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Q: Can I use a phone camera to photograph my art for online submission?
Yes, if you don’t have a camera you can use a phone camera if the sensor is at least 10MP (megapixels). However, most phone cameras use a wide angle lens so you will need an image editor to correct distortion.

Q: What focal length lens should I use to photograph my art?
A: Avoid a wide angle lens because it will distort your artwork. Generally the longer the lens (higher focal length number) the better.

The two images below illustrate how your photograph is affected by the focal length of your camera lens. The model didn't move and nothing was changed except the focal length and distance between the lens and the model. The shorter 20mm lens distorts the subject especially at the close distance that you would use to photograph your work. The longer 200mm lens is a better choice for the model and your artwork. Both images are Copyright photographer Dan Vojtěch and published here with his permission. Here are more examples of focal length effects, and Dan's outstanding photography.

Q: If I’m asked to supply an image for publication that is 5 inches on the long side and 300ppi resolution, can I use the 2 x 3 inch, 72ppi image that I already have and just change the size and resolution with an image editor?
It will look awful and most publishers will reject it. If your camera outputs only 72ppi images, it should be at least 18 inches on the long side. With an image editor, change the resolution to 300ppi, and reduce the long side to 5 inches. You might have to sharpen it after that. There are so many variables, it's not guaranteed to work, but it's worth a try.

Q: What resolution should I use?
Most print publications require at least 300ppi images. Standard "internet resoluion" has been 72ppi since the mid-1980s, but now with ultra-high resolution phone and monitor screens, 96ppi is becoming the new standard.

Q: What is a “RAW” file?
All consumer digital cameras can output the familiar “JPG” or “JPEG” image file. The camera’s computer converts from the original minimally processed data (RAW) to a JPG that can be displayed on almost any viewing screen. During the conversion process, a large percentage of the colors and tonalities are dropped from the RAW data in order to produce small files for internet transmission and quick viewing. (JPG files are “lossy.”) But because most high-end ink printers can reproduce many of those missing tonalities and colors, an increasing number of cameras offer the option to output the original RAW data files, usually along with the JPG files. (You will need imaging software that can work with the RAW file.)

The advantages of working with RAW files are you have almost all of the color and tone data that was recorded and unless you intentionally overwrite it, the RAW file will remain untouched when you save the image as a TIF, JPG or any other image file format. You can go back to it again and again. Bottom line - For most versatility and the best image quality that your camera can produce, keep the RAW file if you’re given that choice. Just remember that a RAW image on a non-high-end monitor won’t look much different from a JPG.

Q: How do I know if my camera can output “RAW” files?
It should be in your camera instruction booklet. But, since most camera companies use their own file extensions (the three characters to the right of the dot in a file name) for their RAW files, you can look up yours here.

Q: What’s the difference between a JPG and a TIF?
Both are image files.

  • A JPG (or JPEG) contains a portion of the tonalities and colors that are recorded by the camera and stored as RAW data. but since almost all monitors and viewing screens can not display all the colors and tones in a RAW file, the JPG is still the “go-to” image file type around the world. However, be cautious when you edit JPGs because every time you save a new version of it, more data will be lost every time. I recommend that you always work on a copy of the original JPG.
  • A TIF (or TIFF) contains most of the tonalities and colors that were in the RAW data, and it doesn’t degrade with each saved version. TIFs contain much more data than JPGs and the larger files take longer to send over the internet. But even when working on TIF files in an image editor, most monitors will not display all the tones and colors. That’s one of the reasons it’s good practice to print test strips to avoid surprises from a high-end ink printer.

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Q: What is a "gray card" and how can it help me when photographing my art?
A: A gray card is a cardboard or laminated plastic card that has been printed with a gray pigment or ink that reflects 18% of the light falling onto it. That's about midway between the lightest and darkest tones that your camera can use, and is referred to as "middle gray." Standard gray cards are usually dependable for correct exposure, but the gray color could vary somewhat from absolute neutral, but for general work it will be fine. If you plan to photograph art for reproduction professionally, you can buy a precisely-made neutral gray reference card for about $80 which is about eight times the cost of a standard gray card.

The two primary purposes of a gray card are to (1.) help your camera's light meter get an accurate exposure of your artwork, and (2.) help get your image colors and tonalities as close as possible to your artwork.

   1. Exposure: Most in-camera and hand-held light meters are calibrated to read the "middle gray" reflectance accurately. If you use a gray card when photographing artwork the exposure should be correct regardless of whether the artwork is mostly very light tones or very dark tones. For example, the artwork is a painting of a snow scene where everything is mostly white and light tones. If you just point your camera at the painting and release the shutter, you'll wind up with gray snow, and what was "light tones" will be even darker. In other words, under exposed. (That happens when photographing actual snow scenes too!)

  • Here's what to do: Set up your artwork as described elsewhere on this page, then lean your gray card against your artwork as close to it as possible and parallel to the artwork surface. Move your camera as close to the gray card as you can get without casting your shadow onto it. Make sure that the only thing in your viewfinder or screen is the gray card. Don't try to focus; it doesn't matter and your auto-focus will go into constant-search mode trying to do it.

    If you can set your camera to "M" manual exposure, set the f-stop (aperture) and shutter speed to what it says in the display and write it down so that you can use that setting later, if the light stays the same. If your camera does not have a Manual setting, most digital cameras let you slightly depress the shutter release and hold it there to keep the exposure. Then take away the gray card, move back to get the full painting in your viewfinder or screen, and release the shutter. If you do not have a gray card, just blast away at different exposure settings until you see something that looks okay. It's much better to use a gray card.

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   2. Color: Most of today's digital cameras do a good job of automatically correcting color for major differences such as daylight and artificial lighting, but when it comes to your artwork, you need better color accuracy.

  • Here's what to do: After you have completed 1. Exposure above, put the gray card back in front of your artwork. This time leave the gray card there, and make another exposure with the same settings as before. This time the gray card will be in the shot. That image of your artwork with a gray card will be your Color Reference image for use with Photoshop, Lightroom and other imaging software.

    • Your brain accommodates differences in the color of light. For example, if you are photographing outside, your artwork will pick up blue from a clear sky and green from any grass nearby. Unless you train yourself to see it, you won't even notice it... until you see the image. When you're selecting where to photograph your artwork, avoid strong colors nearby such as red bricks in the sun or yellow siding on a house. A good spot would be a gray or black driveway below and an overcast sky above, or in the shadow of a building.

    • Whatever the color of the light, the gray card in your Color Reference image should be neutral gray. If it’s not, you can correct it with your imaging software. As you change the color of the gray card in your Color Reference image, your artwork will change too. When you're satisfied with it, apply those same corrections to the image that does not have the gray card in it.

      Tip: If the artwork image looks better when the gray card is not neutral, use it!

    • If you did not shoot a Color Reference image, you could put the actual artwork next to your monitor and use your imaging software to try and match it. The light in the room where you're working will complicate matters, but you can get fairly close. Just be aware that it's impossible to exactly match every pigment color in a painting with colors on a monitor.

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Q: What is a camera’s White Balance?
(This is for general photography, not necessarily for photographing art.) Many of today's digital cameras will let you correct for the color of light right in the camera itself. That's called the camera's “white balance.” The video below (or here if you don't see it in your browser) will show you how to do that. More importantly, whether or not you have set the white balance in your camera, the video also will show you how to use your imaging software such as Lightroom to correct the color of an image when a gray card is in the shot (as I wrote about above).

  • NOTE: Even with today's incredible technology, what you see on your monitor won't be a perfect match of all of your artwork’s colors, but you can get pretty close if you do it right. Use a gray card!
  • How to Exhibit Your Work at a CFA MicroGallery

    If you're not a member of the Center for the Arts, you can join now at the Associate Artist level which is half of the lowest fee that other members pay.

    If you are a CFA member, just work up an idea of what your solo or group exhibit would be (for example, a theme or most recent work or a particular medium, method, substrate or presentation). Then download our MicroGallery Application. All of the details are on that form. Fill it out and send it to the VAG Committee.

    Thank you for considering sharing your work with us at a MicroGallery!

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    If you have questions about this, something else, or a suggestion about what you'd like to see in this "Info" section of our website, please email Ken Schuster.

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