Digitally Editing Photographs of Paintings

In my previous article, I explained how I photograph my paintings, recording high enough quality jpg's to reproduce well to at least 7 inches square in high-resolution print. In this article, I explain the digital editing process I use in Adobe Photoshop 7.0, once I have downloaded the images to my computer. The aim is to have a final high-resolution file ready for print, and also some lower resolution files suitable for use on a website. Whether or not freeware is as good as Photoshop, I wouldn't know, but if you don't have Photoshop already, I would research this before buying a copy.
This article is not a Photoshop or computer tutorial. It lists what I do, but doesn't give instructions. This article is for readers that already have a reasonable knowledge of Photoshop, and other computer skills. I only have basic skills myself, so nothing too advanced is needed. Before you do anything, you will need to ensure your computer screen is properly calibrated. If you type "PC monitor calibration" into your internet search, there are plenty of websites that will take you through this.

Let's assume I've just finished photographing my latest painting, and have just downloaded the images into my "Source Images" folder on my computer. I keep all my source files in this folder, and keep a regular backup of this, and all my other images folders, safely hidden in another location. I back-up to CD or DVD, as it's non-volatile memory. You might want to consider backing up to an external hard drive too. Any editing I do to the source file is saved as a different file, in a different folder.
Firstly, you may remember from my previous article, I take several versions of each shot. I preview them carefully, and delete all but the best one of each.
Opening the file in Photoshop 7.0, I crop, rotate and zoom out so that I have the largest view possible on my screen of the whole image. Then, with the painting next to me for visual reference, I adjust the Levels accordingly.
Then the Colour Balance. My source files are usually too blue, so I move the pointers slightly away from Blue and Cyan. Then, I adjust the Saturation. With my photos, the red is often very over saturated. I sometimes have to move the red saturation down to around minus 15. That's usually enough to get the colours and tones right. Tweak around if necessary. I occasionally use the Brightness/ Contrast too.
Stand back and look at both the painting and the PC screen together. Take a break, then look again with fresh eyes. If there's someone else around, ask them for a second opinion. Getting this right is important, especially if you are going to be uploading a version of this image on-line for a potential buyer to look at. Then, I zoom in to 100%, and use the Unsharp Mask to bring it crisp into focus. Don't overdo it. I always find the image needs a bit of sharpening, and always leave the sharpening till last. I Save As jpg to my "High Res Edited" folder, (image quality maximum).You may want to save to a lossless file type instead, but high-res jpgs have always been fine for my purposes.
Now for making images suitable for my website. I reduce the Image Size, so the longest dimension is 850 pixels. Zoom in to 100%, and use the Unsharp Mask to focus. I then Save For Web at a quality setting I'm happy with in the preview screen. I tend to save them at very, perhaps unnecessarily, high quality. The file size is usually around 200k. If you're worried about people downloading useful versions of your images, you may want to reduce the longest dimension and/or image quality.
I then create the thumbnail image, using the same Save For Web process as before, but making the longest dimension 157 pixels.
Note: I always sharpen in 100% view.

Photographs Everywhere, But Is It Really Art?

I once heard a lady say to a photographer that she would have bought his work if it had been a painting. She liked the image, but for whatever reason didn't consider the medium suitable for her "it's just a photo".
I am sure that some share her thoughts, whilst others would be quite happy either way, but a growing number of people do recognise photography as an Art form. And collect it.
"There are three fundamental components of what we call art. First, is the artist; second, is the medium; and third is the artwork. All three, clearly are interrelated." Tad Beckman
Defining photographic art
It is true many people do regard photography as merely a reproductive medium, and the photographer as simply the technician. And if this were just about your holiday snaps then it would be a valid point.
So let's start with my definition of photographic art. I say my definition because there is no stock answer it means different things to different people.

For me it's about creating a beautiful image that is an interpretation of the scene that I saw in my mind captured on film, rather than just a recording of what is already there.
It's about the photographer being the choreographer of the various components; the composition is critical, as is the lighting, weather conditions and the colours at play.
It's not just about pressing the shutter release, although timing is everything. Patience comes into play too, as you wait for all the components to be perfect all at the same time.
Some things you can control, but the weather well that constantly throws out surprises that can add that hint of drama to a picture or send you home disappointed.
It's these uncertainties that add the challenge, and this results in creativity as you respond to the situation. Other photographers will have their own criteria, but we all are producing very personal pieces of work that we feel passionate about and that are a representation of our interpretation of the world.
A photograph - more than just a sheet of paper with an image on it?
Oh yes! Typically a photographer will capture an image that pleases their eye. They will create something that is close to their heart, and therefore give a little of themselves in the image.
Effectively they are allowing you to see how they perceive the world to be, one moment at a time. Add into the fact that many photographers print their own work (once they have an order!), and sign it then you could say you are buying a piece of history - or designer art!
In other words you are not buying a mass produced print, and naturally the price reflects this. You are buying into the reputation of that photographer and you will expect to pay more. When someone is starting out and building reputation then you are investing in the potential of that person.
You won't pay as much, but you'll be backing your own instinct and demonstrating your belief in that person's talent. Contemporary photography is affordable art.
Subject matter - does it matter?
Personally I don't believe it does, and I mean this in the sense that people will be drawn to your work because they have seen something of yours and liked your style, and typically that means they like your choice of subject matter too.
My preference is for landscapes and increasingly flowers, whilst other photographers prefer sport, people or a more abstract approach to name but a few.
I think the key to preserving artistic integrity is to shoot for your own personal satisfaction, although naturally as your reputation builds you will develop an understanding of what collectors want, but for me I always have to love the image myself to want to share it with the world. Anything less and it stays in the drawer!
I still experiment, and search for new subject matter, but my photographic style is what it is. It just keeps evolving.
A new language
Understanding the language of the image is something quite individual to the viewer, it does not explain itself in the same way to each person. It is subjective. And although some may view photography as easy, believing that there own point and shoot cameras can produce similar results to a master photographer are confusing the issue.
After all most of us have made paintings at some time in our lives, and may still own paint brushes, but wouldn't necessarily look at a painting by a master and not consider it to be art would we?
It is the heart and hand of the author behind the brush, camera or pen that executes the creative vision not the tools used.

Photography Montage

Simply put, photography montage is the process of making a composite photo from several different photographs. The process has been in use since the mid eighteen hundreds and took place in the photographer's darkroom. These techniques were untried and new and no doubt took a great deal of patience, trial and error. The photographer's skill was paramount as he manipulated negatives of different subjects and printed them on to the same piece of photography paper. The end result was a picture of illusion where people and things printed on the photograph were not really there.
Although the darkroom is fast becoming a thing of the past with the digital age of photography, the techniques are still in use albeit in an altered state. Photos are 'stitched' together to produce a panoramic view of the subject (typically a landscape), people are added or erased from a picture and, as in the past, a number of pictures can be combined into a photograph montage before the printing stage.
The sort of effect that this type of editing produces has been popular for as long as photographs have been accessible to everyone and makers of photo frames have tried to pick-up on this by producing frames where multiple photographs can be displayed within the same frame. It works well for families where several children can be featured or where the age progression of just one child can be seen at a glance.
However, back to the digital age of photography and modern day techniques. Software such as Photoshop or The Gimp allow us to manipulate images, so with the right skills it becomes incredibly easy to produce a photography montage that is plausible and worthy of any collector of photographs. But then a paper photograph is just a paper photograph and unless it is put into a frame it is unlikely to ever be on display.
New techniques are being developed all the time where photos can be printed on media other than paper such as photos on mugs and plates, metal and canvas boards and more - the process is so dynamic and progressive. The printing process is what separates amateur from professional as specialised inks and commercial products are likely to be needed, and they are just not cost effective for occasional use. The comparison between what you may print on your standard inkjet printer and what the professional prints will therefore be vastly different and will potentially spoil your whole project.

Vincent Van Gogh, the Tragic Story of a Brilliant Painter

Twelve years after his tragic suicide, Vincent's work was discovered by a Parisian art dealer. Until then, no one, except for those who knew him personally, had ever even heard the name. Today, large sums of money are exchanged for his work.
Vincent was born in the Dutch village of Zundert, in the south of the Netherlands. He studied theology and became a preacher in the Methodist Church. He also worked for several different art dealers in The Hague, London and Paris. Only in 1880 does he start painting, first traditional and very "Dutch", reflecting the Dutch rainy climate with many dark brown colors.

In 1886 Vincent moves to Paris, and two years later to Arles, on the Mediterranean, near Marseille. On the 20th of October of that year, Vincent's friend Gauguin joins him in Arles. Vincent's art becomes lighter in color, showing the Mediterranean sunlight in it.
Two months after Gauguin comes to Arles, Vincent has a schizophrenic episode and cuts a piece of his own ear off. The years following, Vincent starts to get very sick, and he eventually kills himself in 1890. His brother, Theo van Gogh, who had supported Vincent all of his life, dies seven months after Vincent, possibly from grief.
Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life. Today, his paintings are the most expensively sold in the world, and are admired around the globe in many museums and private collections. He also is celebrated as the forerunner of the expressionist movement.