Monday, April 25, 2011

Documenting Work

It's been more than a few weeks! I have been busy and the blog just got tossed for a bit. I am just back from Ormond Beach Florida where I dropped off my work for an exhibition. It was an epic trip. Broke down on the interstate and had to get a wrecker and lots of work done at a Jacksonville Ford dealership. Thank God for a few angels that came my way and helped to get me back on the road. A six hour delay was bad but at least I did not have to stay overnight in Jacksonville and was able to get to the musuem and unload my work.

I wanted to discuss the importance of documentation. Photographs of a work serve as the final documentation of a lot of hard work and in some cases, if you are lucky enough to sell a piece, that image may be the only one you get of a new artwork. For this most recent show I had several works that were brand new and two that have been reconfigured or upgraded, so to speak. Getting images was extra important since this show will be up until early June and I didn't want to wait that long to post new images on my website. Also to enter new shows I would need good images now.

Taking good images is key for a showing artist. I have been on the receiving end of calls-for-entry and there is nothing worse than viewing a portfolio or stand alone images of poorly photographed work. For one you don't know the real quality of the work and second, it shows that the artist is not really taking the professional side of art making/showing very seriously. If you have spent lots of time and funds making something, please, take some good images of it!

For this report I will focus on indoor studio setups. To start you need a few important elements. It is true some of these things can be an expenditure that artists may have to save up for, but in the end you will get the returns in increased shows and maybe even sales, commissions or grants. I get much of my gear from B&H Photo in NYC. I do all the ordering online. They are fast with shipping, competitive with their pricing, have super great customer service and stand behind their products. Other items I have gotten off of EBay. You have to be cautious when ordering off of Ebay but when you know what you are looking for you can get great deals.

What you need-
  • A Camera. A digital SLR is best, but any camera that can work in manual mode will work. Point and shoot and cell phone cameras are not an option for final portfolio images. You have to be able to manipulate the aperture and ISO yourself. Get a good book on basic photography, they are worth their weight in gold. Like this...
  • Light stands, 2-3 are good. I got mine on Ebay for a buck each, I paid for shipping. Like this...
  • Umbrellas. Important for diffusing lights. Again these are cheap off Ebay, mine are 36", bigger umbrellas allow for for than one fixture per umbrella. Like this...
  • A universal head attachment for the light stands, these will hold the umbrellas up and in a variety of positions. Like this...
  • Cheapo clamp-on light fixtures from Home Depot or such, extension cords, etc... I use five fixtures at a time for each photograph, to get a good flood of light.
  • The proper light bulbs- I got mine from B&H. These were more expensive than much of the other stuff, but will save you a ton of photo editing later. I use Lonestar or General Brand Compact Fluorescent lamps at 5000K - 5500K, 30 - 40W. They are standard spiral bulbs but it is the 5000K that makes all the difference in the color that comes out. Like this...
  • Background paper. A must! I have three different types, black at 53" (rarely used), grey at 53" and white at 107". I have it hanging from the ceiling and just pull down whichever I need for the particular sized work I am photographing. Like this...
  • A tripod. Since you will probably be using slower settings than outside light having a tripod is so very important for getting clear and focused images. Not many folks can hold a camera that still! You can really see the difference when you blow images up to large sizes as well. Like this...
  • Instant computer access. Get a card reader for your camera's data card. You will want to take a few images, pop the card into the reader, then log your manual settings, check exposure and clarity BEFORE spending hours photographing your work. My space is small so I must rearrange furniture and stuff to set up my studio equipment, I wold hate to do all this only to find all of my images out of focus or overexposed!
Make sure you experiment and write down information. Once you have the proper settings most of all the images you take will be within a narrow range of settings. I typically take three settings of each photo, then later delete anything too bright or too dark. I also take up to four different views of the work, one of these being a detail image. These is always some photo editing to be done later, changing the dpi, editing, image size etc... The better the photo editing software you have the easier it will be, but that is a whole different story... Always, always have a stash of unedited photos on a back-up drive, so you can always go back to your library of original images if you need to set up some special images for a show or something.

Below are some images for example, one of the studio set up, taken with my iPhone and the other of the completed photographs ready for my portfolio.

Tall House (Out of Reach), 2011, cast iron, steel, 42" tall, copywrite, Jennifer Torres 2011

1 comment:

  1. Excellent words and advice, Jen. The importance of good portfolio and process photographs for a sculptor (or any artist) cannot be overstated.

    As a workaround for expensive bulbs, I found that 500W halogen work lamps are an inexpensive, Tungsten-balanced lighting option. Still need to diffuse 'em, but they work!