I want to make this as simple as possible, and it’s a subject that invites you to dive in to all manner of techno-vortices of Color Science.  It’s really a simple question, though.  Does it matter which light source I use to illuminate artwork for reproduction?

I’ve argued that the color and quality of the light source is crucial in reproducing the vision of the artist.  I think I’ve demonstrated pretty well how the light quality affects the texture and surface of the canvas, but I’ve been struggling with a good way to demonstrate how the light color affects the perception of the various tones and values in a painting.  I’ve been tempted to go into a deep, technical discussion of it, but then realized it’s really a very simple thing.  Show how the colors are different with three basic light sources – tungsten, strobe and “full spectrum” fluorescent.  The simplest way to show that is with a Colorchecker.

Basically, think of it in terms of throwing something at an object, and getting what bounces back.  You can’t get back what you didn’t toss in the first place.  If you’re not throwing red, for example (in the case of a fluorescent, specifically), you’re not going to get red bouncing back to the camera.

First, the video:

Now, the details.

The “Tungsten” version was shot using halogen gallery-type floods, the camera set to 3700K, and shooting RAW with the Nikon D800.

The “Strobe” version was simply changed to 5000K, and the “Fluorescent” version was 5000K as well.  The fluorescent bulbs are so-called “continuous spectrum” 5000K bulbs, which is really a misnomer, a fact you can see by simply looking at a spectral response graph of any good bulb of this type, including those used on the Cruse Scanner and other similar devices.

The files were processed using Adobe Camera RAW, and a click-gray balance was made on the lighter of the two center gray patches.  The shadows and highlights were adjusted slightly so the shadow and highlight points on the histograms would match up well.  The files were cropped to the target, and processed with the default Adobe camera profile.  The Working Color Space is Adobe1998.

Remember.  The primary objective of the entire science and technology of CCD development and Color Management is to replicate the human visual experience of color.  Color management tools’ job is to take these colors we see above and try to correct them to match the known colorimetric values of the target.  They can do that a lot better and bring the colors closer to what we perceive if they have a starting point closer to where they’re trying to end up.  If they don’t have the colors, they have to make them up, or stretch the colors they do have into the space they need to be.

The conclusions are pretty obvious to the eye, but even more so when you look at the histograms.  Each light source is indeed different.  The intensity of each of the color patches on the Colorchecker is rendered in a slightly different way in some cases, in others, the differences are pronounced.

So, yes, each is different.  That begs a few questions.

Which one is more “accurate”?  That question will send you down another vortex of Color Theory.

Which one is more faithful to what the artist saw?  That question is simple.  The light source that the artist used when creating the work can only be the most faithful to the artist’s vision and intent.

A painter’s view of light, color, and their importance in reproduction of paintings:

Warren worked closely with me in developing the technique I use for Fine Art Reproduction…  inspiring me to develop and refine the process and the tools – the X-Y Easel.

Screen shot 2013-07-09 at 7.38.18 AM

Yes, yes, I’ve been rumbling around about fine art reproduction and all, and been doing it for lord-knows-how-long, so I’m finally going legit with The Atelier Print.  Go have a little visit, here: www.atelierprint.org.

It’s a very simple idea, and it grew out of my own dissatisfaction with results I’d been getting with some of the best equipment available, including the Cruse Synchron scanning system.  It was only after long talks and much collaboration that we got back to a very simple principle  To reproduce the vision of the artist, the work has to be lit under the same conditions.

Of course, from a photographic point of view this makes perfect sense.  If you want to show a subject in a certain way, you have to light it in a certain way.  The trouble is, not many working in Fine Art Reproduction seem to consider that artwork is a 3-dimensional subject, and responds to light just as any subject would.

Take it one step further, and consider that the final reproduction, to remain faithful to the original piece, really should be viewed under the same light as well.  Now you have your process.  Photograph the work in the studio it was created in, with the same light.  Evaluate the prints under that light.  Now, and only now, do you get what the artist is looking for – the same “life” of the work they created.  Their vision.

It’s an exacting process, and certainly not for every artist.  However, it yields results unlike any other process.

To understand the conventions of the Fine Art Reproduction world, here’s a snippet from a very well respected photographer working in one of the finest museums in the country, and a good friend:

“Finally, having worked for many artists over the years, I can tell you that they are not always the best judges of their own work.  And they certainly are not the finally arbiters of how their work will be displayed, appreciated and ranked.  That falls to the powers that be in the Art World — curators, collectors and art historians.  In fact, I have often found that artist are too close to their own work to judge a reproduction of it. So I wouldn’t make pleasing the artist my only criteria for a successful reproduction.”

I found that comment frank and honest, and with a grain of truth…  yet profoundly disturbing. Layers under the surface of this comment is an arrogance that is unavoidable.  It seemed no wonder that artists are so often dissatisfied with how their work is reproduced.

As I was casting about for a name, the idea of the French “Atelier” always came back to mind.  I’d always understood it to mean, “in the studio”, but I found a more precise definition of it’s use today: In spite of the current various misuses of the term “atelier”, it is French for “workshop”, and is traditionally used for an artist’s studio where a principal master and a number of assistants, students and apprentices worked together producing pieces that went out in the master’s name.

And this is the goal of The Atelier Print: To produce reproductions with the artist, in the studio of the artist, under the supervision of the artist, that are offered “in the Master’s name” without reservation.

…and yes, we set up a Facebook page for it.

Screen shot 2013-07-09 at 7.37.07 AM

Why?  Because, doing this, I’ve had the opportunity to view and appreciate some really remarkable work and meet some wonderfully talented people.  The Facebook page is where I can share it a little…  Take a look, and give it a “Like”:  The Atelier Print on Facebook.

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.

hard_closed

Painting by Nellie Ashford:  “Best Friends”

This is an example of what you’d typically see in an artist’s studio or a gallery.  It’s lit with a “Main” that’s a halogen spot from above, and has all the characteristics of that type of lighting – lots of texture, rich colors, deep shadows, bright highlights.  There’s a very slight amount of cooler fill, spilling from the surrounding walls.  This is “hard-edged closed shadows”, that is, the shadows have a hard edge, but are closed up, or dark.

soft_closed

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.  This is pretty typical of what you’ll see from a modern artist’s studio, often a combination of North light and halogen spots.  The fill in a studio like this is often far more cool that what we’re seeing here, though.

hard_open

These last two examples are lit with a very soft, very diffuse light source.  Typically a “North Light Studio” without any additional spots 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.

soft_open

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.  This is how an artist’s studio would look if they had North light, and very bright walls, floors and even ceilings.  It would be a fairly rare thing to see an artist working under these conditions.

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 true 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 basic results, and certainly not in any combination.

gilded

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.

wings

 

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.

Atelierlighting

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:

picture-11

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:

Atelierlighting_detail2

(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:

copylighting_detail2

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)

Well, hello there.  Thanks for the visit!

Here, in one place, are links and listings for the more interesting and important work I’ve done over the last few years. Yeah, I’ve done a lot of stuff. Photography, Marketing, Electric Vehicles, “Maker” and “builder” stuff.  I can’t seem to stop myself from writing.  Obsession is such an ugly word.

(Links are either to the original pages, or to PDF versions of the documents in case the pages have disappeared into the ether.)

Editorial

Contributing Author, InsideEVs

Contributing Author, Home Power Magazine

Home Power published articles:

Editor and Publisher, The Electric Chronicles

Managing Editor, Head-to-Head Reviews

Contributor: The Gardener’s Eden

Publishing

Author, Lark Books (Sterling Publications) (pdf: Excerpt, Color Pipeline)

  • 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.

Author,  …from Fossils to Flux. A how-to guide for basic DIY electric motorcycle conversion.

Advertising, Marketing, Public Relations

Director, Mt. Washington Auto Road ALT-E Summit

Founder, Master Printmaker – The Atelier Print

Advertising/PR/email newsletter Writer, Blogger – Parrot Digigraphic, LLC.

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)

Press Releases for The Electric Chronicles (samples of resulting stories): DealerNews on …from Fossils to Flux, EarthTechling on DIY conversions.

Social Media Management

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(All material here, and linked, is ©Ted Dillard, 2014 unless otherwise noted.  All rights reserved.)