Photographing Art for Print Publication: Part 1

by Tracey Benson

Photographing art will be a trilogy of articles from regular contributor Garry Benson. This first post is also a playful and whimsical personal journey into understanding photographic techniques for documenting artworks. Garry talks about his background and career as an artist and cinematographer, sharing how this experience has informed his expansive knowledge of photography. We hope you enjoy these new posts.

Photographing Art Part 1
by Garry Benson

This series of three articles covers all the technical steps for successfully taking shots of artwork suitable for publication. What does this have to do with travel? Well, most of us spend our travel time visiting art galleries or buying art so for insurance purposes learning to shoot good images is important.

SLOW FADE TO BLACK. PLAY SOPPY MUSIC (Borodin’s Nocturne – String Quartet No. 2 in D Major).

At the tender age of 15 I had just started Year 11 at Kedron State High School when I was offered a job as a trainee cinematographer with a film production company in Brisbane. Back then everything was shot, processed and printed on 35mm film, so I had to learn the whole process. When I asked my boss how to become a good photographer he said ‘Take lots & lots of photos and then assess them.’

© Garry Benson

© Garry Benson

Do you remember the film ‘Newsfront’ about early Aussie newsreel camera men? Well, that was my life. When we shot newsreels for Cinesound News we had ‘short ends’ of 35mm film that I could load on to film cassettes and use. And every frame I shot was critiqued in painful detail by both the film editor in Sydney and my boss in Brisbane.

© Garry Benson

© Garry Benson

A couple of years later at 17 I inveigled my way on to the sets of Theatre Royal & Bandstand at BTQ Channel 7, shooting stills of people like George Wallace Jr, Patsy Ann Noble, Bill Thorpe & the Aztecs, Col Joye & the Joy Boys and Little Pattie. I sold prints to the artists and to magazines like TV Week.


© Garry Benson

© Garry Benson

© Garry Benson

Sunday Mail, 24 June 1989

In the 1980s I’d returned to Australia after a number of years working in film, TV and as a photojournalist in SE Asia, the Middle East & Europe. I was teaching photo-journalism and TV production in Adelaide, writing articles for magazines such as Craft Australia, Craft Arts, Pottery Australia and American Crafts magazine. I was editing & designing a magazine called SA Crafts – oh, and I was also weaving & exhibiting haute lisse tapestries. One day I had a call from a young lady called Janet De Boer who was about to launch her magazine into colour production – could I help?

© Garry Benson

Cover: Textile Fibre Forum

‘Gazza, why can’t I take photos with my little digital camera that are good enough for publication in the magazine if I have an emergency?’ asked my editor Janet De Boer of Textile magazine, showing me one of her shots. ‘How do I know if my shots are good enough?’

Technically speaking Janet would just get away with her shot, as her camera is 10 megapixels. I checked the images on my Photoshop program and the image was a JPEG, 3.1 MB, 180 dpi and 3648 x 2736 pixel size image, suitable for a medium size image in the magazine. When converted to a TIFF file that include all the CMYK or RGB channels the image would be around 28 MB.

The other problem is that any shot taken with a digital camera will need at least some degree of colour correction and exposure balance in a digital editing program – a task undertaken religiously by Janet’s designer Paul if the submitted image isn’t already colour & exposure correct.

For most artists there are two options – take the photo yourself or get a professional to do it. And ouch, yes, professional photographers do cost a lot of money. But think about this – how much would you have to pay to get your work seen by thousands of people throughout Australia & NZ? It’s a no-brainer!

Let’s say you want to take your own shots, how do you go about it? Well, just as in life there are people who chose VHS over Beta video systems; Mac over Windows or Nikon over Canon (a personal bias) there are two options – people with access to editing software (such as Photoshop) and people without that access. Photoshop costs anywhere from $1000 to $6000 and you need a computer to use it.

And when you take a digital photo for publication you need to have a file of a certain technical standard. That’s a TIFF file, 300 dpi, at least 3000 pixels on the widest side and approximately 15-20 megabytes.

It’s literally impossible to work this out without software, so below is a guide to help you choose whether your camera is up to the challenge – but remember, the above rules are essential for printing quality images in a magazine:

Megapixels vs. Maximum Image Size
Megapixels Pixel Resolution*
4 2464 x 1632
6 3008 x 2000
8 3264 x 2448
10 3872 x 2592
12 4290 x 2800
16 4920 x 3264
35mm film, scanned 5380 x 3620

*Typical Resolution. Actual pixel dimensions vary from camera to camera.
**At 150ppi, printed images will have visible pixels and details will look “fuzzy”.

You’ll notice that the good old 35mm slide has a much higher resolution rate than any of the above digital cameras. Even though ‘dots per inch’ (dpi) and ‘pixels per inch’ (ppi) are used interchangeably by many, they are not the same thing.

Part 2
Looks at this conundrum – ‘In reality it’s not the camera that makes a good picture, it’s the photographer. You can buy the most expensive camera on the market, but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll take better pictures.’