Picture Perfect Paintings #1: Shooting in RAW

| May 12, 2010
RAW photo as shot - Too yellow!

RAW photo as shot – Too yellow!

I don’t have the perfect formula yet but I would like to have it. Trying to capture the true essence of a painting with our cameras is a somewhat tricky proposition. Even if we do an amazing job capturing the painting, we really don’t know if the person viewing it will have a calibrated monitor to see our creation in its true and intended glory. Even though we cannot control all the variables, its important to control what we can and I hope this helps control one of them.

Fortunately the advent of the digital camera and photo processing software has made it easier than ever before to conquer the task at hand. Even in this day, there are artists that do not use digital photography to take pictures of their paintings, saying it should be left to the professionals. A very good artist that I know, who shall remain nameless for the protection of their intellectual property, actually uses film! And not just any film. He meets with his photographer and discusses the merits of using specific types of film to suit the colors in the painting. I must say the results are stunning and represent the art very well, but not everyone has the budget to plop down the big bucks to get their paintings in brochures and on the web.

I plan to discuss this topic in number of posts so today I will just touch on the merits of shooting in digital RAW format to get accurate color in your painting reproductions.

Shooting in RAW may be a touchy subject for some because not all cameras can shoot in RAW. Shooting in RAW allows the camera to record the raw sensor data to the camera card with no in-camera post processing of the image. What is post processing? It is letting the camera apply changes to the image like setting white balance (aka temperature) and saving your image in compressed .jpg format. Although in-camera post processing is all spiffy and convenient, you are surrendering some control of the final look of the image by letting the camera mess with it. You may say that you can correct a plain old .jpg image but you will not have nearly as much control while preserving the original quality of the image. RAW images contain a TON of additional data that can be manipulated to compensate for botched camera settings and less than optimal exposure and lighting conditions.

Canon's camera RAW menu - it shoots a jpg too!

Canon’s camera RAW menu – it shoots a jpg too!

Most digital SLRs allow you to shoot in RAW and the camera manufacturers usually provide software that allows you to open and adjust the images. I personally use Photoshop CS4 (soon to be CS5) to edit my images. I am pretty sure that there are some non-SLR cameras that will shoot in RAW too. To shoot in RAW, you simply set the camera to record in RAW format and click away. Please realize that RAW will take up more room on your memory card and computer but the flexibility you will gain in adjusting the resulting image is pretty amazing. You might find you camera on this list, which means the RAW format is supported.

For grins, I shot my latest painting (the one for the May challenge) late at night in the kitchen. Not the best of conditions! As you may guess, since I shot under the incandescent kitchen lights, the image looked very yellow and not like my painting at all (see the result at the top of this post). This is where RAW shines. When I imported the image into my Mac and opened it in Photoshop, the RAW editor automatically popped up with a variety of sliders that I can use to edit the image. Another cool thing about RAW is that the adjustments you make in the RAW editor are non destructive. The adjustments are saved to the header of the image and can be updated of deleted at any time without altering the original image. it’s kind of like having a negative on file! Just shoot outside you say? Well that big blue thing just above your head called the sky is going to make your picture look…well blue. Plus what collector is going to hang your beautiful painting outside? All of this can be avoided by buying color corrected lights and using elaborate set-ups. What I am proposing here is a way to get nice results without the fuss.

Raw photo corrected - Much better!

Raw photo corrected – Much better!

To fix the garish yellowing of my image due to my irresponsible photography session, I simply moved the temperature slider (highlighted in RED) toward the cool side until the on-screen image matched the actual painting, which was sitting right beside my monitor. It was remarkable how I was able to take a pretty miserable photograph and bring it back with the editor. I then opened the image for final editing in Photoshop to tweak a few more things like reducing noise and sharpening until I was satisfied that my image matched the spirit of the painting.

Other topics that I plan to cover soon include noise reduction, sharpening as well as contrast and saturation adjustments. I would love to know how you do it. I am sure everyone has their own way that works for them. As always, if you need help on this topic or any other, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Category: Fine Art and Painting, Photography

Comments (4)

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  1. Ric says:

    Dude! You’re giving away all our secrets!

    The technical information you are sharing on this blog is incredibly valuable. Thanks for being willing to share your expertise. Even after a quarter century in the film and video industry I still learn new things from you on a regular basis.

  2. Lee says:

    Thanks Ric. Glad you got something out of the post. By the way, I will need to have lunch with you before to head into the jungle!

  3. AutumnLeaves says:

    Somehow I lost my comment. Anyway, my husband will be fabulously interested in reading this entry, Lee. Thanks!

  4. Lee says:

    Awesome Sherry. Too much fun to pass up!