A while ago I posted a photo from a series I did a long time ago – started in the early ’80s and finished up by ’87, documenting many of the buildings in the Town of Harvard that we felt were soon to disappear.  Here is the complete set:

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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)

Why I Love My Job…

June 16, 2012

Over the years, every job becomes, well, work.  I don’t care what those “if you love what you do…” people say.  Last night, I got reminded what it is that I find the most rewarding thing about taking pictures.  And it’s not taking pictures.

Antoine Proulx celebrated 20 years of making amazing furniture and, more importantly, seeing their design vision realized as a strong, vibrant company.

Twenty years ago, Mark Minter, the Creative Director for my client, The Donovan Group, called me and asked if I’d be interested in talking to a talented young designer with an impressive line of furniture he was trying to launch.  Beyond loving the work, and it being a great fit with my experience shooting architecture with Nick Wheeler, I instantly connected with Marc Desplaines and his brother Rich, who manufactured the designs.

We settled on a lighting strategy, a look for the line, that I thought we could get some life out of.  It’s always a challenge developing a method of lighting and shooting a product line that is compelling, works with the products and shows the features, but also won’t look dated or contrived within the life of the product.  In this case, unbeknownst to us both, Marc and I were setting the stage for the next 20 years.

To give credit where due, I’ve always been strongly influenced by two people – Irving Penn, whose work with Clinique in the early ’80s I adapted to everything from electronic connectors to, well, furniture, and Blue Poitras, (AKA Patricia Jellenick Hallowell) who, as a young goldsmith and friend taught me to trust “Classic” over “Trendy”.  Classic lasts.

The lighting evolved, yet even our first shots are still being used.  Marc has developed six Collections now, and we’ve added room sets within the last 5 years, for editorial pages and catalog spreads augmenting the product vignettes.

I’ve shot Antoine Proulx with everything from our first 4×5 view camera work, to 120 film, and on to virtually every instance of high-end digital back available.  Throughout my career with Calumet and EP Levine, the joke became, “OK, what camera that you don’t own are you shooting with today?” as I borrowed or rented what was the camera of the day, throughout what was the most dramatic period of digital capture development in history.

Yet, the work had to remain consistent.

I heard several times last night that I was responsible for the “Antoine Proulx look”.  Of course I wasn’t…  I was simply facilitating the vision Marc had.   But as such, Marc Desplaines is a client who understands the meaning of a creative team.  He always asked for my help and ideas, and was forthright about whether we were on-target or missing the mark, in a way that makes me always strive for more.

Sometimes you have to step back out of the trees and look at the forest, and last night was that kind of evening for me.  I love working with Antoine Proulx, not because I love my photographs, but because I feel I’ve helped build something – a team of brilliant, hard working people who’ve created something that has, in it’s own small way, changed it’s corner of the world. Design, manufacturing, creating a product is about “making stuff”…  valuable, beautiful stuff from raw materials, ideas, and hard work.

It’s easy to think that the “stuff” you’re making as a photographer are pictures.   It’s easy to feel like images are ephemeral, fleeting, without substance.  It’s easy to think your work is only worth the few seconds that most people look at a photograph, but that’s not it.

Not at all…

Thanks Marc, Ritchie, Patty and the whole team at Antoine Proulx for a great 20 years!


May 10, 2010

Here are some links and downloads that I like to keep track of:

the 0-255 step wedge (jpg)
the PDI target (jpg)
X-Rite i1 Match, Win and Mac.
i1Profiler, Win and Mac.

YouTube- Help and how-to videos


OK, kids… Here’s a really interesting post by David Pogue of the NYT that says, simply and elegantly, what I’ve been saying all along about “trusting” photographs, the impact of Photoshop on photographic credibility, like that…

The thing is, though, this isn’t necessarily an open-and-shut case. Ms. Leuchter’s editorial points out that photography has never been strictly a “capture reality” art form. It’s never been limited to reproducing what the eye sees.

From the very beginning, photographers have set up their shots, posed people and adjusted brightness and contrast in the development process. So although you may think that some line has been crossed, it might not be so easy to specify exactly where that line sits.

Here’s a list of things people do to and for photographs, ranging from the innocent and traditional to the dangerously artificial. If you were running a photography contest, at what point would you draw the line and say “That’s not photography anymore?”

Read more here.

I recently got a few questions- here are my answers.

Is your series intended to be, in effect, a building of skill or can they be taken on at anytime the need presents? Would you recommend that I get the Colour Pipeline book before I delve into the B&W?

The Pipeline books grew out of “The Pixel Institute”, a series of workshops I put together starting in ’01 or so to get photographers who were moving from film to digital to do so correctly. A big problem then was that these guys needed to produce high quality images immediately, to work digital into their “product” as fast as possible to be able to pay off the massive investment and to keep their businesses moving forward. Consequently it is a “hit the ground running, and start on the right foot” approach, and you’ll probably notice a good deal of reference to film and darkroom concepts- both because that’s what they were coming from, and that’s where I came from too. So yes, RAW shooting, using Layers and Masks, and ultimately Smart Objects is the focus of the books, simply because it is the way, well, one way, a professional needs to work. The RAW Pipeline is probably the best to start with, and B/W Pipeline certainly if you are interested in B/W. Color PL is more an attempt to explain Color Management in a way that the “gatekeepers” haven’t really been able to- not only how it works, but how to use it. Smart Object PL is really where it’s happening if you want to go exclusive SO workflow.

And, what is your usual workflow? Aperature? Lightroom? CS4? PS 7.0? Picasa? (just kidding on that last one)

I use Photoshop CS4 exclusively for my own work, but I’m trained (Apple certified) in Aperture (hate it) Lightroom, C1Pro, and I know a bunch of other processors. I use CS4 pretty much because I use Smart Object RAW workflow almost exclusively- it’s the only system that uses SO, but I need to know the rest of that stuff to do what I do. (I’m doing a full-day training on Tuesday in Phila. on C1Pro, for example).

Most hobbyists dare not venture into RAW…

On what “hobbyists” are doing… photography has always had a vast range of skills and interest levels. I’ve never really cared what anyone uses, just what works for me. (You may have remembered that particularly endearing trait about me… heh. ) There is a huge array of really powerful stuff out there, even iPhoto, on the Apple side, has sophisticated image adjustments, and it comes installed on any Mac now. Adobe Elements is a great consumer solution, too. The point is, photography is accessible to an absolutely astronomical number of people now, and it’s one of the most exciting aspects of digital imaging. Not only can everyone take a picture now, (often with their phone) but they can manipulate it and publish it effortlessly.

And I know you use/love Mac products, I don’t. Macs, for me, are artist’s tools for people who just want their computers to work so they can…

Windows/Apple? Senseless, pointless conversation. First, if I had a nickel for every person who’s told me what you just said, I’d… well, you know. But do yourself a favor, and don’t limit your tool set by identifying yourself with some brand. I have switched to Apple for the simple reason that the systems I support are almost entirely Apple based. I continued to use Apple because I enjoy the system. As far as the perception of which system is for what- the notion that Windows is for business and Mac is for creatives is as outmoded as, well, film. And, for the record, I’ve been on Windows since 3.1, and continue to work with it, again, because I have to. I’ve also built more systems than I can remember. And I know the Apple system just as well… just ripped my wife’s Powerbook past the Logic Board to replace her DC/Sound card as a matter of fact. I’m pretty much as well-qualified on the Apple IT end of it and service side as any of the Apple techs I’ve worked with- with the exception of about 2 of them… who walk on water… So, I think I know what I’m talking about.

It may interest you to know, for example, that Windows runs, in my experience anyway, better on my Macbook using Parallels than it ever did on a Windows box…

So, I’ll say it again. Do yourself a favor and learn a little about Apple, if this is the road you’re going down… it’s a great machine. The integration of applications, for one small example, is not only convenient and somewhat amazing, but where computing will be in 5 years- also something that by definition, guerilla computing by instinct runs away from- I totally understand it, I’m that way myself, but at some point you begin to ask yourself why you’re limiting yourself. (I could tell you the story of me resisting the switch to CDs sometime… we basically didn’t buy music anymore because you couldn’t buy LPs… until my wife put her foot down… heh.) And, fwiw, the way my guerilla computing manifests itself is precisely by virtue of the Apple system. My entire music collection is on a cute little “iLamp” iMac (aka the “ET” version) and controllable from anywhere in the house, wirelessly, even via iPhone. I’m cutting little Youtube videos using iMovie, and shooting them with my D5000. I’m recording the sound with my Macbook and iMovie lets me publish directly to my several YouTube accounts. Rather than hacking the hardware, I’m hacking what the hardware can do… as far as hacking hardware goes, I leave that for my electric motorcycle conversion. (Maybe you haven’t seen this bit of madness- http://www.evmc2.com)

I do have one odd question – when does photography cease to be photography? Some of the work out there is so much more that to me, it’s no longer photography, but something else. Some of own your work looks like paintings.

As far as what constitutes a photograph. It’s an interesting drinking question, and one we’re working with in class right now- Creative Digital Techniques, at Northeastern, but ultimately not much of a concern to me. My job as an artist is to make art. I have other jobs as an author and teacher, but as a photographer, I need to explore and understand the tools so I can use them. The whole discussion on Photoshop making photography into something that people can’t believe is the “truth”, well, that’s idiotic. The earliest photographs of war- Matthew Brady, were constructed, arranged, by the photographer, and people thought they were real. Now, people know better, and you have Photoshop to thank. The interpretation that has always been at the core of photography is just now more obvious, ironically by being visually undetectable. But back to the point. I take pictures. Let some philosopher figure out what I’m doing ten years down the road.

Step awaaaay from the coffee, Ted.

Check it out! Michaela let me yabber on about how to improve your garden and flower photos… check out the rest of her site, too, there’s a whole lot there- including some of the best recipes EVER!

Thanks Michaela!