Or How to Photograph Collages...

Admittedly, this is not the most entertaining post I’ve ever written, but it is informative—especially if you like to see BTS (behind-the-scenes) stuff or want to learn how to photograph something outside your current sphere of knowledge. If geeking out on technical stuff isn’t your thing, feel free to skip to the next blog article :-).

Recently I received a cryptic text from my son's former piano teacher, “Please call when good for you. Photography question.” Nan and I hadn’t chatted in ages, so I hopped on a call with her. To my surprise, I learned she’s been working on writing and “illlustrating” childrens’ books. Cool!

“Illustrating” deserves to be in quotes because what Nan was actually doing was creating the artwork with paper collage: amazing, creative, intricately put-together collages. Each page was a masterpiece to behold. In fact, I was afraid to hold any of them—they were so intricate. Each tiny piece of paper was glued securely to the page.

When I asked her what kind of glue she used, she looked at me quizzically (like what planet was I from?) and simply replied, “Glue stick.” Glue stick?? Really? That’s incredible. Do you know what it would look like if I tried to glue all those tiny pieces of paper down with a glue stick? Like a five-year-old had done it. I can’t imagine tackling that project with a glue stick. I was impressed with her patience and tenacity!

Nan had tried scanning the finished pages but the scanner would cast strange shadows as the light drum passed over the artwork. She then asked another photographer to do it, but those images didn’t turn out well either. I knew at first glance, this was going to be a technically challenging project. The light had to cast enough of a shadow to show the layers and intricate detail without distorting the artwork with weird shadows.

I brought home two of the three books Nan had finished and got started putting together a “studio”. First, I set up some off-camera flash using my Speedlight and a shoot-thru umbrella on a light stand. Next, I needed a tabletop easel to hold the art work level. So I borrowed one from an art teacher at school. Then I mounted my camera on a tripod, taking extra care to make sure the camera and easel were parallel or the images would appear skewed. Handling the pages with gloves, I set up the first image and fired off a few shots.

And, honestly, they weren’t that great.

Hmm. This is when it’s so valuable to have a mentor. I gave him a ring and sent him some BTS images. A brief conversation and he pointed me in the right direction: I needed a white deflector (foam core) on the right to bounce the light back onto the artwork. And the oak table needed to be covered in black. Next, I needed more light, so I set up one of my Alien Bees in place of the Speedlight and used the largest modifier I could. Wow—that made all the difference. Now I was pleased with the results.

behind the scene set up

A behind-the-scenes shot of the set-up for photographing these illustrations. The light stand with light and modifier (out of the frame) is off to the left.

I went through and carefully photographed each page. In the post-processing phase, I gave minimal adjustments to the levels and pushed the contrast. Once I was pleased with the results in Lightroom, I took each image into Photoshop and clone stamped along the edges. Although the artwork was parallel from the camera, it still wasn’t perfect. So instead of cropping out too much of the image to make the edges clean, I opted to fill in the edges.

Once I had all the pages done, I exported them, renaming them in page order and uploaded them to an online gallery where Nan and her publisher could access them and download them when ready. Nan was very pleased with the end result. And I can’t wait to see them printed, bound and sitting on the shelf in a bookstore! How cool will that be??

Here's a sampling of pages from her book, "Bob the Bee." Bob is a little different than the other bees—he's blue, you see. Find out how he makes new friends and make a difference in the lives of those around him when this book hits the shelves. I'll keep you posted!