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Should You Just Photograph Or Scan Your Own Artworks?

31st July 2018 Art Reproduction

Here follows three answers to the same question - should you reproduce your own artworks?

Art Reproduction is fundamentally hard to do well and is one area where it's very often better not to DIY.

We're often asked - 'Should I just take a photo of my artworks and send it to you' by people just beginning to think about art reproduction.

There's a very short answer, a short answer, and a longer answer. 

(All are actually the same answer, but they just come with more reasons & discussion as you read on!).

This stuff can get technical pretty quickly & is a bit bewildering to many people (hence the Tower of Babel masthead above!) - if in doubt the best thing to do is come in for a visit or give us a call, and we can talk you through the right way to go about art reproduction.

The Very Short Answer

The very short answer is No.  

You will almost certainly be compromising the quality of your results by doing this work yourself.  

It's definitely worth getting this professionally done to make sure your digital assets are as good as possible. You generally only get one shot at this - once you sell your originals, they're gone - so it is imperative to your long term success as an artist to get superb, reproduction quality images made. 

The Short Answer

The short answer is also No. You should not just take a photograph of your works and use that for art reproduction. 

The odds you will be able to do this up to a sufficient level of quality - one that reflects that work you put in to your original works, is very low. Even if you have a 'good camera' and some photographic skill. (It's fair to say that even most general professional photographers are not up to the challenge of really high quality art reproduction work).

Art Reproduction photography is very hard. Sure, some artworks are easier than others, but as a rule art reproduction is probably the single most technically demanding field of photography there is, requiring a large array of technical skills and a deep knowledge of photography, colour and printing, to do really properly. 

For simple works (basically those that are not acrylic or oils and do not have any embellishments or three dimensional aspect to them) you will actually usually get a better result through scanning than photography.  You'll get much more resolution, and a more evenly lit and predictable result. So with simple works, you can consider giving this a try using a high quality scanner.

Note, though, that even scanning soon becomes complex and often you're again generally better off leaving this to us so you can be sure you're getting the very best reproduction images possible.

Whilst it is relatively simple, if you do have decent skills, to produce a photograph of a work that initially appears ok for reproduction purposes, you must in fact have a really great file if you want great results, particularly at larger sizes. 

More on all the many possible issues below...

The Long Answer

We reproduce art daily here at Image Science - it has become one of the biggest parts of our business. We also deal with files from other sources - artists themselves, from amateur and professional photographers, and from all sorts of scanning systems.

Of those files that are not produced here, it is fair to say that nearly 100% of them could be significantly improved by better capture processes.

Sometimes, it's not so important and the files are 'workably good'. Many times, however, the quality of the files severely impacts the quality of the reproduction prints - and this a real shame and can significantly impact the potential value of your reproduction works.

The reality is that a careful inspection of the digital files made from artworks will show typically many flaws - including, but not limited to:

  • Lack of resolution

    Resolution limits the maximum size you can reproduce to, and how sharply you can do so. Sometimes this can solved with stitching techniques (i.e. joining multiple photographs/scans together to increase the overall resolution. But this often leads to then next issue...

  • Endless variations on focus/image plane/stitching issues

    Larger reproductions in particular will be merciless on uneven image sharpness (often a simple fact of life because of lens characteristics), but also can result from stitching issues and failure for the capture device to be absolutely, perfectly perpendicular to the work (and/or lack sufficient depth of field). The resulting file will have an unevenness to it that can be as bad as fundamentally sharp/blurry corners or as subtle as an unevenness to the grain structure of the capture.  

  • Uneven exposure across the image plane

  • It's really hard to light an artwork really evenly. With artificial lighting it's very difficult - you need to get the lighting even (in both light strength and light quality terms) - within a very narrow range across the entire image area. It's basically impossible with natural lighting - there's always some variation across the work, even if you're using very soft light (overcast day etc).

  • Colour accuracy issues

    Getting a great colour match between artwork and print is *very* hard and requires a really high level of skill. Again, with natural light - which varies day by day, even minute by minute - it's near impossible to get really accurate colour consistently. Artificial light can be used, but you need to understand the behaviour of your lights very well (e.g. many flash systems can have significant variance - to the tune of several hundred degrees Kelvin - from pop to pop. Many flouro and LED based lights can have odd spectral spikes that lead to significant colour errors - that will vary depending on the types of colours in the works). It's trivially easy for an artist to buy and use a pigment that is simply not printable - and then there's issues such as metallics and neons etc. It requires great technical skill AND experience to know how best to handle these things in digital files.

  • Inconsistencies between work from a series etc.

    Ad hoc and poor technique, and a lack of process control, can lead to significant issues with inconsistency of appearance across images in a series. Images that should sit sympathetically side by side (and do, in their original form) can appear disjointed when reproduced with poor control. Series are absolutely one of the best ways to increase your print sales, but if the reproductions simply don't look right sitting next to each other, this is a problem. Managing your capture process to be high quality and consistent in approach across years is very challenging.

  • The list goes on!

    I could honestly write several thousand more words about possible issues with files, but the above are some of the more major ones. It should be clear that only really great technique will get you great files to make your reproduction prints from.

Digital Assets

The goal of capturing your original artworks is to produce digital assets - that is, to produce a useful file can be an income producing asset for your art business in all sorts of ways for the rest of your life (and perhaps even beyond!).

Great art reproduction files are incredibly useful and should be prized assets (and properly backed up in several places!). 

They can be used for basic things like marketing on your website, through to potentially life long sales of reproduction prints and products, and as some protection against loss or damage to original works. They might become part of a book on your work, or a lifelong retrospective exhibition. The potential uses are basically endless, and their importance cannot really be overstated.

Developing a good library of your works in very high quality digital form should be a primary part of your art practice, and you should only consider undertaking this work yourself if you're technically proficient in digital imaging techniques. Otherwise, for your long term success, it's well worth investing in some expertise here as getting this right really can have a fundamental impact on your success as an artist. 

We'd love to work with you on your art reproductions, and offer a full range of services in this area.  We are also happy to provide (always free!) advice about all aspects of this process, from the technical to the artistic, from paper selection to advice on how to sell more prints. We've got over 15 years of experiences directly in this area to draw on.