About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Photographing Art

by Loran Percy

Last Saturday It was my pleasure to give a talk about digital photography to the Monadnock Area Artists Association.  The organization brings together artists from Keene New Hampshire and the surrounding towns.  The MAAA provides training, support and fellowship for creatives throughout the region.  Perhaps most notably, the organization sponsors the popular Art in the Park show every autumn.  The group welcomes a broad range of artists including painters, sculptures, and even a few photographers are tolerated.  I have been a member for years.

I have had experience talking to fellow photographers, with presentations to many regional camera clubs, but I had to consider what would be of interest to a group of people who create their art with paint, chisels and such.  Why do “real artists” take pictures.

I came up with three broad categories for their photography.

1 Enjoyment

Peterborough NH

Photography is simply fun, and those who devote great effort to recording the fact and the feel of the world, appreciate the simple pleasure of quickly capturing what they see with the special beauty and detail of a photographic image. For those who may spend hours on a single scene, the ability to record many views in the same time frame can be marvelously liberating.  It can also be a great scouting tool, facilitating the search for subjects that may be worth a return visit.   Digital photography has expanded these possibilities, and the immediate feedback has made learning the technical aspects of image capture much easier.

2 Source Images

Mary Iselin En Plein Air

Many artists enjoy doing their work “en plein air”, creating their art while sitting before the actual subject .  Being enveloped by all aspects of the scene, the movement, the smells and the sounds, can inspire a fuller representation of the feel as well as the fact of the view.  Of course, photographers, by necessity, always begin their work en plain air, but we typically realize the full power of the image only after bringing it back to the digital darkroom.   

My Source Image

 Similarly, painters often use photographs as their source for works that they will complete in the studio. I often get requests from painters to use one of my images as the source for their work.  I always say yes, but ask that I am given credit and receive a photo of the final painting.  The better the source image the more inspiration the artist will have for their final work.  I thought I might be able to help with capturing the best representation of the original scene.

Much of my presentation to the MAAA was directed towards these possibilities.  I modified my class lecture on photography in different kinds of light.  I had all of these slides safely in the can, but there was one category that I had never addressed,  the photography of art for publication and archiving.

3 Archival Images

Mount Monadnock by Mary Iselin
Stonewall Farm Raffle

Artists frequently take photographs of their work.  This is often for publication in print or on the web or simply as a way of keeping an archive of their body of work.  Obtaining high quality images of art can be challenging.  Pictures need to be evenly illuminated without distortion or glare and retain an accurate record of the colors.  This does not require expensive equipment.  The requirements are simple.

Even Illumination without Glare

University of Colorado at Boulder
In the studio, even illumination can be achieved with the use of two large flood lights, shining in at a 45-degree angle on either side of the work, and with an otherwise dark room.  This will minimize distracting glare, especially if the work has an irregular nubby surface.  Glare can be especially problematic if the work is covered with glass.  A polarizing filter can reduce some of the glare, but, when at all possible, it is always better to remove the glass.

Before Polarizer


 Under the Sky

My favorite approach to lighting is to use the massive soft box which is provided by an overcast sky.  The light is soft, directionless and much cheaper than big floods.  Similar soft light can be obtained on a sunny day by going into the shade, such as on the north side of a building. When photographing Loran Percy’s winter brook painting, I hung the art on a window sash.  Overcast light is soft, but it always has a color cast, usually with blue hue.  Correcting for the color of the light isn’t difficult and is discussed below.

No Distortion

This is a simple one.  You will want your rectangular artwork to be rectangular in your image.  For this, the camera lens needs to be at the same height as the center of the painting.  Seriously, it will save considerable editing headaches if you just get a tape measure and measure the heights. 

Off-Line Leads to Trapazoids

This is one of those situations where a tripod can be essential to lock in the correct orientation.  If you are too low the picture will become a trapezoid exhibiting what we refer to as “Key stoning”.  This distortion can be corrected in editing programs such as Lightroom or Photoshop, but it requires added work and the results can never have same sharpness.

Live View for Precise Focus
Precise focus is also important and be most reliably obtained by zooming in on detail in "Live View" on your camera's LCD screen.

Accurate Color Reproduction

The topic of color management is complicated.  Accurate color depends on the color of the light but also on the rendering in the specific mode of display.  Color profiles are available for printers or presses, but there is no way to compensate for the infinite color variation in all the monitors that will be displaying your work on the web. It is enough to drive you crazy, but you can at least start with compensating for the color of the light that illuminates your work.

I my example, I know that the overcast sky will tend to produce a blue cast to the image.   If I were shooting JPEG images, which have limited capability for post-processing adjustment,  I would try to adjust for the light by setting the camera’s color balance to “overcast” or “shadow”.  Of course, these settings are only approximations and may not match the actual tint of the illumination.  When shooting in RAW there is a much broader range for adjustment and here is where the “Gray Card” is magic.   Also do I need to mention, Yet Again, that you should be shooting in RAW? !

Magic Gray Card

A gray card is generally a small piece of cardboard with a neutral  18% gray surface.  It has no color tint, so when included in the image it provides a flawless reference for color balance.  I took a couple of evenly illuminated images of the art and then I grabbed a couple more, in the same light, with the Gray Card included.

I grouped together all of the images for editing within Lightroom.  In the color balance section of the Develop Module, is a neutral gray eye-dropper.  When the dropper is clicked over any part of the image, the underlying color will be shifted to middle gray, and all the other colors will adjust accordingly.  Depending on the color that is selected, this can lead to bazaar shifts in color balance, but when I clicked the dropper over the gray card in one of the images, the card was adjusted to appear as its correct neutral gray and instantly all the other colors in all the selected images snapped to their correct hue.  It is magic, but so simple. 

There are many more complexities on the way to a perfect color rendition of your work, but compensating for the color of the lighting is a first essential step.  Next, we can talk about different color spaces, and profiles for your printer and monitor, but that will have to wait for another time.

When a painter sells a one-of-a-kind masterpiece it is gone for ever, but a photograph can retain a record of the work.  With just a little effort, this archival image can be as accurate as the original deserves.

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