photograph large white flat things and make them look beauteous.
December 22, 2007 8:49 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to photograph big mostly all white drawings with tiny black details?

I need to photograph my work to make a website and my photo-skills are...great for things that don't involve lighting situations, and this is clearly a lighting situation. I would like the drawing to be evenly lit(no hotspots) but also no dark corners? Also my entire space to work in is about 11' x 17' and many of my drawing are 5'-6' feet wide. and no, I can't scan them.
Can I do this without buying a bunch of lights? If I must buy lights, please be very specific!
posted by beckish to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
do you have a big window and a big white sheet?
posted by white light at 9:32 PM on December 22, 2007

Best answer: Hang the drawings up outside on a north facing wall with tape, pins or whatever. An overcast day will help.

Set exposure manually using the meter reading from a gray card.

Set zoom at mid focal length, use the lowest ASA setting, aperature around f4

Use the highest resolution, lowest compression setting, don't sharpen in camera.

Use a tripod, make sure the lens is perpendicular to and centered on the drawings.

Use a cable release or the self timer.
posted by Fins at 9:34 PM on December 22, 2007

In addition to the above suggestions, which are all you really need, I'd like to add one. Based on the "all white things with tiny black details", I'd use a camera that lets you set the white balance manually, especially since the whiteness/lighting seems important. That will let you set the "white" in the camera to match your canvas white.
posted by sanka at 10:10 PM on December 22, 2007

Best answer: You probably need to over-expose a stop. The camera's meter will want to average out the exposure, which will result in the white looking gray.

Also, using Auto Levels in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements might be big help, but don't rely on it instead of proper exposure.

For lighting, natural light as suggested might work, but you will be at the mercy of changing light due to the sun, you know, moving. And clouds.

You could use photo floods on clamps or stands, but that is likely to get hot spots.

You don't say what kind of camera you will be using, but some have very good on-camera flash units, that just might cover the area you want to shoot pretty effectively. You may also be able to add a larger accessory flash on-camera. Shooting at a slight angle will prevent the flash from bouncing straight back into the lens. You might have to correct the perspective in Photoshop.

If that doesn't work, and you have a camera that allows you to attach external flashes via a "pc" cable (that's not a computer connection, it's just for flashes), I would use 2 flashes bounced against white walls. (If your camera doesn't have a pc connector, but has a hot shoe, you can get an adapter that makes the hot shoe a pc connection.) If you don't have white walls, get some white posterboard or butcher paper. Bouncing the flash will give a wider, softer light, with less chance of hot spots.

For this method, you will need 2 matching flash units (they don't have to be expensive), 2 long pc flash cables, and a Y-adapter that allows you to connect 2 flash units to one pc output on the camera. You will also need a stand for each flash unit. Cheap tripods will work, since you only need the flashes to be about half the height of the piece you are photographing.

Which ever way you go, expect some trial and error to get it right.

Good luck!
posted by The Deej at 11:37 PM on December 22, 2007

Could you just hire a student or someone to photograph them for you for cheap?
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:47 AM on December 23, 2007

Just to add a comment, if the details are really small, consider either a very high-res digital camera or a medium format film camera, to actually get those details without losing them to the grain. Oh, and not too fast film. 35mm film, especially higher speed, is pretty grainy, especially when you want to blow up details, etc.

Or, of course, take some detail shots while you're at it, don't rely on just blowing up details from a photo of the whole thing.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:13 AM on December 23, 2007

A recent AskMe that is similar is here. A tripod or copy stand is essential for this sort of thing and the tripod has the advantage of being useful for many other situations. I would be careful about using flash unless you have some experience with it; if you feel you must then learn about bouncing it and consider using a reflector of some sort (I have used styrofoam coolers as reflectors; they don't have to be fancy.) The nice thing about a tripod and an unmoving subject is that you can use as long an exposure as you need with whatever light you have. Another consideration is that with a contrasty subject like you describe the sharpening algorithm used by your camera and/or software will make a big difference in the final outcome, but that may be beyond the scope of this discussion.
posted by TedW at 2:03 PM on December 23, 2007

One other suggestion is that as The Deej mentioned, white subjects will fool the exposure meter in your camera; an 18% gray card is one option, if you are really on a budget or don't have time to get one, the palm of your hand is about the same tone as a gray card, and if you want to be really precise, you could invest in an light meter, specifically one for incident light. You can get an analog light meter for less than $100, although if you are really into photography digital meters can do all sorts of neat things.
posted by TedW at 2:10 PM on December 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions--in answer to questions:

- I have 2 narrow windows but one has bars and I have a white wall. I'm sure I could dig up a white sheet.

- I think the 2 external flashes reflected might work--I've used the external box flashes before, not sure about setting up the camera ones but will give it a shot.

- camera will be either Canon Powershot G9 or Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2, opinions welcome.

- I don't think I could afford to hire someone with the skill to photograph these well.

- I'm not sure how to use the 18% gray card, someone else suggested that to me too, do you use it to set the light reading and then remove it for the photo?
posted by beckish at 4:05 PM on December 23, 2007

I think getting into the gray card to set exposure is just too much to hassle with, since you are shooting digital and you can see your results right away. (DO view on a computer, and don't just rely on the camera LCD, though.) Some bracketing of exposures should show you which exposure works best.
posted by The Deej at 8:54 PM on December 23, 2007

Best answer: Based on your replies, I think this book would be a good investment. Better photographers than I have said it is the go to reference for lighting issues.
posted by TedW at 9:18 PM on December 23, 2007

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