Part 1 covered the overview of the workshop and general information on setting up color spaces and checking your monitor to ensure your images were as close to calibration as possible. If the tonality and color space you were working with didn’t come reasonably close to how it would be projected, there could be rude surprises. Part 2 is going to cover how to photograph your art work and image slide preparation.
The Jury image
This is where you need to pay as much attention to detail as possible. Literally, you need to place your work in the best light as possible. This is not just the lighting, but also the way your artwork is positioned and the best use of a background for the 3D artists.
Consider that the jury process is about 20 seconds for most major shows. They will have in excess of a thousand entries. In order for your images to stand out, they need to be as clean as possible, and as consistent as possible in both content and style. You need a “Wow!” factor in your jury images that is simple and easy to read, punchy, and dramatic in order to stand out. Keep your backgrounds and lighting styles as unified as possible.
Avoid white backgrounds. Large masses of white tend to visually desaturate or wash out adjacent colors. If you have work that is bright and punchy, you’ll lose that impact with a white background. A white background suddenly being projected from a previous black background between applications will shock your eyes for 3-5 seconds afterwards. This can be up to 25% of the judges viewing time.
The best background is a graduated tone that goes from light gray at the bottom to black at the top. It is best to have a shadow at the base of the artwork (3D) to ground it and keep it from looking as though it is floating in space. The shadows at the bottom of the work give it dimension and grounding.
In general, you want your pieces to be of similar style or have some obvious connection. The judges have roughly 4-5 seconds on each image to make an assessment of your work, and if there is a tenuous connection between your pieces, the judges don’t have the leisure time to figure it out.
Keep it simple, keep the lighting of the same quality and type, keep the backgrounds the same, and keep the work similar but not too similar. Keep it close enough to show that it’s a family of work but far enough apart to show some healthy growth and experimentation on the theme.
Shooting flat work
There are different considerations in shooting flat work compared to three dimensional works. The emphasis here is to have lighting consistent across the face of the work. Larger pieces call for more lights to supply enough lighting if you’re using artificial light. The easiest solution is to use your display tent as a giant soft box. Set it up in the driveway or backyard, preferably when the sun is overhead and not streaming into the booth itself. The light is non-directional and without shadows in this set-up.
Take care in setting up the camera. It must be on a tripod, and the lens set to some midrange aperture such as f5.6 or f8 for the best optical sharpness and detail. The real pain to deal with in copy work like this is to avoid keystoning where you have the parallel sides of a painting converging.
This is my own suggestion for shooting large flatwork. If you’re on a driveway, and one with a pour seam, you’ve got half the battle won. Set the tent up so the sidewalls are parallel to the seam and the seam runs down the middle. Set the tripod on the seam for a perpendicular line to the back wall. Hang the 2D work directly above the seam and centered. Set the camera lens height to the middle of your work, and take it back a ways using the zoom lens to fill the frame. The further back you go, 7-10 feet or so, the less problem you have with converging lines.
If you still have converging lines on the outside edges of your work (assuming it is rectangular), you’ll need to go into Photoshop. The most commonly used method is the Filter>Correct Camera Distortion path. What they don’t tell you is that Elements assumes that perspective distortion is symmetrical. Sorry, boys and girls, but it seldom happens that way. The work flow for this is as follows; first rotate the image until both converging sides are the same angle. Use the grid lines under View>Grid so you can line up the edges of the work and get them straight as you adjust the perspective controls, one after the other.
The full sized Photoshop from at least PS7 and further on, allows you to correct this situation by dragging a crop line parallel to the sides you wanted straightened, and it could be done in less than a minute. The best fix is to get it right in the camera by careful planning and aligning the camera and tripod.
The key issue from the camera alignment and PS corrections is to true up the sides of rectangular work and eliminate any extraneous white borders or distracting background beyond your work.
Shooting 3D work and jewelry
The easiest method for jewelry shots is a light tent like the ones used for eBay product shots. Use a graduated background, such as a Varitone #9, and avoid the white backgrounds for the same reasons mentioned earlier. The darker backgrounds or sections of a graduated background will allow fine details to show up in objects with chains or openings. Back or edge lighting to delineate surface contours is a good idea.
A simple light from the front is not going to be enough unless it is a large light source such as an umbrella bounce or a soft box light. Bracket your shots if need be, and keep in mind that specular highlights or shiny reflections can’t be recovered with details but murky shadows can be opened up and restored.
One simple trick to give your work more presence is to crop square if possible. If your work can fit in a square format, by all means crop your camera image for a square dimension and set it to 1920x1920 pixels and forget the black bars. This makes your work project larger and gains more impact. The work can easily be 1/3 larger. Take advantage of this if you can.
Arranging your slides for maximum impact
Sequencing your slides can gain more impact if done properly. If your images can be arranged to tell a story or gain a narrative, then arrange them as such. Other suggestions for improving strength of a grouping are to arrange them in a bookend fashion with the first and last image either both vertical or both horizontal in contrast to the others. Another trick is to have the pieces with a direction flow point toward the middle. If a piece looks to the right, have it on the left side of the grouping and vice-versa.
Another overlooked technique is to use a diptych within a jury image. This is typically used for a detail image and an overall image of the piece. The judges recommended using a larger detail image and a smaller overall image. Side by side seemed to be the commonly used, but there is no reason why it couldn’t be rotated for a horizontal piece. Another use for this is for a sculptural piece that could have different views of the same object, and in this case it would be equal size images within the 1920x1920 space.
The take away on the jury image is that you’ve got about 20 seconds for your images to impress the jurors that your work is good enough to go on to the next round, whether it the first cut or the fourth cut. Anything that makes them stop and focus on something that is not the best presentation takes away time spent on your best work. Poor quality photography slows down the jury process, so literally you need to show your work in the best light. Your art work may speak for itself, but if it’s speaking through a less than optimum jury image, the message is getting garbled. You can’t sell work at the fair if you can’t get in the fair, so invest time and effort in getting the jury images to look their best.
In a few more days, I’ll post the last segment of this which will cover the booth image. Again, thanks go out to Larry Berman for his Photographing Artwork Workshop, Cindy Lerick and Laura Miller with the St. Louis Cultural Festival for putting on the workshop and mock jury.
Part Three on setting up and photographing the booth image is located here.