Copying artwork

I am on the ferry to Vancouver to photograph some paintings that will be in an art show. Part of the expectation is to produce limited edition prints of the original paintings.

In other words, I need to produce very high quality files. So how does a photographer produce high quality reproductions of original artwork? In some ways it is a very technical exercise.  Exposure, focus, etc must be spot on of course, but the trick comes from interpreting the artwork and translating the “feel” of the original into the language of photography. Even though a painting is a 2-dimensional medium, just like photography, it can have a different pallet, or language if you will. Just like oil vs watercolour paintings can produce very different effects.

The first photographic tool to translate these languages is lighting. Watercolours should be lit with very flat even light. Oils or acrylics tend to be more “shiny” and may even have some texture. This should be shown in the final image.

Post processing should also be faithful to the feel of the original. White balance,contrast,and even micro-contrast should be true to the original, but not necessarily a perfectly technical copy. Think of reproducing art like translating a language. You may not want to translate word for word (this is one reason machine translation doesn’t work) but you want the meaning of the story to come across.

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