Sunday, November 4, 2012

Monitoring Your Work - How Does It Look On-Screen?

Oak Creek Blues - 9x12, pastel - Tweaked Image

I am about to start pulling work for my annual web-based Holiday Sale.  As I get paintings ready, the problem of posting good images of the work raises its ugly head.

Other than doing paperwork, one of my least favorite tasks as a professional, working artist is the imaging of my work.  Back in the old days, it was bad enough.  You'd get out the photoflood lamps, buy a roll of tungsten film, bracket your shots, and with a bit of luck, you ended up with some slides that looked reasonably similar to the actual paintings.  But these days, what with the differences between models of cameras and scanners, monitors and printers, it's a lot tougher.

Recently, I decided I'd gotten pretty good with my digital SLR or, if the work was small enough, my flatbed scanner.  With a few tweaks in Photoshop, I could get what looked to be an accurate image.  (In the camera, I set a custom white balance and bracket my exposures; in Photoshop, I fine-tune the temperature and exposure.)  Images uploaded to my blog and web site looked decent - or so I thought.

But at shows and galleries, people were remarking, "Your paintings look a lot better in person than they do on the Web!"  Things finally came to a head this summer.  Over the course of last winter, I'd been making my adjustments on my Dell laptop; but when I got to my other machine, a Dell desktop, at my summer studio later, all the images looked alarmingly warm and washed out.  Prints looked just as bad, too.  I had to run all those images back through the Photoshop mill to correct them.  They look better now - but who really knows?  Your monitor is different from my monitor.

I understand that there are calibration tools available to make the image on-screen look just like the original, and similar tools for printers.  Photoshop uses concepts like "color profile." (My Photoshop CS2 is set for color profile sRGB -IEC61966-2.1.)  I'm sure there are other adjustments I could make, but I honestly don't know what they would be.  I'm envious of the painters who effortlessly take a snapshot and throw it up on the web, and get great results.

For comparision, I wanted to see how one of my images looked on different screens.  At the top of this blog is an image that looks to me pretty close to the original.  Below are some shots of the same image on a variety of monitors; plus the original scanned image and a shot with my little Canon Powershot. (I didn't feel like dragging out the DSLR.)

So, I'd like some feedback from fellow artists.  How do you get successful shots of your work - and are you sure that they do, in fact, look close to the original?

Tweaked image on Trina's laptop - too blue, cool, but still better than my laptop below

Tweaked image on my laptop (left) and big monitor (right);
laptop is too cool, big monitor looks warmer and about right

Original, untweaked image from Canon PowerShot - too cool;
set on auto white balance and shot on a covered porch on a sunny day

Original, untweaked image from Umax flatbed scanner - still too cool


Theresa Grillo Laird said...

So many of the contest guidelines tell you to not tweak your image, that I've followed that advice for putting my images on my site as well. I was also surprised to see the difference from moniter to moniter. The place that makes my occaisional giclee prints said there's a gadget called a ?huey? that you can attach to your moniter for accurate color.Since everyone's moniter looks different, I just shoot my images in daylight, inside, close to an open garage door and trust the camera's settings rather than what appears on my computer screen.

Poynter Studio said...

Hi Michael - I wouldn't sweat it if I were you. For all your efforts it all comes down to the color settings on EVERY different monitor of EVERY visitor to your site! And you have no control over that.
I only worry about precise color calibration from Scan or Photo to Monitor to Printer. Any scans you have done professionally - the digital file will print differently at each printer you take it to. They will usually only guarantee the color match if they have the original to look at - and have done the image capture (scan or photo) themselves. They set their color output to match their own monitor & system requirements.
Best advice is to photograph originals with daylight setting - in indirect light. say hello to the Red rocks for me. Jan

Casey Klahn said...

Hi, Michael. Every time someone mentions a Photoshop version, I have to go to the Adobe site and see which one is which. Now I'll be fussing about whether this Creative Cloud business would work for me.

I am cataloging a new set of photos that my wife took last evening (maybe 15-18 pastels) and passing them through Photoshop Elements 9. Don't laugh, but I just upgraded a short while ago from Version 1. She uses a Nikon D80, and we set up with the tungsten lights. As I understand it, she brackets both for exposure and white balance. We evaluate together the temperature and adjust the white balance accordingly.

It has come down to my having to have the actual pastel in front of me, because I often overlook differences between the originals and the digital image.

I feel that the strength of my corpus is enhanced by the great images Lorie takes. OTOH, I struggle mightily in Elements, and don't always succeed in having the best images. I actually enjoy getting a bushel of images done at once, but on the merits of this good post, I am going to look at the Photoshop upgrades.

violetta said...

For displaying on my website, I have a good but not top of the range camera, not even an SLR. Absolutely always set on "aperture priority", and,I have my work sitting flat on the floor, with me on a high stool somewhat higher than the floor, I take the shots inside where the light is good, with a very white sheet of paper underneath the work. I actually think when a piece of work goes onto computer it is enhanced by the light of the computer and color nuances of the work come up very well. I never photoshop anything but framing and downsizing for the computer images.

Chuck Kuhn said...

as a former prof photographer i couldn't help but add my comments
first one can do like the big new york galleries due and hire prof prof
where everything in theory is dialed in from camera to computer to web
i would think this if done right is expensive
secondly do what most people do, which is do the best you can within reason
and it go
why let it go? because it is endless, and it for lack of better word, becomes quite anal
when i retired from photog was just into the beginning of the supposed digital age
the computer techs thought they had the power over the image as they know it tech wise..
photoshop etc, i used film up till then,
the digital for them is endless money via new cameras and computers every 2 or so years
to the point they are renting the gear, rather than selling every few years
thirdly so here we are
after doing some painting for a few years, i might take photos for reference
for the first time i kinda really realized that it is not the same period!!!!!
the digital or even film when one scruntizes it really only comes close,
we accept that as photos, for somehow it creates a new reality
one can shoot on 8x10 film and do an 11x14 print and do the same in digital
and it is different
the information one sees, i would think one translates as to their mindset etc
i tend to think if the form of the thing one sees and with a name of area etc
one tends to fill in alot of blanks, i is pretty amazing, as the viewer says
oh yea, that is that person's view of it etc and accepts it or doesn't etc
but i don't end the frustration, but maybe i put some light on it, 
as nothing is a good as seeing it in person
be it art, a view, a barn or even a cow
the nunances only an eye can see
and part of that to me is the eternal addiction of art
one gets a small part of it right
or you think it is right, and then come back the next day
and it doesn't seem as right etc
it is truly fascinating
and in part that why it is art
good luck, do the best you can and let it go
   chuck kuhn

Nancy L. Vance said...

Michael (and Casey), I use Photoshop Element 6 - yes SIX, but the small amount of changes I do (mainly adjusting "Levels") doesn't need the newest software. I found what made the most difference for me was putting 5500 kelvin bulbs in the studio and having a place to mount the painting parallel to the lens, while using my little Canon Elph on Auto, no flash. I sometimes use a white color balance card, shot on manual, but once I compare the two photos in the software, I really can't see a difference. I do see a difference from monitor to monitor... but like Chuck said.... I let it go...

violetta said...

May I say thank you Chuck, I like your wise words on digital photography and on art making.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks to everyone for the excellent advice! I'm looking forward to hearing from more readers on how they address the problem.

bruce Poulterer said...

For my watercolors, L ay them flat on the floor without direct sunlight in side some large sliding doors. It works best on cloudy days. Then I mount my camera on a trip pod tilted directly over the photo and take several photos with different settings such as cloudy day. Then when I upload them onto my blog, they seem to be pretty accurate. However, I have heard there is some type of software you can use to provide more accuracy but I have not used it. Bruce

Charlotte "Charlie" Herczfeld said...

Not to mention that different pastels reflect light differently. And cameras having a certain tendency to oversaturate certain colours, and making blue too light.

I have PSE 9, and there is one nifty little thing under Enhance>Colour>Replace colour. With that I can adjust the marks that show up too light and too little saturated.

There is a colour test at one of the places that sells one of those (expensive) gadgets for calibrating the screen. As many artists have tried it (the test), I think it says more about their computer screens than about their abilities to distinguish between small colour changes. It is found here

Then, in every computer you can manually adjust how the screen shows pictures. The laptop shows up too blue no matter what I do, but it got way better by changing the settings.

Most paintings are seen indoors, under indoor lights. So I avoid taking photos in open shadow under blue sky. I often use the custom white balance in my DSLR. The camera is a Canon Rebel (EOS 500), with a "half" size sensor. I covet a cam with a large sensor.

My best trick for colour correcting is to include a "key" in the photo of the painting. This key is a strip of paper on which I've painted patches of magenta, blue, and green, plus a black and two whites (one barely bluish and one barely yellowish). If I can use levels and colour adjustment so the patches look right, the painting will usually be decent enough. Then the key-strip is cropped away.