Digital Imaging: Labeling Your Images

You’ve got good images so now what. Every image will have a label. That’s the wording you see next to the icon, on your computer.

The best way to label your images are as follows:

lastname_titleofpiece.jpg

or

smith_sunlitlandscape.jpg

In otherwords, your last name, the title of the piece and the extension.

99 out of 100 opportunities I see ask for the images in that format.  From an administrative perspective it’s easy to understand why.  It will be easier to keep track of your images and associate them with an image list if they ask for it.

Here are other tips for image labeling:

• Don’t ever have spaces in your labels. If you must put a space use an underscore instead.  A space means that the recipient may not be able to open it, because it will appear to the computer as a “broken image.”

• Don’t use uppercase letters.  Not all computer languages will read uppercase letters, which means they may not be viewable.  Make a habit of typing anything labeled or in computer language in lowercase.

• Don’t use punctuation – except for underscores, dashes and periods.  Use them judiciously and with a purpose though.  Use periods or dots exclusively for extensions, like .jpg, .png or .tiff  for text based documents this means .doc or .docx

One mistake I have seen many times is that artists do not edit the labels on their image files  and it can take hours to locate something.  What a waste of time!  Think of your computer as a virtual file cabinet and create files and document labels accordingly.  You will be very grateful for the time it saves you later on.

Digital Imaging: Making Your Images Look Good

Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years to making your images look not only perfect but absolutely professional.  The first thing I can tell you is that I’ve spent most of my time using one program to edit images and that is Photoshop.  I’ve used the full blown and the Elements and I find them to be THE best editing software on the market.  There are other programs but they are usually sub-par.  If you can’t afford the full blown Photoshop, Photoshop Elements is less expensive and can do almost everything the full blown Photoshop can do.
The basic features you will need in any photo editing software you choose are as follows:Image Size – the ability to change the inches as well as pixel size.

Cropping – the ability to crop your images for details or just getting rid of some background that might show up.
Color Adjustment – the ability to make your image color perfect, adjusting warmth and coolness or tone.Light Adjustment – the ability to brighten or darken your image as needed.

Rotate – sometimes you will need to rotate the image by an increment in order to crop it properly.
Sharpening and Light and Contrast – the ability to change the focus or sharpen your image.
Before you get to the computer however, you should consider the following tips for using your camera.

• Use the best most even light possible.  Turn off your flash and if you can’t afford special lights and equipment simply shoot your work outdoors.  There is nothing like pure daylight to make your images color perfect. Of course, adjustments can be made in your photo editing software.

• Shoot the piece absolutely, positively flat.  When you hold the camera up make sure it isn’t tilting backwards or forwards.  There is almost no way to correct an image that is tilted.  You can rotate an image that is shot flat but not straight, however.  (Does that make sense?)

Once the image is in the computer here are some things that you should work on…

Crop the image properly –  if it is a 2-Dimensional square piece (i.e. a painting on canvas). If it is a 3-D piece, has uneven edges or is sculptural than make sure the background is either black, white or a neutral gray.  I find that a neutral color usually works the best.

Make sure your image is color correctdown to the last increment. There is nothing more frustrating to a juror to accept a work based on the colors in the image, only to find it’s completely different when they accept it. Your piece can be rejected on arrival because of this so get it right!

Make sure your lighting is perfectly even – that there is no flash or bright spots and that the image can be seen at it’s best and perfectly.  This is the worst infraction I’ve seen and if I have any doubt – in my experience as a juror – I will turn it down.

Remember that just because your piece is accepted in an exhibition, it may be rejected on the spot because it doesn’t match your image. Consistency and Professionalism are key in everything you do.

Digital Imaging: Camera Features

There are certain features you will want in your camera and there are certain features you will want to look for so that you can turn them off.  Here are some of the terms you need to know.

Flash
Flash is something that you should generally not use.  It is positioned in one part of the camera and will light your art poorly.  Secondly, it will produce “Red Eye” because your subjects eyes are usually level with the flash.  It will produce images that are not color accurate and we all know that artists really need color accurate photos.

White Balance
Different sources of light have different color casts to them.  For example incandescent (light bulbs) tend to have a yellow cast to them.  Fluorescent light can have a blue or yellow cast to them.  Most cameras will automatically adjust this for you, unless you go to the menu and manually tell it what to do.  Some even have settings for taking photos at night.  In most cases I highly recommend turning this off all together.  Especially if you are shooting photos of your art.  Color accuracy is everything and you can always make adjustments on your computer.

ISO
This refers to shutter speed and the more ISO you have the more options for exposure you will have. For example if you are outdoors in direct sunlight you will need a slower speed because you won’t need to capture as much light.  If you’re shooting images at night you will want to use a slower speed.

Noise Reduction
This is not sound.  This refers to the blurry little pixels you sometimes see around images.  This is a good feature to have and if you get a camera that shoots in Camera Raw, this is less likely to happen. This is also not so important because you can control it in Photoshop or other photo editing software.  In Photoshop it’s called “Despeckling.”

Image Size
On Camera Raw you will be able to capture huge photos. Even on a Compact Camera you will capture rather large photos – sometimes as much as 20 inches.  It’s important to be aware of that and take control over it.  I will discuss that in the post about software. You will want a larger Image Size because it will give you much more capability.

Zoom Control
Some cameras will allow you to turn off Digital Zoom.  This is very useful because in most cases you will want Optical Zoom only.

Image Quality
This is almost the same as Image Size.  It usually has settings like Fine, Normal and Economy.  See Image Size for more information.

Camera Charging and Information Processing
Make sure that the way the camera charges and moves information from your camera to the computer is convenient.  Mine has a “cradle” which is almost like a tray that connects to a plug and to the computer.  Some require that you remove the memory card and insert it into a device in order to move information from the camera to your computer.

Focus
Most cameras will have Auto Focus and that’s generally fine.  You may want some control though.  Even Compact Cameras have control over that but SLR Cameras will allow you the most control.

The best tip I can give you is when you first get the camera, sit down with it and the instruction manual and go through it step by step. This should take you a few hours.  You will want to make the most of everything you’ve got.  Not just for your art but because your camera can help you actually make the art. You may become a photographer once you have one because you’ll be having so much fun with it.

Digital Imaging: Purchasing a Camera

The second most important thing you will need to know about, even if you want to use a professional photographer, is about the digital camera.  There is a lot to choose from and new things are coming out all the time.  I have posted links to a few websites with reviews below. Do check them out before you make a purchase.

Mega-Pixels
Cameras can come with anywhere between 4 and 20 or even more mega-pixels. A mega-pixel is one million pixels. By comparison there are Gigapixels which are one billion pixels but you won’t need to know about that so much for digital cameras.  Your camera will interpret the mega-pixels into RGB colors and needless to say, the more mega-pixels you have the better.

Zoom
This can be confusing.  A camera may say 10x Zoom but will it be the best kind of zoom?  There is digital and optical zoom.  Optical Zoom is ideal because it actually uses the camera lens to “zoom” in on the image and then it shoots it. Digital zoom is interpreted after the shot is taken and is known as a “software zoom.”  So make sure your camera has more Optical  than Digital Zoom.

Memory Card
This is like a flash drive.  In most cases it will look like a mini floppy disk.  This is the memory and the more memory you have, the more images you can store. They run from 4GB to 32GB.  Some come with special features.  One type has a global positioning feature, meaning that it will automatically attach a time, date and place to your photos. Another has Bluetooth and every time your computer and your digital camera are on they will sync automatically.  I do recommend having more than one Memory Card.  The camera will come with a very low GB Memory Card.  Consider purchasing two more. There is nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of a shoot and the Memory Card breaks down.

Battery
This gives your camera power.  It keeps it running.  You will get a charger with the camera but it is also a good idea to budget for two batteries.   You will have extra power on the go and if one breaks down you’ll have back up.

There are several different types of cameras and which one to buy is going to be a learning curve.  Let me make it easier for you.

SLR
This means Single Lens Reflex.  It is probably the best to purchase if you can afford it.  It is sometimes known as DSLR.  This is a system that allows you to see the image as the camera sees it via prism to mirror function.  This camera looks like a professional 35mm Camera and they do tend to run high in price but if you can make the investment it’s worth it.  It will have a higher resolution and will be guaranteed to shoot everything in Camera Raw, which translates into a .tif on the computer (see the previous post for more information).

Compact or Point and Shoot
If you can’t afford an SLR camera then this is the next best thing.  Make sure, however, that it can shoot in Camera Raw.  Most can only shoot in .jpg’s.  That might cost you a bit more but will be worth it in the end.  You don’t want the camera to compress the pixels for you.

Those are the two formats you really need to know about.  In the next post I will talk about camera features.

Digital Camera Review Websites:
Consumer Reports: Digital Camera Reviews
Digital Camera Magazine: Your Guide to Digital Imaging and Photography
PC Magazine: Digital Camera Reviews

Digital Imaging: The Beginning

The first step to your success is getting good, reproducible digital images of your work.   One side benefit is that digital images are easy to shoot and edit yourself, once you have the right equipment and information.

The first thing to know is that the ability to market and sell your work in different formats with digital images is tremendous.  Social Networking is one good example.  Images of your work will be viewed 24 hours a day/7 days a week, and be working for you even when you are not.  This means that your images will say more about you, your work and your level of professionalism more than ever.  So be very picky because your images must be perfect. There is, honestly, no excuse for a bad image. If you don’t want to do it yourself then hire the right photographer.  Even then you will want to be able to shoot good photos because you won’t want to miss an opportunity just because your photographer isn’t available. The following terms and information will also help you to speak to your photographer so read on!Pixels
Digital Images will look like beautiful, seamless photos until you blow them up on your computer.  If you blow them up all the way you will see that they are made up of thousands of tiny little squares. These squares are known as pixels.  Each square is assigned a color number, known as a Hex number.  Hex numbers are made up of six digits and give the computer instructions about how to present them on your computer.  Remember that no color is perfect.  Computers are back lit so it may show up slightly different on different screens.  There is no way to control this.  It’s not such a huge difference that you have to worry about it tremendously.

IMAGE FORMATS
.tif or .tiff or Camera Raw
Initially all of your images should be shot in this format. It is the best high resolution format because it has the most pixel colors to choose from.  In the Millions of Millions.  This does make it large format, so you will want this only for yourself.  You will send this format to someone only if requested and usually a printer or manufacturer.

.jpg or .jpeg
This is the most popular image format because it’s known as a lossy compression. Almost every grant, exhibition opportunity, application and social networking platform you send or use will require this format.  A lossy compression means that every time you save it you will lose pixels.  Compression means that the image is faster loading. The color choice in pixels isn’t as high as a .tif but it will more than suffice.  Tip: When you do save it most photo editing software will give you an option to save it on a low to high scale.  Make sure you always save it on the highest setting.  You will lose fewer pixels.

.gif
This is an image that should only be used for a low level animation.  For example making something in your image move back and forth.  This image format is not good for still images because it has only 256 colors to choose from so it is not ideal for art.

.png
This is a relatively new format and is so much better for artists because it is a lossless compression. It also has millions of colors to choose from.  Being a lossless compression means that you won’t lose pixels when you save it.  The word “compression” means that it’s fast loading.  Not many people are asking for this yet so you might want to stick to using .jpg’s for opportunities and applications.  You can use the .png with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, etc. and on your website.

Color
This is important to artists.  You will have more options on the computer and they will be confusing.  The one that you really have to remember is RGB. This is true of the screen and printing.  RGB means Red Green Blue.  This is associated with the Hex numbers I spoke about before.  The Hex numbers are six digits that look something like this #00FFCC.  The first two numbers are Red.  The second two numbers are Green and the last numbers are Blue.  The reason there are letters is that this format needs to choose from 14 single digits.  So the internet and computer uses 0-9 and A-F.  This last part may be too complicated for you but you just need to remember what Red Green Blue is.

.dpi or .ppi
These terms are interchangeable. .dpi means dots per inch.  .ppi means pixels per inch.  .dpi is a term who’s origins are in hard copy printing (magazines, newspapers, offset printing) and means just what it says.  Hold a loop or magnifying glass to a full color magazine and you will see that it is made up of hundreds or thousands of little dots in Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.  The more dots the higher the resolution. Sound familiar?  That’s because your ink jet computer printer works the same way.  It sprays dots of the above mentioned colors.  Again the more dots per inch the better.

Printing vs. Screen
For any image that you see on a computer screen it should be 72 dpi.  If there are fewer dots per inch it should be faster loading and harder to reproduce.  It is the standard and all entries should be sent this way unless requested.  If you are printing something or something is being printed for you (say in a newspaper article or catalog or postcard), your image should be 300 dpi and up.  It makes sense that the more dots you have the higher the resolution.

TIP: Always view your images (and try to view them projected) before you send them to an opportunity or with an application.  You want to be confident that they will look good to a jury or viewer.