning how to correct these effects. Techniques involve precise aiming and flare of the lights, polarizing the lights as well as the camera lens and other practices. As the original work gets larger, the technical issues multiply.
Here’s a standard copystand:
For absolutely flat, featureless artwork, this method is practical. For any subject with texture of any sort, it produces a lighting effect completely different from what we see when we view the work. Virtually no artwork on public display, or in the artist’s studio is viewed with this type of lighting.
Does it really make a difference in how a painting is reproduced, how it appears to the viewer, and it’s fidelity to the original work? Yes. Profoundly.
Here’s a very simple demonstration. This is a detail of the painting above, photographed with the lighting that the artist uses in his studio:
(Please click on any of the posted images for full-sized versions.)
The light is as the artist prefers it. It is predominately from above, but with some soft “North Light” fill from the side, as well as behind the camera. The texture of the canvas is evident, yet simple and clean, and readable. More importantly, the brush stroke is also readable, and is rendered in exactly the same way as the artist saw, and intended it. It also is very similar to the environments in which the work is ultimately to be displayed- in a gallery, museum, or residence.
This detail is taken from a photograph of the same painting with conventional “copy-board” lighting:
The texture of the canvas is now confused – we don’t know how to read it. There are specular highlights all through this highly-varnished piece, and again, more importantly, the stroke is now rendered in a completely different way than what the artist saw in his studio.
What also becomes painfully clear is that the tone and color of the copy-board photograph suffers as well. Color hue and saturation is intimately related to the quality and wavelength of the viewing light. Standard copy-board lighting changes how we see not only texture, but the subtle relationships of the very essence of the work: the palette.
The tradition of photographing artwork using copy-board techniques is firmly rooted in film-based photography. Many of the issues we faced when shooting with film are simply no longer issues when using digital tools. We can, for the first time, see, and reproduce the work as the artist intended the work to be seen.
We can be faithful to the vision of the artist.
Visit The Atelier Print to learn more.
To read more on the techniques and practices of Fine Art reproduction, see “On Fine Art Reproduction… (or: You’re Doing It Wrong) “
February 23, 2013
Way back when I was teaching digital photography to a bunch of undergraduates at Northeastern and working at EP Levine, I brought the class to our rental studio for a day of shooting with some top-end digital cameras – you know, $30,000 digital cameras.
Most of the students were very shy about shooting with the thing. I wrote it off to fear of damaging a piece of equipment they couldn’t replace, but I think a lot of it had to do with performance anxiety. None of them really had the drive and focus to shoot on-demand – one ability that a commercial photographer must have.
Except for Amy.
She immediately asked if she could bring her horse to the studio. After a few conversations with the Powers the Be, I got the OK for her to bring the horse up the freight elevator and into the studio for the day. Amy was atop a 10′ ladder, barking orders to four assistants and one handler and shooting like a feind while her horse Vogued with the best of them.
I thought to myself… hmmm. I think this girl is gonna amount to something.
(© Amy Riley, 2012. All Rights Reserved)
Fast forward to today, and Amy’s trying to get back to Portugal to shoot some remarkable horses. The Lusitano is a breed of horse with over 5000 years of history. Read what Amy says:
You don’t have to be a “horse person” to appreciate the form of a Lusitano — their proud, iconic outline is instantly recognizable in masterpieces of painting and sculpture dating as far back as the 1700’s. Prized for their noble bearing, bold intelligence, and extreme quickness, Lusitanos served both farmer and king. Their hardiness and bravery made them the mount of choice for herding, bullfighting, and battle — and yet they were also the preferred candidates for the highest levels of equestrian artistry, demonstrated in the traditions of haute école.
Lusitanos of the modern age express their exceptional qualities through sport. Today’s horses succeed in dressage, combined driving, working equitation and as pleasure mounts. As a breed they have proven themselves by securing national championships and world titles in multiple disciplines, all the while wining the hearts of many.
She sent herself to Portugal to shoot the Lusitano a few years ago, and is now trying to complete the project she started with that trip. Take a look at her Kickstarter page here… and if it strikes a note with you, chip in. You’ll be helping a fantastic photographer complete a remarkable, unique and important body of work.
February 17, 2013
A very, very long time ago (1987) I worked on a project photographing interiors and exteriors of buildings in Harvard Massachusetts. We concentrated on buildings which we felt were slated for renovation and demolition. Remarkably, and disturbingly, we were more on-target than not. Many of the photographs in the project are of buildings that simply no longer exist. If they do, they’re far from how they existed in 1987.
The intention was to create a snapshot of a small, historic New England town preserved in time. Looking back on it, that’s exactly what we accomplished.
When the project was complete, the intention was to put the complete set of prints into the collection of the Town Library or the Harvard Historical Society for preservation, and to allow future historians to use them for reference and resource. Neither group was interested, nor did they have the facilities for storage. The photographs remain in my archives.
Recently I was discussing the artist Rufus Porter and his remarkable murals which appear all over New England with a new acquaintance. I was inspired to paw through the files and try to find the photograph taken at the Harvard Inn, of the original Porter mural appearing there. Here it is:
February 16, 2013
I know. That dumb little plastic ring that adapts your Epson Wide-Format spindle from 2″ to 3″? Annoying. Or lost. Or broken.
Ever try to replace them? Think in the neighborhood of $60 apiece. Seriously. You can find complete spindles on eBay for less.
So don’t replace crap with crap. Replace crap with good stuff. Here’s how I took a used 24″ core and some weatherstripping and came up with a core adapter that’s more solid, easier to use, and a hell of a lot cheaper than Mr. Epson made.
At about $5 plus a used 2″ core, you can afford to make as many as you need for every roll of 3″ core media you have on hand.
January 15, 2013
Here, in one place, are links and listings for some of the more interesting or important work I’ve done over the last few years. Links are either to the original pages, or to PDF versions of the documents.
Contributing Author, Home Power Magazine
Home Power “Experts” page: Ted Dillard
Home Power published articles:
Blogger, The Electric Chronicles
- Interview with Betti Thomas, pioneer electric racer (pdf- History- Interview with Betti Thomas)
- Brazing, Braze welding product review (with video)
- Lithium-Polymer battery care
- Brammo Enertia vs. Zero S (comparison review)
Managing Editor, Head-to-Head Reviews
- Head-2-Head Lighting Review: Profoto Pro-8a 2400 Air vs. Broncolor Scoro A4S (pdf- Color & Exposure Consistency)
- Pro Digital Blog, sample posts: Revenge of the Munki (product update), Optimizing Photoshop (“Pro Tips”).
Contributor: The Gardener’s Eden
- Raw Pipeline, Lark Books (Sterling Publications). Digital photography and RAW processing.
- Color Pipeline, Lark Books (Sterling Publications). Color Management and RAW processing.
- Smart Object Pipeline, Lark Books (Sterling Publications). Complete guide to Smart Object RAW.
- Black and White Pipeline, Lark Books (Sterling Publications). Digital Black and White process.
Advertising, Marketing, Public Relations
Advertising/PR/email newsletter Writer, Blogger – Parrot Digigraphic, LLC.
- Re-design and re-write of Parrot Digigraphic website: www.parrotcolor.com, Imaging Services page.
- Parrot Digigraphic email newsletter: ParrotTalk News. (pdf- ParrotTalk News « ParrotTalk)
- Parrotcolor Blog
- Press Releases for Parrot Digigraphic: Angelica Paper Release, HP Collaboration. (pdf- Parrot Releases Angelica)
Site, complete concept-to-launch: TheBigScan.com
Advertising/PR/email newsletter Writer, Blogger – Tech Superpowers, Inc
Non-Linear Project Management: Masters and Versions (pdf-Non-Linear Project Management)
Social Media Management
- The Electric Chronicles and Ted Dillard: The Pipeline Series Facebook pages/groups.
- Parrotcolor YouTube page.
- The Electric Chronicles and Color2.0 (previously Raw Pipeline) YouTube pages.
- Ted Dillard and The Electric Chronicles Twitter pages.
(All material here, and linked, is ©Ted Dillard, 2013 unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.)