Photographing Flat Art With Digital Part 3


We are just about to the end of our run with the Photographing Flat Art series. This is where the the culmination of all our efforts will pay off. In the last part of this How To, we will discuss post processing, and considerations thereof. Please feel free to email me any questions you have, and I will answer them promptly. So lets get to it!

I preface this post by stating the following is a bit subjective. There are many thoughts and bitter arguments on workflow as it deals with digital photography, as well as post processing of images. I merely wish to keep things as simple as possible and reach for what I believe is the ultimate goal; a faithful reproduction of the artwork being photographed. The following demonstration features the artwork of Angelia Lane. You may know her as my partner in crime. The images used to introduce the series where created by a very talented artist by the name of Anita Dhekne. 

Before we begin I feel that we should briefly cover a topic that will help us enormously to achieve our goal of achieving faithful reproductions of the art work being photographed. That topic is Color Management. Before attempting the adjustment of tone and color of our images, it is paramount to make those adjustments on a monitor that is color calibrated. Making adjustments on a monitor that is not calibrated will result in prints or end results that do not accurately represent the colors in the original artwork. This does not mean that you have to run out and drop $1500 on a Eizo display, or the top of the line color management software  / hardware package. It does mean that your should at least  consider a minimal investment  in a color calibration system for your monitor. There a quite a few to choose from that are quite reasonable in price. Here are a couple I highly recommend:

1: Datacolor Spyder 3 Pro. Datacolor offers a range of color management products. At $149.00 you can easily calibrate your CRT or LCD display to accurately represent the colors you are trying to reproduce. Datacolor also offers a more comprehensive package that will allow you to calibrate multiple devices, including your printer.

2: Colormunki, The Colormunki is a relatively new product. Launched in 2008, it offers an all in one solution to color management. It will calibrate multiple devices, from CRT and LCD displays, to digital projectors and printers. It’s price point is $429.

Keep in mind, I’m not being paid to endorse any products. I am a fairly objective person, and my recommendations  are based on my  real world experience with these products. 

So, we have discussed color management and it’s importance in the end result. Now what? We have a memory full of images captured in raw, where do we go from here? We need an application to organize, make adjustments to, and finally output our images. I recommend Adobe Lightroom. At $269.00 Lightroom is an extremely robust and easy to use platform for organizing, editing, adjusting and outputting images. In many cases Lightroom can be used instead of Photoshop. In a nutshell it is digital workflow from beginning to end. If you don’t have Lightroom, Adobe is kind enough to allow you to download a fully functional 30 day trial.

At this point we have imported our images into Lightroom. Where do we start? The first thing I would do is crop off the excess edges with the first image in the series you photographed. The Crop Tool can be found in the Develop Module.


Make sure to select “Custom” from the Aspect menu next to the “Crop” Icon. Also make sure to click on the little Padlock Icon so that it appears as unlocked.



You may be looking at the image and thinking that it looks flat and has a strange color cast. You will remember that in Part 2 of this series the first image we photographed was one with a Color Checker, or gray card. We are going to start with that image (the one you initially cropped) and we are going set a neutral white balance for it by using the White Balance Selector in the Develop Module of Lightroom.


Now we select one of the neutral gray patches in the chart and create a custom white balance for this image. This should get rid of any color cast and neutralize the image.


You are essentially using this image as a “master”. You may be wondering what the use of the Color Checker is for. The use is simple. The way we all perceive color is highly subjective, and everyone perceives color differently. Complications further arise from viewing conditions (the ambient light in a room, time of day, type of illumination in a room) all of these factors contribute heavily towards our perception of color. The Color Checker is handy because the chart is composed of a series of chips with known color values. Here is a link that gives you the the RGB and LAB values for each chip. You should print out the PDF and keep it for reference. Lightroom contains numerous tools to adjust tone and color. It can be very hard to look at your painting and adjust the colors to get them to match. It is much easier to have the Color Checker in front of and adjust the colors of the chart on the screen until they match as close as possible. By doing so you should be able to achieve a faithful rendition of your artwork.

color_balanceAt this point you may be thinking, “well great, I’ve made all these adjustments to this image with a big chart in the middle, now I have to go and figure out how to transpose all these adjustments to the image I’m going to use.” Don’t you worry, this is where the true slickness of Lightroom comes into play. I have kept the Left Module Panel hidden So You could view more of the image and adjustments I am making. F7 will toggle the Left Module Panel on and off. When you toggle the panel on you will notice Copy and Paste buttons on the bottom. 


You can use this to copy all the settings you have just made. Once you have copied these settings you can now paste them to image you wish to use.


Assuming that the camera was in the exact same position as it was when you photographed the image with the Color Checker or Gray Card then all of your settings will copy exactly. This will save you an enormous amount of time. At this point you may be completely happy with the image. You still may want to tweak it. At any rate if you are satisfied then you can use Lightroom to export your image for any use, or if you have a printer you can use Lightroom to make prints. More on this later.

At this point you may be comparing this image to your original and finding that it lacks detail, or that some of the subtleties of your original aren’t appearing in the image on the screen. Keep in mind that with digital cameras you get what you pay for. There is a reason why Medium Format Digital Camera Backs cost $30,000. You might be thinking to yourself that in Part 1 of this series I said that even an entry level digital slr can achieve fantastic results. 

One well exposed image from a entry level digital slr using the techniques outlined in this series will give you a image that is light years in quality beyond what you would get if you simply propped up an image and shot it with the on camera flash. But there is a way to take it even further. There is a way to get an image from a entry level digital slr that will yield far more of the detail and subtleties of your original. Drumroll please….

This is a technique known as HDR (High Dynamic Range) Imaging. This technique is used a great deal by Landscape and Architectural Photographers to capture all the details and tones of contrasty scenes. It involves combining a series of images taken at different exposures and merging them into one image that reveals all of the details. Consider the following:

This Image was captured by a Canon Eos 1DS Mark III and processed in Lightroom.

This Image was captured by a Canon Eos 1DS Mark III and processed in Lightroom.

This image is composed of a series of images captured by the Canon 1DS Mark III combined using the HDR technique. Notice how many new details an subtleties are readily apparent.

This image is composed of a series of images captured by the Canon 1DS Mark III, and merged using the HDR technique. Notice how many new details an subtleties are readily apparent.

The difference between one normally captured and processed image, and an image produced using HDR is night and day. You might be saying, “ok, thanks for showing me images captured with Canon’s top of the line camera. Consider the following:

This is an image captured by the Canon Eos 40D and processed in Lightroom. This is a crop from a 100% view.

This is an image captured by the Canon Eos 40D and processed in Lightroom. This is a crop from a 100% view.

This is the same crop from the same camera, only its from a series of images combined using the HDR Technique.

This is the same crop from the same camera, only its from a series of images combined using the HDR Technique.

For the sake of argument I will show you another series of 100% cropped HDR’s made with the Canon 40d, the Canon Eos 1DS Mark 3, and the Kodak DCS 760. For those of you not familiar with the DCS 760, it was cutting edge technology; 8 years ago.


100% Crop from Canon 40D. HDR applied.

100% Crop from Canon 40D. HDR applied.

The same crop from the Canon 1DS Mark 3. HDR applied.

The same crop from the Canon 1DS Mark 3. HDR applied.


100% crop from Kodak DCS 760. HDR applied.

100% crop from Kodak DCS 760. HDR applied.

As you can see, the use of HDR seriously levels the playing field in terms of achievable quality from any given camera. Obviously images from higher end cameras benefit more, but the point is that with a Digital Rebel series camera, entry level Nikon, or any digital camera for that matter you can make amazing renditions of your original artwork, that are works of art in and of them selves. I know your probably getting a somewhat tired at this point. I recommend rubbing your eyes a little bit, grabbing a beer, puttting on some good tunes, and I’ll show you how it’s done.

If you have Adobe Photoshop CS3 or CS4 you can use it to create HDR images. Personally my luck has varied using Photoshop. I’m assuming at this point that you do not have Photoshop. There is an amazing application available for both Windows and Mac called Photomatix. It is very inexpensive, only $99.00! It is easy to use, and also available as a trial download, so you can try it fro free before you buy. Photomatix will allow you to easily create and adjust HDRs.

So what do we have to do first? You will remember in Part 2 of this series I instructed to capture a series of images of your artwork at different exposures. Lets refer to those now in Lightroom.


So we will select all the images from our bracketed series. Lightroom allows us to something really cool. You’ll recall how earlier we copied and pasted our settings from the image with the Color Checker to the image with the best overall exposure. With that image selected as part of our bracket we can “Sync” those settings to the series of images we’ve selected. You simply press “Sync” and select the setting you would like to apply. If I have made adjustments to the Curve I will uncheck them that because Photomatix will take care of tonal adjustments. After you Sync the images and all the adjustments have been applied we will export the images as 16bit tiffs.



In the Export Dialogue box, you can name the file; choose it’s destination; choose the type of file to export; the size; the color profile; etc.. I export my files as 16 bit tiff files using the ProPhoto RGB Color Space. This maintains optimal quality and image integrity. Make sure to leave “The Resize to Fit” box unchecked. Hit export and wait while Lightroom exports your files.

Here is where the fun begins. If you haven’t already downloaded Photomatix, do so now and open.



Click on “Generate HDR Image”. It will prompt you to locate the images you would like to use. Select your series of images and click “Select”. It will then prompt you with a dialogue box containing your files. Press “Ok”. 


Keep the settings that Photomatix recommends and press generate HDR. It will take a little while for it to work its magic. After the HDR is generated I suggest saving the HDR file.


After you save the HDR file, click on “Tone Mapping”


Tone Mapping will allow you to adjust the “look” of your HDR. It takes some experimentation with the sliders to get your image to look how you want it. Again this is highly subjective, and relies on a little patience and trial and error. I suggest reviewing the tutorial before hand to get a sound understanding of how the software works. I was able to get amazing results after only 15 minutes the first time I used this software. It’s a real testament to how easy it is to use. After you are done hit Process. After the image is finished processing, simply go to “File”, then “Save As” to save your HDR as a TIFF file. From there you can re-import the image into Lightroom, Photoshop, or whatever. Thats it. How easy was that? From an entry level digital slr, and a little help from Photomatix you are able to achieve results that are stellar and can be used for whatever reproduction needs you may have.


HDR Merge created using images taken with the Canon Eos 1DS Mark 3 & 85mm F1.2L

HDR Merge created using images taken with the Canon Eos 1DS Mark 3 & 85mm F1.2L

With regards to final output. I briefly touched on Lightrooms’ ability to export images in numerous ways. The quality of the output really depends on you.It is paramount to capture your images in RAW. I can’t say that enough. Lightroom can be used to make prints, resize and export images for numerous uses such as wide format printing, CMYK output, images to be printed as slides, and images for display on the web. It can also be used to generate Web Galleries. That is the true value of this software. It is one that I depend on, as well as most of the professional photographers I know. As you build up a library of images of your artwork I’m sure you will agree. I hope that you learned a great deal from this series, and as I said before, if you have any questions don’t be afraid to ask!

4 thoughts on “Photographing Flat Art With Digital Part 3

  1. Holy wow, Mike. I totally got what you were talking about when we went out shooting, but this is an exhaustively illustrated article. Illuminating, wonderful. I will shoot my artwork in HDR form now on.

  2. Good day. To start with I wish to say that I genuinely like your website, just determined it the past week but I’ve been following it sometimes since then.

    I seem to consent with most of the ideas and beliefs and this submit is no exception.

    Thank you for a fantastic webpage and I hope you keep up the great work. If you do I will continue to read it.

    Possess a great day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s