Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Adventures in Photography - Part One

For the longest time, I've really been struggling to capture my paint jobs correctly in photos.  I hear the same comments over and over from clients and customers.  "This looks even nicer in person!"

On one hand, this is fabulous, because one of the worst things I've heard (behind the scenes, from friends) is when they purchase a model by Artist XYZ and they get the package open, and are sorely disappointed.  "It looked so much better in the photos!

Eeeeek.  That's NOT the reaction that I want people to have when they unpack something I've painted.  So having people be pleasantly surprised when they get something from me is good to hear.

On the other hand, not capturing my paintwork correctly means I'm basically underselling my work.  Even worse, however, is when I can't get the camera to record the correct shade.  That's much more serious.  Here's a great example.  The horse I want you to look at in these photos is the red chestnut Affiity.  That's the reddest horse in the middle of this row.  This is all the SAME horse, remember, in the series of photos.

Here she is on a shot taken from a distance, in a row of models, shown in-progress.  This is very accurate as to her "true" color:

She's in the middle of the group.  Now this week, I worked on building a new light tent.  Here she is in a close-up in studio lights.  Unfortunately, this really seemed to wash out her dark tones, and it doesn't capture the "richness" of her color at all.  Compare the photo below to the photo of her in the line-up above.

Taking the tent outside, I plopped it down in bright sunlight, to see what that would do.  I thought maybe the ultra bright diffuse sunlight would capture her true color.  Instead, it blasts her back with white reflections:

So then I took her to the front of my house.  Usually this north-facing light in the shade takes lovely "true color" photos.

It kind-of worked.  Look at her face in this photo.  Especially the gray around the eyes and muzzle.  It really captures the shading nicely.  However, there is a really distracting blue-sky reflection along her back and neck.  I use a lot of metallic paint in my undercoats, so my paint jobs do reflect a lot of light.  This is why they seem to change color so much depending on the lighting.

Let's see this again with another model.  Here's a "group photo" with Valor, who is the dark chestnut guy standing in front here:

Okay, looks great.  You cans see he's kind of a dark brown "cocoa" color with some lighter golden brown highlights. This photo was snapped with my four or five year old "point and shoot" camera, from a distance of a few feet away.

Now I took a photo of my new light tent.  When I took this photo from across the room, you can clearly see INSIDE the box, that the horse in there looks the same as the horse above.  A nice, deep rich, dark shade of cocoa brown.

But, when I come in close, the camera washes out the color again, and now the darkest tones along the top of the horse are lost, and he pales out and loses the dark shading and "crispness" seen in the quickie candid shot of him just standing on the counter!

Once again, taking an accurate shot of any of my paint jobs evades me.  Sigh!

I've called this post "Part One" because I'm not giving up on this yet.  Next step will be to hopefully upgrade to a slightly better camera.  I can't afford one of those super-high end DSLR pro cameras, nor would I want to drag one around for everyday photo taking, but now I'm looking at something the next step up beyond a point-and-shoot.  Something with a little bit of manual override, so I can get more control of what's going on here.

I'll post again later, when I make the upgrade to the next model.  A friend of mine, Paula Anderson, is a professional photographer and has sent me some great advice.  Apparently, for the best shots, I need to be able to adjust a bit more than what the basic point-and-shoot models allow.  I'm adding a link to Paula's site because I really appreciate her taking the time to share her advice with me!

For now, I'm researching a couple of models.  The Nikon Coolpix P310 has caught my eye, seems it has some ability for user control but runs about $350 right now which should be in my budget.  I'm also seeing a lot of good reviews for the Canon Powershot S100.  I still have a bit of a bias towards Nikon products from the "old days" when I toted around a beat-up ancient Nikon SLR camera for years.  But I have to get over that and consider all the options, being as digital cameras are a different animal altogether.  (More like a computer with a lens, anymore.)

One of the things that I find puzzling is the addition of a GPS in a lot of the newest cameras?  I guess if you get lost hiking the back country on a photo safari, maybe your camera can help you find civilization, but for the most part that falls into the category of totally unnecessary gizmos that have nothing to do with better photography.  Unless there is something that I'm missing here . . .

Look for updates in a later post.  Going to try and resolve this somehow, in the next few months.