From Painting to Print – The Giclee Reproduction Process

Richard Charpentier Notes from Rich, Prints, RLC Design, Wide Format Printing Leave a Comment

For months I’ve been meaning to do a post on the process I use at R.L. Charpentier Photography when I reproduce paintings for my clients.  Since I’m doing a quick small piece for a new client I thought I’d talk about what goes on here and share it with readers.

Yesterday a local water color painter popped in to see about doing some reproductions of her work.  She brought a piece in that she’d recently completed and wanted to do a few giclee’s of.  Several friends wanted reproductions as they liked the image so much.

The client didn’t bring a digital file along.  Nor had anyone shot the piece for her.  In cases where a client comes in with a smaller piece, and they want to reproduce only to the original size, I’ll happily shoot the piece for them with my 5D Mark II.  When clients bring something in that they want to massively up sample I point them to some folks in town that I know shoot medium format film.  We’ll talk more about that further along in the post.

The client's image with a color checker passport. Don't worry, this is just the start of the process.

This morning my first order of business was to setup the client’s painting to be shot here at the gallery.  Pretty simple at this point, I’ve done the process hundreds of times.  First, I’ll do a quick sample shot with a Camera RAW White Balance card in the image.  This isn’t “the shot”, it’s just a quick point of reference in order to get a handle on the lighting in the print room.  Since I use Lightroom 2 I can set the white balance, copy it, and apply it to the other shots I take.

After getting a few quick frames for the white balance (yup, I do a couple to double check the results in Lightroom) I then set the image up on a target that I’ve made for just this process.  I use the 24-70mm L series lens to do the final shot.  Line everything up with the camera and tripod (I have a mark for that) and fire away.  I’ll do several shots and then off load to the IMac here in the gallery.

Once in Lightroom I’ll select through the images and find the sharpest shot I can.  I’ll apply the White Balance adjustment taken from the sample shots and I’m off and running.  The image gets cropped to what the client requested and then I’ll make 2 virtual copies.  The virtual copies are used for some test points.

Normally on screen I have a pretty good feel for how close the photo is to the original.  But there’s always room for a little drift, so that’s where the virtual copies come in.  Each virtual copy and original shot is adjusted for exposure normally.  What I’ve found more than any other issue is that exposure might be a tad darker than the original.  So, I run 3 small printed versions of the image at different exposure levels.

Patricia Howard's latest painting, all ready for print.

This morning, for example, I found that the exposure needed to be adjusted +.25EV.  Not a huge leap, and it normally isn’t.  Dialing the images in has become extremely simple here.

The preferred method used in the process

So, there’s the quick and dirty on what I do when shooting smaller pieces for reproduction for my clients.  It’s not my preferred method.

In Prescott we’ve got a few studios that shoot medium format.  One is Larry Kantor’s studio, and he provides a lot of great work for our clients.  Ian (my business partner) has had Larry shoot his work for years.  Another regular client, Allison, has also used Larry’s services and I’ve been blown away by the results every time.  Larry has been shooting paintings for artists for quite some time now, and it shows through in his work.

When a client has a larger painting, or a painting they want to reproduce much bigger than the original, I suggest that they have it imaged in medium format.  The 4×5 positive film that’s provided to me can be scanned in at a massive DPI (taking 30 minutes to an hour usually for 1 image).  When I get those types of images scanned in I can normally set them up to print larger than I can even reproduce.

I like scanning the medium format film as big as I can.  Why?  Because someday the artist who I’m working for might want to reproduce the image larger than they’ve ever anticipated.  My preference is to provide them with a file that can be used at sizes they haven’t even anticipated wanting.  Then they only pay once for the process.

What I’ve found scanning the medium format shots from a photographer who has been doing this for a while is this…..  I usually have no correction work to do.  Worst case scenario, I might need to toy with the exposure ever so slightly as I described above in my own workflow.  What I normally don’t run into is the need to do a ton of color correction to get the image matching.

What else goes on?

Very little else usually goes on when doing reproduction work for clients.  If the images are shot professionally I don’t have too much work on the color correcting front.  The times when things get tougher is when clients bring in digital files they’ve shot, or a friend with an SLR has shot.  That’s when we might run into issues.  What are the issues?

  • White balance wasn’t considered.  No gray card included in an image, and the piece was shot in odd lighting conditions.  One client photographed their own pieces in their yard around noon under a strong sun.  Oh, that was a chore.
  • Shot in JPEG.  I think most folks understand, JPEG is a great compression format that yields smaller files, but it isn’t great for editing and tweaking when you’re trying to dial colors in for someone.
  • Color correction work can take quite a while.  Pastels, oils, acrylics.  Each has a different reflective quality.  And when shot in an uncontrolled environment, horrible things can happen.  “Why is that glare there on my painting?”  Simple, shot with a light in the wrong place which carries the reflection right through into your digital image.  Not a usable file, but sometimes clients insist on using their own shots rather than paying for the piece to be professionally shot.  Once I tell them my Photoshop editing prices they reconsider what would be cheaper?  🙂

So there’s the wrap behind the reproduction work for painters.  Gosh, I thought the post would go longer, but it’s a pretty simple process.

By the way, just finished up the client’s file, and the match is dead on!  Looks great too!

Leave a Reply