Reprinted from Mission Art Project blog. MAP, for short, is my thesis project.
Lily and I did some test shots in Oakland last weekend. This was our second attempt. The first time we took a few pictures of a mural across the street from the university. We went in with nothing but a camera and good intentions. As you can guest, the mural shoot didn’t go very well, but we used it as a learning opportunity, took a lot of notes and a few weeks later I wrote up strict guidelines: “What equipment to bring when capturing artwork.”
1 tape measure, 1 roll of masking tape, 1 camera flash (attachment), 1 lens guard (attachment), 1 portable microphone, 1 microphone windscreen (audio equipment is unique to our project), 1 digital camera (can’t forget that), 2 lenses (standard zoom and 50mm lens), 1 tripod (6-7 feet?), 1 stick of chalk, 1 notepad, 1 ladder (if applicable), 1 platform (if applicable) and a stack of business cards because taking pictures of a persons building will arouse suspicion. Business cards will help you look legit.
Next I came up with guidelines on “How to capture artwork.”
1. Scout the art piece first
- Plan the shoot in advance.
- Pay attention to the lighting and the time of day.
- Prepare to take pictures when the lighting is good but beware of too much light
- Use the flash when necessary.
- Anticipate challenges. Write them down or take photos of potential obstructions.
2. Measure the vertical distance b/w the art piece and the camera before your first shot.
- Maintain this distance if you’re taking pictures in sections.
- Ideally, the distance should be long enough where you don’t have to angle the camera to capture the intended image.
3. Mark the spot of the camera/tripod location w/ chalk or masking tape.
- Keep the horizontal line as straight as possible while taking pictures in sections. This will make the image quality consistent, and it will help limit image manipulation in Photoshop.
- There might be a camera feature to make this process easier.
4. Draw a horizontal line parallel to the art piece w/ chalk or preferably masking tape.
- The camera should not go above of below the horizontal line.
- Don’t worry about measuring the distance b/w sections, as it will be too cumbersome. This will get sorted out in post-production.
5. Write down the lens measurements and the vertical distance.
- The camera could be repositioned for a number of reasons (traffic, wind, people on the street, you may want to take a break). This will make it easier to get back to your position and it will save you time.
6. Always position the camera at the dead center of the artwork
- Using the tape measure Measure the length of the art piece.
- Position the camera at its mid-level (i.e., if the art piece is 6 feet the camera should be adjusted to 3 feet).
7. For large pieces, take photos in sections.
- You will put the sections together in post-production.
8. Film the art piece for 60 seconds.
- For each shot, take your photographs and film it for 60 seconds.
- Keep the camera straight.
9. Take a picture of the entire piece in one shot, if possible.
- Using a 50mm lens to capture an art piece in one shot is always preferable.
- The image quality on a 50mm lenses are excellent.
10. Don’t do any of this alone.
- Bring a partner with you.
- Establish roles ahead of time.
By following these guidelines results of our last shoot was night and day. We captured much better images and because we had a nice blueprint on how to do it we did one extra mural before we went home. But, it wasn’t all roses. We did have three takeaways from Sunday’s shoot.
One, the mural we shot is across the street from a supermarket. During the week the supermarket isn’t very busy but Sundays are when everyone does their shopping. So, the street traffic was much higher than it was the first day I visited. Another this. I didn’t realize that the mural was next door to the storage house of the grocery store. It isn’t very noticeable during the week but on a busy day people were coming in and out of the place every 15 minutes. What did we learn? The day you scout should ideally be the day you shoot.
Two, when capturing the second mural — a long, beautiful piece behind an Oakland gym — we realized a problem on the 4th section. The angle of the shot was off. We realized that the ground dipped a little. Essentially, we were walking uphill and every time we moved the camera our shot was off. What did we learn? Measure from the highest point of the artwork to the bottom. The angle of the ground may change but the top mostly stays the same. You will still have to adjust your shot but your reference point will be more reliable. Be prepared to do some cropping in post-production.
Three, at some point during the second art piece we realized that we didn’t need to measure distance and height. When we looked at the artwork more closely we noticed that a pair of eyes were painted at the center of the wall. Of course, we thought, a good artists will be cognizant of the center of their canvas. Also, the artwork was done in a parking lot so there were white dividers on the ground to indicate parking sections. We used the dividers the way we would use tape measure and chalk. Finally, the piece was done on a brick wall, so instead of measuring the artwork we started counting the bricks. If a section seemed higher than the other counting the bricks gave us a clear way to measure the difference in height. What did we learn? When possible, use your environment.