On Fine Art Reproduction… (or: The Importance of Lighting) Part 2

October 24, 2011

So, no painting created in a north-light studio has been reproduced, or for that matter displayed, as the artist saw it. What exactly does this mean?

There’s one key to understanding lighting.  That is learning the difference, and the effects, of hard and soft light.  Everything else about describing light is either a combination of, or degree between these two.

The easiest way to imagine hard light is to think of a bright, sunny, cloudless day.  Your light is coming from an intense, very small source- the sun.  Shadows are deep, and sharp-edged.  Colors are bright and rich- saturated, to put it in the painter’s terms.  Contrast- the brightness of whites compared to the depth of blacks- is extreme, to put it in photographic terms.  This is “hard” lighting.  Because of the sharpness of the shadow line and the depth of contrast, texture is enhanced.

Now visualize the other extreme, an overcast, cloudy day.  There are no shadows, colors seem pale.  Shadows are open, there’s no shadow line.  Your light is coming evenly from the entire sky, thus your light source is the entire sky, and extremely large.  There’s very little contrast- it’s a “gray day”.  This is “soft” lighting.  Textures are not enhanced, they’re downplayed. Subtlety and nuance trump drama and volume.

This is precisely the same comparison between standard copy and reprographic lighting and a north-light studio.  Copy lights are relatively small, intense light sources.  They produce hard-edged shadows that are deep black.  They produce high contrast between blacks and whites, and very saturated colors.  A north-light studio is a large, soft light source.  The shadows it produces are soft-edged, and open- not deep black.  Colors are subtle, and contrast is low.

Standard copy lighting evolved from reprographic work- reproduction of flat art and photographs.  It’s technically accurate, designed to be even, color correct, and efficient.  It is workable for reflective art without texture or depth, but as soon as you add dimension, it fails.  Dimension creates shadows and highlights, and lighting a dimensional piece from either side creates shadows and highlights that are opposing and horizontal…  completely unnatural to any typical way of viewing artwork.  Reprographic lighting is designed to enhance saturation and contrast to give a color range and contrast range that fits within the range of a film.  Not to create a visual effect that is somehow similar to viewing the original piece.

As soon as you move to a dimensional subject, you have moved into the realm of Photography.  You now have to think in terms of using the medium to express the experience of the original artwork.  Once you move into Photography, you have to reconsider lighting.

On Fine Art Reproduction… (or: You’re Doing it Wrong) Part 1

On Fine Art Reproduction… (or: The Importance of Lighting) Part 2

On Fine Art Reproduction… (or: Enough Talk) Part 3

On Fine Art Reproduction… (or: North Light, You Say?) Part 4

On Fine Art Reproduction: (or, How to Do It Right) Part 5

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