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So, you think you want to do fine art reproductions of your paintings?

Richard Charpentier Arizona, Digital Cameras, Notes from Rich, Photography, Photoshop, Printers, Prints, RLC Design Leave a Comment

Off and on I’ve mentioned some of what goes on with Fine Art Reproduction printing.  I’ve never fully gotten into all that goes on, and I won’t be getting into the whole ball of wax in this post, but will address one of the first and most important steps today.

See, you’ve got to get your painting, pastel, pen & ink, or whatever else imaged before you do anything else, right?  I mean, there has to be some type of digital copy of the original in order to reproduce it in today’s world.  Piece of cake with all the great imaging equipment out there, right?


George Molnar was kind enough to let me use one of his recently digitized images to talk about this issue.  See, George came today with a few 4×5 pieces of film for me to scan in.  One was a 4×5 Positive Film, and one was a 4×5 negative film.  They were both of the same painting.  And when you look at the scans you’ll know right away there’s more to reproducing a piece of art than just getting a 12 Megapixel professional camera and firing away…….like one recent client believed….  🙂

Scanned from a 4x5 Film Positive. © George Molnar

4x5 Film negative scanned of the same piece. © George Molnar

As you can see, these almost look like 2 different images.  When I first started working with the image we had only scanned in the film positive.  George was sitting next to me and we pulled it up on screen.  And George’s first reaction was pretty simple.  Too dark.  So we worked on lighting it up and things still didn’t look right at all.

Since he had the negative film with him we decided to give it a whirl as well.  The negative film looked pretty darned good, but the sky is off.  The first scan was closer to the sky George painted, and the foreground on the negative scan was better.  We need to get somewhere in between as a combination of the two…..

So, George had the painting photographed professionally of course.  4×5 cameras aren’t cheap.  Your standard hobbyist wouldn’t purchase a camera like that.  The painting was photographed multiple times, different exposures, etc, all professionally.  And the best were selected and given to him.

Is either image right?  Dead on?  Nope.

So, how did this happen?  How is it that an image can be far off from the original?  Ummmmm……have you ever taken a photo?  Underexposed one maybe?  How about out of focus?  Ever felt like the white balance is off?  You know, those snow photos you took that looked blue….yeah, white balance!

There is an art to photographing paintings professionally.  It’s not a simple point and shoot deal.  Consideration to lighting, white balance, shadows, reflections, gloss on the paintings, spurious light……You’ve got to figure out all of those things.  And it’s not that simple.  Over the past few years I’ve known one person who has really had the process dialed in.  Our friend Larry Kantor.  Larry has been doing it a long time, and he’s really gotten his work flow down to a science.

Over the course of my time doing reproduction work I’ve also started shooting paintings digitally.  I have actually worked out a process that works perfectly.  Natural light, a Color Checker Passport, known distances to a known wall…..and only being able to shoot between 8 – 10 a.m.  The 8-10 thing is for real.  Given the fact I’m using natural light through a South facing window I have a certain amount of time before the sun actually shows through and starts making reflections / glare / shadows.  But when I shoot between those hours in my specific spot…..magic.  And then reproduction work is a simple process.  Lightroom, white balance correction, cropping and straightening, and compensating for exposure.

Now, in the case of scans or digital files that aren’t dead on we still have space to work in.  That’s where color matching with the original comes into play.  Or matching on a previous proof if a client doesn’t have a digital file with prior correction.  In the case of the sample images here, that’s what we’ll be doing.  And in the end we’ll get the look of the original painting.

For you painters out there, I hope this gives you some insight.  The next time you take a digital photo of your new painting and send it off to be printed, don’t be mad at the printer if it doesn’t look right.  The latest G-whiz point and shoot with built in HDR and HD video isn’t a guarantee that the digital image will match your work. And it’s not the camera’s fault either.  Lighting, white balance, focus, distance to the painting, and more go into actually getting an accurate image.  You can have the best equipment in the world, but if you don’t know how to use it you’ll most likely be sorely disappointed.

Thanks again to George for letting me use these two scans as an example of what goes into this process!  And yes, I have some matching work this week for George, Delores, Ida, and a few other folks…….  Just part of what I do every day!  🙂

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