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Why Photograph your Art? Instead, Use a Scanner and Photoshop Elements 6

Published May 29th 2008

For years I’ve been photographing my paintings as they’re completed. My primary goal has always been to have good documentation of all my art, particularly of any sold paintings; but on occasion I’ve also submitted these images to juried shows or art galleries and reproduced them as a prints.

The problem: poor image quality and resolution

When I first started taking photos of my paintings, I did it myself. Sometimes it went well, other times the results were marginal. As a result, I began to send them to a local photographer who specializes in photographing 2D art.

Typically I’d ask him to produce half a dozen 35mm slides from each painting, and if I thought a specific painting was particularly good I’d order a 3×5 inch transparency as well. The downside to this method was the wait—it often took a week (or longer) before I could show off my newest paintings.

All this changed as shows and galleries started accepting digital images. I’d already been using digital images for online galleries, and for my own website, so once again I started shooting my own paintings, this time with a digital camera.

That worked OK, but with the recent development of inexpensive, high-quality online print-making services like Imagekind, I found that I need to have an even higher resolution image of my paintings available (my digital camera is only 5 megapixels).

My original photographer has offered to shoot digital images for me with his 10 megapixel camera, and several times I’ve taken him up on that offer. However, the price is still very high, and there’s always an extended waiting time while he doctors the scanning process and the finished image.

The solution: a scanner and Photoshop Elements 6

I’d already invested in a quality scanner with high scan resolution to turn my old 35mm slides and transparencies into great digital images, so I started using that on my finished paintings as well.

For paintings smaller than 8-1/2 x 14 inches I can scan them directly on my own scanner. I have done this successfully for several 8 x 10 portraits, and with the right software, there’s also a simple way to do the same thing for larger paintings.

For several years I have been using Adobe Photoshop Elements to adjust my digital images. Elements has a Panorama feature which allows several digital images to be automatically stitched together to create a single larger image. I’ve used this quite a few times even though (until recently) the process was a little clumsy and the results were often not perfect.

The full version of Adobe Photoshop (CS3), while much more expensive, has a similar yet upgraded feature that produces much better results. And, if you know how, you can also knit together images manually in Photoshop.

Fortunately for the rest of us, Adobe’s newest version of Photoshop Elements (6) now includes the exact same Panorama feature that’s available in Photoshop CS3.

I’ve used this improved software to process several of my larger works with great success, taking anywhere from 2 to 6 scans to capture entire paintings.

Keep in mind, it’s necessary to overlap each scan by at least 30 percent to get a good knit. In addition, make sure to set the scans at 400 DPI—that’s enough for an excellent quality print reproduction at more than full size.

The resulting files are rather large, but on my 1.6 GHz iMac with 2 GB of RAM the “knitting together” step only takes about five minutes.

After the Panorama process knits all the scanned files into a composite image, you’ll need to crop them which will also slightly reduce the size of the archive file.

Right now Amazon has a pretty good deal on both Photoshop Elements 6 for Macs and Photoshop Elements 6 for Windows, but if you want to try it out before you buy, you can download a free 30-day trial version at www.adobe.com/downloads.

I did this myself before upgrading to the latest version of Elements, and it definitely made my purchasing decision easier. Enjoy!

Read additional articles at at Peter’s blog or check out his art prints at Imagekind.

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