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Taking Quality Slides
One of the most important aspects for success in the arts and crafts field is the quality of your photographs. Whether you are submitting work for consideration at shows, galleries, competitions, or are uploading images to the WWW, it is the sharpness, framing, composition, and color saturation of the slides/prints that will allow the work to be viewed the way you intend to the best effect.
We recommend shooting slides because it is inexpensive to have prints made from slides, whereas it is considerably more expensive to have slides made from negatives.
If you are not confident in you own equipment or abilities, it is almost always a good move to call in a professional to do the work for you. If better slides gets you into just one extra good show, or helps you make extra online sales, they pay for themselves many times over. If you need to call a professional, we have a listing of highly respected photographers at our Resources / Suppliers page for your consideration.
If, however, you do choose to do the work yourself, there are a number of criteria that you should continually take into account as you make the shoot... print this out for ongoing reference:
- Everything starts with the camera and the film. If you do not already have a good quality single lens reflex camera that allows you to set the exposure manually, then ask around and borrow one from a friend. You'll want to use either the normal length lens (50mm) or a slightly long telephoto (no more than 105 - 135mm).
- Whether you buy Fuji's slide film or Kodak's is a matter of taste - they are both excellent choices. Professional photographers have favorite films because one will appear slightly "cooler," meaning good blues and greens, while another will seem slighty "warmer," meaning richer reds and yellows. Don't worry too much about this - but do get daylight film if you are doing your photography outdoors, which is what we will be describing here.
- The speed of the film is its ASA rating - the higher the ASA number, the faster the film, and the less light it needs to make an exposure. However, the lower the ASA number, the finer the grain, so you'll want to strike a balance and not automatically buy the fastest film. We recommend 200 ASA.
- Pick a neutral background material to place behind your work. Ideally your work should somewhat contrast with the background, so if you do dark pieces, pick a lighter tone; with lighter items, pick a darker tone. There are wide rolls of gradient gray paper available from photo supply stores, or you can get fabric. If you are shooting relatively smaller items (let's say less than 25" tall or wide), then you can build a simple frame and stretch the neutral fabric, much like stretching canvas. Put a support board down the middle of this frame if you need to hang your work.
- If you are shooting "tabletop" work, such as pottery, carved bowls, jewelry, etc, then you can either set them on a piece of the fabric laid flat on a support in front of the neutral background, or, get something like a piece of polished marble to set in front of the background.
- Finally, if you can get a sturdy tripod and cable shutter release, do so.
The Actual Shoot
- We recommend finding a place outdoors where you have adequate space to hang the photo paper or the frame you built for the neutral fabric background. If you didn't build a frame, then find a place where you can stretch the fabric so it has absolutely NO obvious wrinkles and folds. For table top items, set the objects well in front of the background material, on a table covered with the same fabric as the background (or on something like marble). This will prevent harsh shadows from being cast, and will put the background slightly out of focus (a good thing).
- For most mediums, we advise not taking your photographs on a bright sunny day. The best light is a slightly overcast day - not so dark that it looks like rain, but enough cloud cover to diffuse the sunlight. This will eliminate much of the deep shadows and glares, and will give a more pleasing overall lighting.
- Correct metering is essential. It is often helpful to move the camera close to the object to get the meter setting, then move back into position for the shot. If the camera has an "automatic" setting, take one of the shots with the meter set on automatic. Take the rest using manual settings.
- Once you have the background hung and the foreground table set up (if necessary), it's time to do the shooting. A tripod on solid ground will help with stability, especially if you also use a cable release to trip the shutter. As you look through the viewfinder, make sure you fill the frame with the image. Don't get so tight that the object is cut off; instead leave just a little space around each side of the item. Set your tripod at this position.
- Focus is critical. With flat objects (2 dimensional work), it is relatively simple - you focus on the image. With 3D work, it is a bit more tricky. For this reason you want to use higher "f stops" to get the best depth of field.
- For each piece we want to photograph when we do our own slides, we generally shoot at least 6 frames of film. We recommend that you "bracket" your exposures, and for items set on a table, we also recommend altering the angle of the shot. Once you have gone to the trouble to get all this set up, the price of each slide is very low, so take a bunch of pictures of each item. For example, f16 will have much better depth of field than f4.
Bracketing works like this: for your first 3 shots - if the first is metered at 1/125th at f8, then make your second shot 1/125th at f11 (this will let in a little less light); and take your third at 1/125th at f5.6 (this will let in a little more light).
With a table top item, you can now alter the angle slightly for a different effect; with a hanging piece, leave it alone. Now take three more pictures: 1/60th at f11 (this is essentially the same thing as your first shot at 1/125th at f8); 1/60th at f16 (less light); 1/60th at f8 (more light). You have taken a minimum of 6 shots to get this one item on film. Since film is cheap, take as many as you think necessary - even if you take 12 shots of each item, it is well worth it to get one good slide which you can use for shows.
- If your work has details that you would like to emphasize, use a close-up lens or close-up filters to get a series of shots. Even if you do not use them for jurying, they may be helpful in other venues.
- Follow this process for all the items you wish to photograph, then get the film developed at a top quality processing lab.
Picking the Best Slides
- Project your slides: One of the biggest mistakes that people make is not projecting the slides to determine which is the sharpest. While it is possible to quickly eliminate slides which are improperly exposed, or slides where the image is poorly framed, just by holding and looking at the slide next to a light, it is not so easy to determine sharpness.
Always remember that a show jury is looking at the slides on a large screen, so what is only slightly out of focus at 1 inch x 1.5 inch is virtually unrecognizable at 3 feet x 4.5 feet. Even on the web, a picture is considerably bigger than the tiny slide, so the slightest blur will be dramatically exaggerated.
- As you place your slides in the projector (group them according to design), number each one and then on a piece of paper put those numbers in a column. Now as you view the projections, write a short comment next to each number indicating how strong the slide is for jurying. You'll probably find that some can be outright eliminated, while others are pretty good. We always take the ones that are the strongest and re-project them, then we pick the very best.
- Whichever slide is best should have a star or other mark placed on it to indicate that it is the one you want duplicated. Put the other slides that are pretty good into a protective glassine sleeve, and throw out those that are unusable. Gather all your very best slides with the ID marks, and mail them off to a professional photo lab to be duped. When they come back, send the dupes to shows, but keep the masters set aside in clear protective envelopes (in a safe place) in case you need additional copies at another time.
If you are using your slides for the pictures on your website, then you will have good quality images for the scans. If we do your web design work, we can scan slides or photos. If you are doing your own scanning but do not have a slide scanner, then send the dupes off to be printed as 5" x 7" photographs.
Once you have a number of excellent slides of your work [10 to 20], it is worthwhile to have them placed on a cd rom - ask your local processing lab for details.
Overall Slide Criteria for Submissions to Juries
Over the years we have kept many of the "suggestions for good slides" that shows have included with their applications. Here is a summary of what they have written:
- Slides must be sharp and well composed. The color of the work in the slide should be as bright as possible, and should match the color of the actual piece;
- The overall exposure of the slide should not be too light or too dark;
- Use shadows in moderation, mainly to produce depth or highlight textures;
- Avoid the use of busy backgrounds, outdoor scenes, etc. The item itself should be the focus of the jurors' attention, with no distractions;
- Maintain the same background in each slide;
- When you choose slides to submit, pick ones that complement each other, and have a kind of "family resemblance" or continuity. A disjointed presentation will only be confusing to the jurors;
- The object in each slide you submit should be about the same proportion in size when projected onto the screen;
- If you must do groupings within a single slide, avoid using more than 4 objects, and make sure it is obvious that they relate to each other;
- Never leave tags or labels showing in the slides;
- Do not include props (such as a ruler) to indicate the size of the object unless told to do so by the jury application;
- If you need someone to wear your work, be careful in chosing models - they can really help you or really hurt you. If you can arrange it, go with a professional;
- If your designs have a sense of "movement," then slide number 1 in your submissions should face forward towards the other slides; the last slide should face backwards into the others. This will help keep the jurors focused into the center of your work.
As more artists begin uploading pictures of their works to websites, good quality slides will be a key element in the creation of web-ready graphics. After all, without good graphics, the opportunity to make sales of art or craft work off your website will not be much of a likelihood. With quality graphics, your customers can more easily visualize what you do, which puts them halfway to the point of purchase.
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