Mark Lomas on photographing your work

OCA photographer Mark Lomas demonstrates how to get the best results when photographing artwork. Starting with the set up used at the OCA, Mark explains the basic principles and how these can be applied whatever camera and facilities you have at home. The work pictured is by student Tracy Roberts.

Three times a year after assessment events the OCA photographs a huge volume of student work. Some of this is for publicity purposes – we need images for the OCA home page (which do not have to be particularly high resolution) and images for the annual guide (which have to be very high resolution to do justice to the students’ work when printed). Increasingly we are also capturing images for slideshows on WeAreOCA, such as the very popular piece about Julie Senior’s work ‘Labeled Like Luggage’. But we also capture images so that tutors can see the standard of work by students other than their own. To get all these images we need a workflow which guarantees quality and is highly efficient. Once the kit is set up, staff work in pairs – one firing the shutter the other moving the work in front of the camera.

We hope this video is of interest to our photography students, but also to our fine arts and textiles students as you do not need a tripod, studio lights and tethered shooting to get good results. Just applying the basic principles of minimising reflections, getting even light from one type of lightsource and getting the alignment of the camera and the work parallel can take you a long way even with an inexpensive camera.

And finally, you have to feel for Mark. We said come and take images and video for us and then within days we are forcing him in front of the camera. We did think about including some of the outtakes a la Nina Milton but then thought better of it!

10 Comments

  1. Pingback: Photographing Artwork « Julie K in Taiwan’s Links

  2. Sarah Holmes 4 June 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks Mark for this great video – am working with my local museum to photograph objects from the collection and that includes art! Really clear explanation (unlike some photographic texts ;-)) and reinforced some things I do already – hanging over balconies in stairwells especially (no one at the museum used to that yet – let alone any visitors!!)

    Reply
  3. Derek Trillo 4 June 2010 at 3:07 pm

    In addition to the video, I have a few further tips that artists may find useful:

    To save your back and to make setting the work square-on easier, use your easel rather than the floor, or lean pictures against a wall; a conventional tripod could then be used.

    Place lights at around 25-30 degrees to your work to avoid reflections especially on (reflective) mixed media, oils or acrylics – 45 degrees is too close to camera for these.

    If you find that the edges nearest to the lights are both too bright, move the lights further away to even out the spread of light. Any pair lights could be used if they are the same.

    Finally, if you still can’t get the results you need, or if you want to produce limited edition prints, ask a specialist photographer for a quote (not a wedding photographer!) it may be cheaper than you think, plus professional images will promote your work better

    Reply
  4. Lynn Norton 4 June 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Many thanks for this. Very helpful – especially the one about standing on the stairs for large paintings.

    I have just submitted my A level artwork and had to take photographs to put into my coursework book. I now understand where I can improve the images I take in the future.

    I am about to embark on an OCA course in Fine Arts and obviously will now be able to submit superior images to the tutor!

    Reply
  5. Mark Lomas 7 June 2010 at 8:44 am

    Hi everyone, glad its been of some use and you’re finding it helpful.

    @Derek, thanks for the extra tips, very good point on getting a shallower angle particularly for reflective surfaces. Feel free to pass on anymore if you have them. The video is already a little long for a web video so was just to get people started.

    Just to clarify a few things, re: using any lights. Yes you could indeed though they would have to be reasonably powerful. The video was mainly aimed at non-photographers with only a basic compact camera.

    Given that much of the artwork I’ve seen here is in the A1 to A0 size range getting even lighting with only general household lights could be a struggle. If you have the flash turned off then those small compact cameras don’t give very good results at 1600iso. Hence the suggestion to take work outside.

    Of course I encourage people to experiment with photography and what equipment they have available 😉

    With regards to getting a professional photographer then yes you’re right if you’re lucky enough to have our work included in a book or are selling prints you’re going to need professional results. For people photographing their work for their blogs or to email to tutors I don’t think its necessary to hire somebody. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel pressured into thinking they need to spend more money to satisfy their course requirements 🙂

    Cheers

    Mark

    Reply
  6. Derek Trillo 7 June 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Hi Mark

    Fair play to you for starring in these videos yourself, most of us would rather visit a dentist than get round the ‘wrong’ side of the camera 🙂

    One other point I’d add is that if the work has a relief element – collage, heavy oils or mixed media applied on the surface; using one light source (outdoors, window-light or one lamp), with a reflector as you showed, is the way to go. This is because twin lights will give two sets of shadows which looks unnatural.

    I agree that the video is too long. For a video ‘aimed at non-photographers with only a basic compact camera’ as you suggested, it’s more than 5 mins in before compacts are mentioned. Perhaps separating the demo of how you work from how you are advising the students to work into 2 separate videos could be an easy first step (parts 1 & 2), then subsequent additions could form part 3?

    Re your comments on mine – I only mentioned using lights (and a way to make it more even) because that’s in the video. I’m attempting to clarify your point, not introduce my own. Yes, they will need to have reasonable power. With 2 cheap spot-lamps, 2 100W equivalent bulbs and a cheap tripod (secondhand?) iso 100 could be used, fired with the self-timer.

    The whole lot (if they didn’t have any components already) could be around 30 quid. Usefully, it would be a consistent set up with a regular colour and exposure, without the vagaries of weather or the time of year (e.g. colour temperature in December sunshine is very warm, unlike the weather).

    I don’t suggest that students pay for coursework to be photographed – ‘if you still can’t get the results you need, or if you want to produce limited edition prints’ – means it is a last resort… Or a way to make money from their images without actually selling the original (which I find is getting increasingly popular). If they have quite a few images, or if they join together with other artist(s) on a session, each shot may only cost around 8 pounds, which is easily recouped by just one print sale or one sale via an online gallery (e.g. dot.art or silverburngallery).

    Hope that this helps.

    Cheers,

    Derek

    Reply
    1. Gareth 8 June 2010 at 7:24 am

      Thanks Derek

      A number of helpful points.

      The issue about the length of the video is an interesting one. We set Mark the task of showing how we photograph (where the final outcome could be used on our annual Guide to Studying with the OCA) and then working out from this to general principles for students. One of the ideas behind WeAreOCA is that it makes the college more tangible, more real to our students as well as providing useful content. It will be fascinating to see the viewing stats on the video – we can see both starts and completions – so we will be able to judge what the viewers’ tolerance levels ae with time.

      Reply
  7. Paul Butterworth 11 June 2010 at 9:22 am

    Hi Mark,

    very useful video and just the right length for me – initially, I baulked at the length as I’m used to web videos being under five minutes… but equally dislike watching a series of videos when the information would be much better in one hit. So I decided to watch it anyway with the option of turning it off if you started repeating yourself or jumped to something too technical!

    No redundant time – all useful – and very clear.

    Well done!!

    Reply
  8. John Walker 16 January 2011 at 7:35 am

    Hi MArk,

    A comprehensive and useful video. Explains a lot. Nice work and thank you.
    regards
    JW

    Reply
  9. Sarah Bayly 17 August 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Fantastic guide – thank you! I never understood about the white balance before, and wondered why my outside pics were always blue!

    I’m studying textiles 1 and am not a photographer. So far I have just used a really cheap digital camera, but am looking to get a better one (as I also need it for photographing products I sell online).

    Any tips on a good camera to get? I have been looking at Canon EOS 1100D or 600D.

    Many thanks, Sarah

    Reply

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