Articles Tagged: cameras

Photographing Artwork

It’s important for artists to get excellent and accurate photos of their finished pieces for their websites or portfolios. DCP board member and fine arts painter Jo Mattison shares her journey into photography as a means of documenting her paintings.

Photography has been an interest of mine since childhood. When I was very young, I had to have the latest camera on hand and lots of film. In high school, I was the unofficial photographer for the yearbook. Lots of my photos made the books my junior and senior years. Then I went to college and studied art, painting in particular, but not photography. Sigh.

Several years ago, as my inventory of paintings grew, I got really tired of having photographers come to my studio or me dragging my large paintings to them. But art has to be photographed! And it has to be done right in order for the pieces to look great on a website, a brochure or business cards. Also, pictures have to be the correct file sizes for the different shows you enter. And the color has to be right. The last thing you want is for someone to see one of your paintings online and then when they see it in person, it looks different to them. This happened to me once. I lost a sale. So far, it has not happened again.

Jo Mattison in her Dallas art studio

When I decided to take matters into my own hands and photograph my art myself, I went to Competitive Cameras in Dallas and bought the equipment they recommended. I got an entry level DSLR camera, a tripod and strobe lights. Then I worked with someone at Dallas Center for Photography to learn how to setup the strobe lights correctly distanced between each other and from the piece of art. You can place a pencil perpendicular to the surface of the painting to make sure the lighting falls equally onto the surface from both lights. Proper lighting is extremely important. I have heard some artists take their artwork outside and use natural light but that is very unreliable and the color can shift. Strobe lights are consistent; and once you have your setup tuned, your photos will come out the same every time.

Proper art photography starts with everything being square and level. Start by measuring the distance of the middle of the art to the floor. Place the center of the lights at the same height as the center of the art.


Place the center of the lens at that same height as the center of the art.

I ended up with a pair of Versalight 360 monolights by JTL which give me plenty of power and are easy to use. With your lights set up, put your DSLR on a tripod and get your camera settings right. If you don’t have a handheld flash meter (which I don’t), this sometimes takes trial and error. First, put your camera on manual mode and make sure your ISO is not on auto. I usually put my ISO on 100 or 200. The shutter speed should be set to 1/125 because any faster and you can end up with shadows of the actual shutter blades; slower and you end up mixing in the ambient light. I set my aperture at around f11 which gets rid of vignetting and is sharp edge to edge. As you approach the bigger f-stop settings of 16 and 22, you can start to get diffraction limiting which basically just makes the whole photo fuzzy. I take several shots and adjust the strobe power as needed. 

I make some large paintings that have a clear glossy coating on them. To avoid a glare on the photos from the gloss coat, I use a polarizing filter on my camera and a large plastic polarized sheet on the front of each of the strobe lights. I ordered 17”x 20” Rosco linear polarizing filter sheets from B&H Photo. It is very important to have the polarizers lined up the same on each light in terms of polarizing direction. The polarizer on your lens has to be lined up in the opposite orientation. It just takes a little trial and error, but it works like a charm and you end up with no glare or you can dial the filter on the camera a little to allow for a little bit of glare which can show depth to the surface of the painting. 

Detail of the polarizing sheets taped over the strobe soft boxes. Orient the polarization axis of the camera filter at right angles to the light polarizers.

It is important for your monitor to be properly calibrated, so when you’re editing in Lightroom or Photoshop you know that you’re seeing the right colors. A good color checker is Datacolor Spydercheckr. Then you need to calibrate the camera using the Xrite Passport system. It’s a small test card with multiple colors that are industry standard. By plugging the software into Lightroom you can be sure that all colors are represented properly, especially those challenging hues like blue/green and burgundy. You can get these tools on Amazon, B&H, or at your local camera store. There are lots of YouTube videos that show you how to use them.

Jo working in Lightroom to finalize her image.

When I get several shots that look good, I download them into Lightroom. I took classes on Lightroom so I could get the hang of it. And it’s so worth it! In Lightroom you can adjust the exposure, contrast, texture, hue, vibrance, tint, etc. Even though the Xrite Passport gives you the best color possible, there are often pigment colors on a canvas that just don’t translate properly to the more limited palette of a computer screen. You can make sure the colors in your art work are correct so that you don’t misrepresent the work on your website and social media. Also, you can make the file size of your picture whatever you need it to be for the situation. That is, small for quick downloading on certain sites, or larger for publication, etc. Lightroom is a must-have tool for showing your art accurately online or in print.

Since I bought the camera and lighting equipment to photograph my art, I have gotten the photography bug again! Now I also use my camera to have fun, and it has become my other art! I have taken several photography classes and workshops and even started learning Photoshop! There is a whole other world out there for artistic pursuit in photography. I am having a ton of fun learning and creating art that is different from painting. I enter contests occasionally and I don’t worry about selling my photographs. Ahhhhh!

Jo Mattison

Instagram: @jmattison


Moldy Cameras

(This is an update and repost of an earlier article)

I have a collection of toy and cheap cameras that I started about 30 years ago. My rule for the first couple of years was that I wouldn’t spend more than a dollar. Sometimes I would find 5 or 6 at a thrift store. Then my family started looking for them. I still get a bag of garage sale cameras every Christmas from my brother.  I now have probably 500-600 cameras stashed in cardboard boxes on some industrial shelves at the studio.

For a while there has been a tiny leak in one of the concrete studio walls and I was dutifully collecting the water in a bucket. When I went to the studio yesterday during a downpour I discovered water dripping from a new place, right under the shelf that holds my collection. Turns out a trickle of water had been going into one of the boxes for the last few months. Unwrapping the cameras was gross and sad. I had to throw away about a half dozen, including a nice small wooden view camera that had fallen apart. The biggest shock was this Argus C3, which was in its original box. The box was a black, sodden, smelly mess. I’m guessing that the combination of water, darkness and the leather case made a perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew.

When this originally happened, I set up a softbox and took some forensic photos as a document of this beautiful catastrophe. Those documentary images of moldy evidence have turned into some of my favorite photos. This is a lesson I’ve learned repeatedly, that I’m often really not qualified to judge or edit my photos at the time I take them. Time has a way of revealing the depth and meaning of a photo.

A Cheap Leica

To my client who thinks I should own a Leica (you know who you are). Yesterday I bought this little gem from a thrift store in Maine for $5, case and working battery included. I didn’t even know that Leica had gotten into the pocket camera market all those years ago. The camera itself is unremarkable, what would have set this apart from similar offerings in the late 90s was the Leica Vario-Elmar 35-70mm, that and the $400 price tag!



Blood Moon

Last night was the first blood moon of the year. I had to get up and see it but realized that I had forgotten all my Nikon gear at the studio. This was shot with a friend’s Leica V-Lux 4, a small, affordable camera (same as Panasonic FZ-200) with a lens that is the equivalent of 25-600mm, f2.8 all the way!



I also forgot my tripod so instead was able to nestle the camera in a beanbag in the back yard and use the self timer to eliminate vibration. (Daylight photos are a recreation from the next day)


I love forklifts

After my Nikon gear, my next favorite piece of photographic equipment just may be a fork lift. They are just so handy and fun. I wish I had one at the studio.

I volunteer my services at North Dallas Shared Ministries, a well run and very effective organization that offers a broad range of services to Dallas’ poor. Last week they handed out hundreds of free school uniforms.

One of the other volunteers gave me a lift so I could shoot down on the line. That thing strapped around my waist is the Think Tank belt system for my gear. I’ve been using it and loving it for over a year. In this case it was particularly helpful because I didn’t have a loose bag to deal with.


Always carry backup gear on an assignment

I frequently remind my students that the minute they want to start making money from their photography they have to have backup equipment. It isn’t allowable to show up for a job, no matter how small or how much you’re getting paid, and have to leave because of an equipment problem. Well, I was shooting some headshots  for a frequent client of mine last week. The location was near my house and I figured I’d be in and out in about an hour. Half way through the first setup my camera inexplicably slid off my shoulder (I use an UP strap which never, never slips) and my 24-120 took the brunt of the fall. It’s off at Nikon having a $375 rejuvenating spa treatment. When I went back this week I had backups of everything and of course nothing went wrong.

There really is not supposed to be that big ugly gap between the focus and zoom rings!


Camera Obscura on a Greek island

When I was doing research for the last trip to Greece I read that there was a camera obscura on the island of Aegina, one of the Saronic islands that are close to Athens and easily accessible by ferry boat. I looked up websites for the camera obscura and saw what looked like a familiar location. When I was a kid in high school in Athens I used to go to the islands with friends to explore and hang out. Near the little town of Perdika in Aegina we discovered some old World War II German bunkers that were still largely intact.  As it turns out, the camera obscura is actually built on one of those bunkers.


As I climbed up the the hill toward the round structure that sense of geographic flashback confirmed that this was the same place. The mostly empty observation bunker had been clad in a new wooden skin and fitted with a row of holes around the circumference. Unbolting a heavy metal door led to a small alcove and through an overlapping set of black-out drapes. The inside of the small space was so dark that I couldn’t see whether there was a floor or any obstructions and had to wait for my eyes to adjust before stepping all the way in. Around the top half of the cylindrical room are a row of rear projection screens, on them are upside down live images of the surrounding scenery. The effect is really pretty stunning. The moving sea, blue sky and peaceful Greek island landscape are projected as a live panoramic movie inside this building of war.


Panoramic photo of the interior is made up of 8 images at 1/8 second, ISO 6400 shot with the Nikon D600. I didn’t have a tripod so these are handheld and stitched together with Auto Pano Pro, then cleaned up in Photoshop. Angle covered is about 340 degrees. I propped the door open and pulled the black out curtains apart a little to let some light in and show the building structure. Normally it would be black except for the glowing screens. Exterior pano is 6 images. Link to a good definition and history of the camera obscura.

Fuji XPro1 Review


I’ve been shooting with a Nikon D4 which is an amazing camera but an incredible pain to haul around on trips. A few months ago I bought a Canon S100 which I think is the best pocket camera out right now but not really up to serious shooting. If it only had an optical finder. . . .

I started looking for an alternative travel camera and after researching dozens of models settled on the Fuji XPro1. I wanted a camera with interchangeable lenses, an optical viewfinder, high quality sensor, good low light capability and a quiet shutter. The Xpro1 fit that spec list and has been getting largely rave reviews on many sites and blogs. In October I took the camera to Santa Fe while I was attending a Writing for Photographers workshop to see what it would be like to shoot without a DSLR. It took some getting used to. I just got back from a three week trip to Greece and shot with the Fuji along with the new D600 (which will be another writeup). This is what I like and dislike about the XPro1:


  • Size and weight: The camera feels good in my hand and doesn’t create shoulder or neck fatigue after a day of shooting. I added the Really Right Stuff hand grip which is essential for me to avoid the cramped hand position that this camera body requires on its own. Fuji makes a hand grip but it lacks the vertical Arca Swiss clamp for shooting panoramas and inexplicably covers up the battery and memory card compartment on the bottom of the camera. As usual, the Really Right Stuff option is well thought out and blends beautifully with the camera body. I use the Think Tank belt system and I can get the body/lens combo, the second lens, 2 spare batteries, Manfrotto 209 table top tripod with 492 ball head, cleaning kit, flashlight and a couple of other tidbits in the compact Skin Body Bag. This worked out well when I wanted to put the gear away while walking through a dicey neighborhood in Athens last week and let me keep the gear dry when we got caught in the rain.
  • Sensor image quality. The new Fuji sensor with randomized pixels and no anti aliasing filter lives up to the hype of creating sharp images with no moiré. It makes me wonder why it took so long for a company to do this and I’m curious to see if this chip design shows up in other brands soon. The low light performance is just fantastic with low noise up to ISO 1600 and very useable images through 6400.
  • Lenses: I bought the 18 and 35mm lenses, equivalent to a 27mm and 50mm on full frame. The 35 is just exquisite and I agree with all the other glowing reviews of this little gem. The 18 has a reputation for being soft at the edges which is true but not near as bad as I expected.
  • Hybrid optical/video finder: This is a super cool bit of technology and one of the biggest attractions of this camera. Being able to see data overlaid over a live optical image is helpful and sets the bar for all other cameras of this type. The surprise for me was how often I used the EVF which I thought I would hate. It makes shooting in very low light not only possible but fun by offering a full brightness image in dark environments that are almost impossible to view and frame with the optical finder.
  • Overall build quality: Fuji has done a great job putting together a solid looking and even more solid feeling camera. If you haven’t handled one of the models in this line you might be in for a surprise.
  • Shooting style: Holding a rangefinder style camera really does make you see, think and shoot in a different way. It’s more deliberate and this camera tends toward a subtle picture making machine rather than the big artillery feel of a pro Nikon or Canon body. It’s a nice feeling.


  • Slow focusing speed: This was the biggest criticism of the XPro1 before the firmware update in October but since the camera uses contrast detection instead of the faster phase detection on DSLRs, it just takes a little longer to focus. Often the lag is unworkable and results in lost shots.
  • Shutter lag: Yes, there is a bit of shutter lag which goes against the street style shooting that this thing seems built for. I found myself trying to anticipate movement to get the moment I wanted but was often frustrated by the small delay.
  • Battery life: After reading positive reviews for the Pearstone after-market batteries I bought two of them to supplement the Fuji battery that came with the camera. Both brands work about the same but I found myself using all three batteries some days with moderate shooting and some use of live mode and quite a bit of image playback. Battery life is definitely a problem for me.
  • Placement of the Q, AF/EL and Focus buttons. The first two are just in a stupid place, right under the edge of your thumb and far too easy to hit accidentally which is a big surprise when the Quick menu pops up or your exposure is whacked because you inadvertently hit the Exposure Lock button. I got better at it but this is a major irritation with this camera. The Focus mode button, as many others have noted, is in the crazy position in the bottom left corner of the camera. So when you’re in shooting position you can’t really get to it to move your focus point without breaking the traditional and stable left hand cradling, right hand shooting posture. I usually shoot with just the center focus point active and was able to bypass this problem most of the time but when I needed to move the focus point it was difficult. There is a programmable FN button on the top deck right next to the shutter release which would be a great place for the Focus select but of all the things you can program it to do, Focus is not one of them.
  • Price: This is an expensive camera. Body and one prime lens are $2,300. Yes, much (much!) cheaper than a Leica which I think it competes with and often bests, but still expensive. Disclaimer: I’ve never shot with a Leica so the above statement is based purely on trolling websites and reviewing specs. I know there is something special about Leicas but I’ll never know since I likely won’t ever pay that kind of money for a camera. I also drive a Toyota instead of a Mercedes or BMW.
  • Lack of diopter adjustment and shallow eye relief: Fuji left off the diopter adjustment for some reason which meant that I had to buy a +2 screw in diopter to make the camera usable while wearing glasses. This mostly fixed the problem but when using the optical finder with the digital overlay the real image and the data image are not in the same virtual plane. If you have young eyes that are still flexible enough to quickly shift focus distance then this probably won’t bother you. If, like me, your eyes have a few years on them then the difference in the focal planes is at the least an irritation and for some will be a deal breaker. Add to this the fact that with glasses it is almost impossible to see the whole image at once because of very shallow eye point and the finder can be a real frustration. I did adapt after a couple of weeks but it is not anywhere as intuitive and natural as looking into a DSLR prism and focusing screen.
  • Remote shutter release: Here’s where they took the old school idea too far. This camera has a threaded cable release which is kind of neat and a throwback to earlier film cameras. But to leave out an electric or infrared remote is just silly. I use the self timer set to 2 seconds for all tripod work but it would be nice to be able to trip the shutter with no physical interaction or vibration.

On the fence:

  • Traditional lens aperture ring: When I first picked up the camera my old muscle memory came back from shooting for years with the aperture ring where God intended it, on the lens. So I was initially thrilled to have this feature again. But then I found myself accidentally changing f-stops when I picked the camera up and had to start really watching out for this. So maybe God was wrong about this. Nah, it’s probably me again.
  • Prime lenses: This isn’t a Fuji thing at all. I was looking forward to the creative constraint of shooting with a pair of prime lenses. I’ve always believed and taught that limiting your tools puts you in a smaller creative box which makes you work that much harder and often yielding more interesting photos. I still believe that but, boy, I sure got tired of switching back and forth between just the two lenses I bought! Now I really understand the allure of the Fuji X100 with it’s single, non-interchangeable 35mm equivalent lens.

Lots of people stopped to talk to me about the Fuji. There’s huge interest in this size and style of camera and many other photographers are right where I am, wanting something of high quality but small size and quieter than a DSLR. I think and hope that Nikon and Canon will have to answer to this breakthrough camera and maybe in a year we’ll have something this good but faster and better laid out.

If you own one of these I’d be interested in your experience with this brilliant but frustrating camera.