How do I get my work onto slide film without shooting on slide film?
October 18, 2005 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Methods of Documentation: Getty My Work Onto Slide Film Next weekend I am participating in an art show, my first in which work will be for sale, and because for one thing, I hung a piece in the silent auction, I have reason to believe I will sell at least one thing. (I have sold work before on commission, but this is still pretty exciting.) I would like to have, in the future, in my portfolio, slides of any sold work. I do not have a tremendous budget but I'd rather spend a bit of cash than not have documentation of early sold work. What method should I use to get my paintings and soforth onto slides? (See extended explanation). Thanks much. I've got until the weekend to figure this out. /tarin

Should I:

1. Hire a slide photographer to shoot the work hanging in this show?

2. Shoot the work myself on slide film with my 35mm SLR, even though I've never shot on slide film before?

3. Shoot the work myself on digital, and THIS IS WHAT I REALLY WANT TO KNOW: Take it to the photo shop, where they can magically process a digital CD into a slide roll? Is #3 here possible?

4. Because time is a constraint and so is money, shoot the work myself on digital, project it onto the wall, and shoot that with slide film later when I have more leisure to shoot and get it right?

What would you do?
posted by tarintowers to Media & Arts (16 answers total)
1. Yeah, that works. More expensive, but a sure thing.
2. If you've done that, make sure you BRACKET THE HECK out of it. I've shot whole rolls of 35mm documentation with only minimal bracketing, and been very disappointed.
3. Yes, most digitally-equipped photo shops can convert high-res digital to slides for pretty cheap. This is what most people I know do now because, A. then you have a digital image too, and B., you can color correct and tweak before turning in the image to the service bureau.
4. Probably not, I can't imagine you'd get a good slide from a projected image.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 4:11 PM on October 18, 2005

One way around the expense of #1 is to offer the photographer artwork instead of cash as payment. Two friends of mine made this sort of a deal. The artist bought the film, the photographer shot the hell out of it (lots of lights and metering, and he still bracketted 5 shots per painting), and the artist took the film back for processing. If you go with the digital, it should be simple to find a lab with a film recorder in San Francisco.

Congratulations on your show!
posted by jaut at 4:27 PM on October 18, 2005

I am curious as to why you want the end result to be in slide format. Isn't the traditional/historical reason for wanting the end result as a slide because slide film does a better job of capturing color/range/etc than does standard film? So when there was a choice between slide or film, artists would choose slides.

but if image quality is the prime criterion, wouldn't that eliminate 3 and 4 on the basis of image quality? (I mean, you are adding in a step that will degrade image quality just so that the end result can be a slide instead of a really hi-res digital image)

Unless there is an artsy reason for having slides as a medium in particular that i am ignorant of? (Do artists get together for slideshows of recent work or something?) (this is not glib; this is ignorance of art/artists)

Uhh, to summarize: If you could have a really high-quality digital image, would you still want a slide?
posted by misterbrandt at 4:56 PM on October 18, 2005

Number 3 is possible (expensive sometimes, though), and it has the advantage that you can take the picture multiple times--ensuring the most "true" representation of your work.

You can also crop the picture on Photoshop, so you don't have to use that metallic slide tape, and you can adjust the levels to get the best slide possible.
posted by interrobang at 5:41 PM on October 18, 2005

Short term: to get the slides done by next weekend, I would take the work to a photo place that specializes in shooting slides for artists -- you can call local galleries to find someone they recommend. I've had really difficult work shot (example: extremely detailed 1 inch by 1 inch paintings) for about $5 a slide.

Long term: get a good digital camera with a tripod, play around with lighting, and shoot enough photos to get a good shot. Then you either print a high resolution photo or send it out to a place like, who will prepare slides from your digital file for about $2.50 each.

Congratulations and good luck!
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 5:57 PM on October 18, 2005

Another thing - last weekend I photographed a friend's show for her - the photos look like crap because she had already matted and framed the work and didn't want to take it back out of the frames. If you can avoid it, don't shoot the work hanging in the gallery - do it where you can control the lighting and camera angle and where the work is not framed.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 6:02 PM on October 18, 2005

You don't really need to sign your questions.
posted by jmgorman at 6:59 PM on October 18, 2005

Unless there is an artsy reason for having slides as a medium in particular that i am ignorant of? (Do artists get together for slideshows of recent work or something?)

yes. most submissions for curated shows want slides -- why? Well, my guess is that slides are easier to evaluate, because you can blow up the image and not only can 1) several people look at it simultaneously, and 2) you'll get a better idea of the size of the work if it's large.

Also, it may possibly be a holdover from art school -- almost every art practice/history course is going to use slides.
posted by fishfucker at 7:39 PM on October 18, 2005

Thanks all, and thanks especially to those wishing me well with the show. It's a fuckload of work, but I imagine it'll be worth it.

@RJ Reynolds - Thank you, this is exactly the info I was looking for. If you're in the Bay Area, is there a camera shop you'd reccommend?

@jaut - that's a great suggestion. I am polling my friends currently for their availability vis a vis being able to do a slide shoot and maybe they'd be interested for a piece of art.

@misterbrandt - you need slides of your entire portfolio if you're an artist with any interest in hanging in gallery shows, because galleries view you as an artist as "a resume and 5 slides" (or whatever their particular numbers are, anywhere from 1-20 slides). They view the slides either on a lightbox or projected on the wall. Slides are very high resolution and are a standard format/layout, they show that you have your shit together enough to follow the instructions "submit 5 slides)," and they're small and easily stored.

In summary, I haven't archived in slides up to this point, because I'm just now reaching a point in my career where I might be approaching galleries, applying for fellowships, etc., and I will be needing slides in the near and forseeable future.

@interrobang - thanks for the info. useful and valuable.

@chocolatepeanutbuttercup - thanks, I can use this info

@jmgorman - yeah, it's a reflex, it will either dissolve with time or it won't

@fishfucker - FYI, it's how most "grown-up" places that ask for art submissions want the art submitted.

Actually, when I applied to college and was being considered for art scholarships, they wanted the art in slide format, too, so I guess it's just the standard submission format for work.

No one sends originals, and the variety of formats/layouts/quality if you printed photos of work would probably effect how the work was evaluated, so they hold everyone to a single standard -- the slide.
posted by tarintowers at 8:18 PM on October 18, 2005

I used to shoot all my own work. Most of what you've already read should be helpful, but take a minute to read up on how to light your work. Beyond the film you use, it's the most important factor that will affect the outcome.

First off, you want to buy the right color-temperature film for the lights you'll be using. Don't use sunlight, because you can't control it. Don't use overhead lights, because you think they're fine but they suck. If you really are going to shoot chromes, they will reveal and amplify bad light.

You want white-balanced bulbs, 2 of them. One goes to the left of the work, one to the right, equidistant. These are your only illumination, best case scenario. Move them around so that they don't burst light in the center, nor leave it dead. The camera sees different than our eyes do, you have to look at the surface like a piece of film does... objectively.

Tripod is a given. Bracketing is a given. Projecting onto the wall and shooting it is a bad idea: by the time you've even shot it, it's "two generations down."

Only thing to keep in mind is that you're shooting heavy oil or acrylic paint, you may need a fill light in front to deal with shadows -- unless you are choosing to emphasize them.

It's very very difficult to look at your own work with the objectivity necessary here. Look at it entirely in terms of how the light is playing out across the work, how you are capturing the light, and how you are processing that capture. If you really care about the work, do not screw it up by taking shortcuts on its documentation. Remember that it's not just for this show, it's for shows forever into the future, y'know?
posted by cloudscratcher at 12:17 AM on October 19, 2005

Quality photography of artwork is an art in itself. Obviously you don't want the wrong color cast or shadows or reflections, etc. The primary reason for shooting color slide? Accuracy of color. Print film when printed can vary by a pretty wide margin unless it is specially calibrated with a color chart. Obviously you don't want to shoot a color chart alongside every picture. The same goes for digital. Unless you know the characteristics of film stocks to best capture the range of colors and tones in your artwork, your attempt will be amateurish at best.

Kodak makes a very detailed and scientific book, Copying And Duplicating: Photographic and Digital Imaging Techniques. Unless you have a thorough knowledge of photography, this book may be confusing.
posted by JJ86 at 2:19 AM on October 19, 2005

I just wanted to re-emphasize. No matter how you end up shooting the work, use a professional color calibration chart. You should easily be able to find them at a graphics art store or pro photo store. There should be plenty of each in your area.
posted by JJ86 at 2:27 AM on October 19, 2005

I've done "3" many times and I find the resultant slides perfectly acceptable provided the digital image is of reasonable resolution. These are for scientific illustations / photos where image quality was important though perhaps not as crucial as yours. Remember, the user of the slides may just hold them up to the light or use a little slide viewer themselves. Around here, the transfer cost digital-transparency is about C5$ each.
posted by Rumple at 12:41 PM on October 19, 2005

tarin - photoworks on market can work wonders - haven't tried them with slide output from digital files, but call and ask what they'd recommend. where's the show?
posted by judith at 1:51 PM on October 19, 2005

Greetings, all -- I haven't had a chance yet to read the answers that have been posted since the day I asked this question, but I would like to update everyone:

I priced one painting, and it sold. It sold to a complete stranger during a silent auction; I charged the $100 maximum for a really nice little mixed media piece, an assemblage/painting about 5' high by 12' wide. (Assemblage here means that the painting includes found objects secured to the canvas, in this case stencils in acetate which were layered and painted over to create a 3-d effect; the painting also included some scrabble tiles and a miniature tarot card that were touched up with paint.)

Unfortunately, the buyer ran off with the work before I got to photograph it. DOH! Absinthe-minded... That weekend, I hung an installation in the main gallery, which took fuckloads of work, which was the point, but I had the idea that after the silent auction I'd get to meet the buyer and I'd photograph the work then. When I get the check this week, I'll contact them and ask if I can visit them in their home and photograph the work where they've hung it. It's already signed, which is probably why they bailed with it -- people run around trying to see as much stuff as possible, so I understand them leaving, but I don't understand why they didn't ask for a handshake or something.

Anyway, thanks everybody, I'm going to read the rest of the suggestions this week and I may have more questions for you all.

Cheers. /t
posted by tarintowers at 1:40 PM on November 14, 2005

Well, that was my other bonehead move: not posting the show details here, or on Flickr. You can see some documentation of the installation there, although obviously not of the painting. : (

If anyone in San Francisco would like to see the intallation before it comes down at the end of the week, please feel free to email me at tarintowers at If you would like a piece of art sent to you in the postal mail, send me your postal address. I mean this -- I'm going to send out copies of bits of the installation in the mail to people; let me know if you want anything really crunchy, like the double prints or the crumple prints, which turned out fantastic.
posted by tarintowers at 1:58 PM on November 14, 2005

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