In my first post on shooting landscape photography last month, I shared a few tips for increasing your odds of going home with tack-sharp images. In this post, I’ll dig deeper into the details of making the most of your landscape photo opportunities. This list is based in many ways on the minor, and sometimes not so minor, hiccups I’ve had in my own work.
1. Before you leave your home or studio, make a checklist of the things you’ll need. I’ve learned the hard way to carry extra batteries, camera cards, and a spare card reader. Take the camera manual with you. An extra battery charger can be a life-saver. Most of us carry only one, and if it is damaged by a faulty wall outlet, or other problem, it can become a “game over” situation. It happened to me while I was in Israel; you won’t believe what it cost to have one sent by FedEx from New York.
2. Test your camera and each lens you plan to take before you set off on your trip. If you use zoom lenses, test the lens at the short and long end of its range. Check the lens for autofocus function, too.
3. Once you’ve chosen a spot from which to shoot (or even better, before that), ask yourself these questions:
Do I need to format or change camera cards?
Is the ISO setting correct? (Generally, landscape photographers should use the lowest available ISO setting – usually 50, 100, or 200 ISO.)
Is the white balance set to the conditions (daylight, cloudy, etc)? (Please don’t use AUTO white balance; this makes batch processing difficult, if not impossible.)
Is the camera set to record in Adobe 98 RGB (if available)?
Can the camera shoot in RAW? (If so, this is your best option.
4. Make sure you’ve chosen a safe place. If you think light will be low, take a flashlight and look around carefully. You’ll sometimes find a surprise (nice skunk!) And, if you are shooting near the ocean, never, ever turn your back on the water. It’s possible to lose a camera, or yourself, to an unexpected wave. On windy days, stay close to your camera and tripod, for obvious reasons. I’ve seen them go down more than once
5. Choose the right lenses. In 35mm format, a 14mm prime will do the job (Canon and Nikon both make very good ones). Some of the lenses in the 21-24mm range are good, but check the reviews before you rent or buy. There’s quite a bit of variation in performance among this group. The perspective control lenses (marked PC) made by both Nikon and Canon are very good, because you can expand the width of your frame to near-panorama proportions. You may also wish to consider a medium telephoto, such as a 200mm or 300mm lens. These give you the opportunity to isolate parts of a landscape, making for some interesting shots such as the image below.
6. Think about how you will see the screen on top of the camera that shows camera adjustment settings. If you are working on a tall tripod, you might have to bring something to stand on to see the panel, or change the camera position to bring it into view. I carry a small plastic dental mirror in my camera bag, and use it to see the top of the camera without moving it. This saves a lot of time, and sometimes prevents a missed shot.
7. Take extra care when using slower shutter speeds. If the wind is blowing, try to wait until for a quiet (or quieter) moment to take your shot. Try to remember not to rest a hand on the tripod or camera when shooting. Keep those fingers where they belong when you are shooting – away from the camera.
8. Set your in-camera exposure meter for center-weighted exposure, or spot exposure. Generally, my Nikon and Hasselblad cameras seem to do best with center weighted exposure. Full-frame metering usually results in an underexposed image in landscape work.
9. Make sure that your meter is accurate, and compare your meter to another one. Generally, incident-light exposure metering is more accurate than reflected-light, in-camera metering. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a handheld meter. For example, the Sekonic 358 handheld meter is a very good, rugged meter. Its cost is moderate, and used ones can be found with a bit of digging. Mine seems indestructible.
10. If you are shooting with HDR developing in mind, remember that the camera must stay exactly in place while you are capturing multiple frames. If the frames don’t match up (register) it will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to make the image work back in the studio. If you bump your tripod, just start that sequence over again.
11. Check the weather and the sunset/sunrise and moonset/moonrise times every day if possible. This is particularly important in mountainous areas, where the weather is very changeable. Here in California, I’ve been snowed in during June! Keep a sheet of flexible plastic in your bag, or even a small trash bag, to use as an improvised cover in bad weather.
12. Take a small notebook. Jot down the place, time of day, conditions, camera settings, the serial numbers of your first and last frames, and your personal thoughts. You’ll find these to be a real treasure when you come back to an image at a later date. Consider a GPS gadget for tagging your image files.
I took this surrealistic-looking image of the Colorado State Capitol Building from the rooftop of the Colorado History Museum. The Capitol was reflected in multiple windows on the side of a building across the street. The image was captured around 4 pm, using a tripod-mounted Hasselblad H-series camera, digital back, 100mm lens, ISO 50, f/5 @ 1/90 sec. There was a mix of clouds and sun that day, so I had to wait until the Capitol was well-lit to bring up the contrast in the shot. I did some Photoshop editing for contrast and perspective correction.
A written Certificate of Authenticity can add real value to prints that are ready for exhibition or sale.
Most artists and photographers tell me that they are content to sign their work, and add an edition number and date. This is fine, but there is a bit more that one can do that has real customer appeal. A Certificate of Authenticity can provide vital information about the image to a prospective buyer, gallery, or collector. The certificate can include the following (and/or other items):
· Name, location, and web address of the artist or photographer;
· Name, location, and web address of the printmaker;
· Type of camera or art technique used to create the image;
· Printing device used along with the type of ink and paper used, and their archival properties;
· Edition size and the dimensions of the prints in the edition;
· Number of this particular print within the edition;
· Information about the subject matter of the artwork;
· Information about when and where the photo was taken (GPS benchmark, date, time of day);
· A small color or black-and-white reproduction of the actual image;
· Signature of the artist or photographer;
· Signature of the printmaker;
· Copyright holder’s identity, applicable law, and reproduction rights;
In a way, the Certificate is a promise of quality and value. If the edition is limited, the buyer will know where they stand if they buy the print. If the buyer elects to sell the print down the road, the Certificate helps the print hold its value (hopefully it is increasing).
A buyer will also know that the print is made from the best materials available, that it was made by an expert printmaker, and that it is designed to last. A print like this becomes a valuable addition to a collector’s gallery, or an important heirloom.
We can’t know the long-term value of an image when we first create it – but we can record its provenance for those that come after us. In my view, the Certificate adds a tangible, credible foundation to the work, and provides information that might otherwise be lost forever.
Check out the Certificate of Authenticity I created for my photograph The Wave that now hangs in the home of a private collector.
In a future post, I’ll discuss controlling publication of editions, including storing reference prints, edition sizes, choosing media, and the like.
The HP Artist Solution for Fine Art Reproduction represents a potential business opportunity that should not be overlooked.
The technology was developed by a collaboration between HP, Nikon, and Ergosoft, a company that makes StudioPrint print-management software for high-end fine-art and photographic printing. The HP Artist Solution for Digital Fine Art Reproduction is a combination of hardware and software that greatly streamlines the workflow in fine art reproduction, reduces technical requirements for the operator, and provides an opportunity for users to improve their cash flow and profitability.
Photographers, galleries, and others can add this system to their toolbox and attract new customers from the fine art photography and art communities.
If I don’t have a chance to give you a demo personally at PMA next week, take a few moments to read my detailed review of the system on the HP Graphic Arts site. Plus, I’ve posted additional content, videos of artist interviews, and profitability analysis information on my own website (www.davidsaffir.com).
I’ve also written several blog posts that provide more details about how the HP Artist Solution works, why the fine art reproduction business is such a good opportunity for professional photographers, what it takes to get started in the fine-art reproduction business, how to find customers, and how to build relationships with artists.
If you have any further questions about the HP Artist Solution, submit them here and I will address them in a future post
If you are considering using your photography equipment and skills to get into the business of fine-art reproduction, keep in mind that the viability and profitability of your new venture will depend partly on how skillful you are at building personal relationships and a sense of trust. In fact, your interpersonal skills may matter even more than your technical prowess.
To show you what I mean, let’s review each stage of the process of helping an artist create a sellable edition of his or her works.
Image quality, of course, is critical. The initial photographic capture of the original and the subsequent prints must meet the standards and expectations of the artists’ targeted customers. The standards may vary depending on whether the artist is seeking to appeal to:
-Individual consumers who buy prints at art fairs or gift shops;
-Interior designers of residential or commercial office space;
-Gallery owners, exhibition judges, and art dealers; or
-Museum curators, and private art collectors.
Some artists seeking reproductions will have definite ideas of exactly what they want. Some may be wary if they have been disappointed by the work of previous printmakers. However, for many artists this may be the first time they have ever hired someone to digitally reproduce their work. They will look to you for guidance.
That’s why establishing effective communications and a personal rapport between you and artist should be at the heart of your business model. To efficiently achieve the results that the artist wants, you need to gain their trust and come to a mutual understanding with regards to their artistic goals.
Most of my new business comes from word-of-mouth referrals from past and current customers. This gives me a head start in earning the trust of each new client, because artists tend to trust the recommendations of their peers. From my experience, word-of-mouth marketing is far more effective in bringing in new business than advertising or postcard mailings.
The next most important step in the process is the initial meeting. How well you handle this step sets the stage for later success.
The Initial Consultation
Most artists are interested in reproducing their originals because it gives them much greater freedom in showing and selling their work. They don’t have to permanently give up or take risks with the original, and they can price the reproductions at a level that makes them more accessible to their potential audience or customers.
When they come to you, many artists will have already begun to visualize what they want. In their minds, they know what success will look like. The more clearly you can coax them to express that vision, the more easily you will meet their expectations. Some good questions to ask:
-Do you expect the reproduction to look exactly like the original?
-What media type do you want to print on?
- Are there adjustments or improvements that you would like to see?
- Are you planning to hold an exhibition? If so, what are the viewing conditions?
-Have you selected pieces you want to reproduce and/or show?
-Are you planning an open or closed edition? What size?
-Will the work be framed, or unframed?
Initially, many artists believe that the reproduction can, and should, be indistinguishable from the original. Although this is possible, it is often difficult to accomplish at reasonable expense. Paper type, base paper tone, texture, color, and density all have to be duplicated.
For the initial consultation, I keep a portfolio of other artists’ completed work on hand. These examples often prove to be useful tools in initial discussions with new clients. Typically a new artist enjoys exploring creative options such as choosing a new media type or considering a different treatment of the original. In all but a very small minority of cases, the artist will elect to make a few changes when their original is reproduced as a print.
It is also important that the artist have realistic expectations about selling their work. Making prints doesn’t guarantee anything. They’ll have to show and market their work, which takes time and effort.
Photographing the Artwork
In many cases, we’ll start with one or two pieces. This keeps communication simpler. And because the scope of the project is smaller, it is more manageable. Starting small can help build comfort levels and trust.
The artist will usually leave the artwork with me. Along with their initial order, I ask them to sign a liability release. Although any photographer would be diligent about protecting original artwork, no one can guarantee perfect safety. A moderate deposit helps keep things professional, and ensures commitment.
At this stage, we will have reached an initial agreement on artistic goals. Then, I’ll photograph the work and create a test print for the artist’s review.
The Test Print
I’ll make the test prints using the initial guidelines and goals we’ve agreed on. Usually we require only one test print, but sometimes an artist will want to see test prints on different media types. If they have had their work reproduced in the past, we may view one of these copies together, evaluating strengths and weaknesses, and fit with current goals and expectations.
When the artist views the test print, we’ll look at a number of attributes, such as color, density, detail and feel.
If the test prints are OK, the artist will sign off on a final order, which I’ll then complete for them. I usually retain the original until final delivery, mostly to give me an additional reference point.
Today’s color-management and digital printing technology allows us to make small batches of prints that will look consistent no matter when they were printed. So to begin with, we typically make anywhere from two to five prints of each original. This keeps initial costs down and leaves the door open to make additional prints as an edition sells. We know that we can return in weeks or months and make a few more prints that will be accurate reproductions.
When the artist arrives to pick up a final print, I try to present the print to them in a realistic viewing environment. The print is on an easel under lighting similar to the planned display environment. I don’t normally show the original side-by-side with the reproduction at the outset. Instead, I prefer that the printed piece be given a chance to stand, or fall, on its own.
Later, we’ll look at the original and the print together. Because the artist has already seen a test print, it is rare for either of us to see any surprises at this stage.
Sometimes we will discuss framing and presentation. Some print service providers offer framing services, but I do not. I usually refer the artist to a dedicated frame shop that I know will do a good job at reasonable cost.
Frequently, discussions will include transportation, storage, pricing, edition size, signing work, and the like. The discussion with each artist is different.
Most important, I think, is that each artist enjoys the experience of feeling unique—that their work matters, and that they have my undivided attention while we are working together. The personal touch makes a big difference.
Down the road, I hope they’ll do two things: return to have additional prints made, and talk to their friends and colleagues about working with me.
Educate Your Customers
A parting thought? It makes sense for photographers in this business to invest some time in educating potential customers. One good way to do this is to make succinct presentations to local artists’ associations, classes, and clubs.
If one of your satisfied customers is already in the group, so much the better. But when you make your presentation, avoid the “infomercial” approach. Instead, talk about the process in a way that demonstrates your understating of the technical challenges of accuracy and color fidelity, your ability to offer creative options, and your respect for their artistic goals. Help educate artists about the process and what is realistic to expect, and over time your business will grow and flourish
The HP Artist System for Digital Fine Art Reproduction is truly something new under the sun. First demonstrated with the Designjet Z3200 at Photokina 2008, this system incorporates end-to-end production tools and workflow for very high-quality fine-art reproduction. What used to be a tedious, time-consuming, and expensive task is now much more streamlined, consistent, and less costly. In fact, my preliminary analysis shows that the cost of reproducing one piece of artwork can now be reduced by as much as 70 to 80%. This does not include any savings which may be realized through reduction in wasted materials or unneeded proofs.
In the past, photographer/printmakers such as myself typically used some type of flat-copy setup to photograph artwork. Supported by an easel, the artwork was illuminated by two lights at opposing 45-degree angles. With the camera centered on and parallel to the artwork, I photographed the artwork then printed it.
This method involves several problems. First, the lighting setup described above makes it difficult to render finer details of textures and brushstrokes in the reproduced print. Given the uniformity of the lighting, the final image often looked “flat.” While advanced lighting and Photoshop techniques can mitigate this, it requires additional time and expense to do so.
Controlling the color temperature of lighting can also be problematic, as can ensuring that illumination is perfectly even (i.e., +/- 1/10 stop). Some lighting types can be inconsistent and reflectance and density vary from painting to painting, as does color. In the past, managing these variables has required painstaking attention to detail at every stage of production. In order to succeed in the fine-art reproduction business, a photographer needed experience and specialized training.
The new HP Artist Solution streamlines the workflow, provides critical support in key areas of production and quality control, ensures consistent results, and saves time and money. The HP Artist solution is embedded in Ergosoft’s StudioPrint RIP, a specialized print-management program for wide-format photo printers. From the main menu, choose Tools>HP Artist. This dialogue box will appear:
There are ten basic, easy-to-follow steps:
Step 1: Set the artwork up on a flat background, preferably black in color.
Step 2: Ensure that your workroom doesn’t allow ambient light to interfere.
Step 3: Set up your lights, continuous or strobe. They can be arranged in a copy-style setup, or on only one side of the artwork to emphasize textures.
Step 4: Place a clean white board (such as a matt board) on the easel. Illuminate the white board as you would the artwork.
Step 5: Set up your lighting. It isn’t necessary to create even illumination on the target. The computer program will correct any variations in luminance, even in the corners. Allow your lighting to warm up for 30 minutes, or fire strobes several times.
Step 6: Set up the camera on a tripod or studio stand square to the white board, and photograph it at a proper exposure (check your histogram!) The Nikon D3 using the 105mm Macro VR lens is recommended.
Step 7: Without changing the placement or geometry of the setup, place the artwork on the easel and photograph it. Once work has begun, you can photograph as many additional pieces as necessary.
Step 8: Save these files to a folder on the same computer where you keep the HP Artist software.
Step 9: Follow the provided instructions. You will now take simple measurements of the lighting striking the target, the white board, and the artwork. The artwork measurements involve sampling colors from the piece itself using an X-Rite i1 spectrophotometer. With a bit of practice, I can do this for a 20 x 30 piece in about five minutes.
Step 10: Load your measurements and images into HP Artist software. Click “Process.” In less than a minute, you’ll have your adjusted image file, ready for final editing in Photoshop
How does this system compare to older methods?
In my view, HP Artist provides a greatly improved adjusted image file, ready for final tweaking in Photoshop and printing. Time to completion is significantly less.
The chart below is based on my own experience over the past few years. It compares the amount of time it typically took me to set up and shoot artwork using my previous steps to the time it now takes me to do the same job with the HP Artist software in the Ergosoft RIP.
Note that a job that once took more than five hours (315 minutes) can now be done in slightly more than a hour (67 minutes).
The cost savings are substantial. Assuming labor and overhead costs of $150/hr., a job that once cost $800 to complete can now be done for about $165.This savings of $630 doesn’t even take into account any additional materials costs that might have been incurred making multiple proof prints. Even if my HP Artist cost estimates are off by 50%, the cost reduction is still quite significant.
In my next post, I’ll present a pro-forma Profit and Loss statement that can help you evaluate what type of impact this kind of investment can have on your business.
|Set up lighting||15|
|Meter and adjust lighting on artwork||25|
|Photograph color chart or gray card||5|
|Photograph artwork, review result||15|
|Adjust camera/lighting. Photograph again||15|
|Import image into Photoshop. Edit color, luminance, contrast, etc.||90|
|HP ARTIST SOFTWARE IN ERGOSOFT STUDIOPRINT|
|Photograph reference backing board||1|
|Set up lighting||5|
|Measure lighting incrementally by hand w/ incident lightmeter||1|
|Photograph color chart or gray card||5|
|Photograph artwork, review result||15|
|Adjust camera/lighting. Photograph again||0|
|Import measurement data and images into HP Artist/StudioPrint and process||10|
|Calibrate printer using automated system on StudioPrint and Designjet Z3200||10|
|Profile media using automated systems on StudioPrint and Designjet Z3200||20|