Studio Photography: Copying Artwork

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by John H. Siskin

Framed Artwork
Framed Artwork
© John H. Siskin
All Rights Reserved
You can use any lens to do copy work, but if you want to have a high quality copy some lenses are better. You should probably avoid zoom lenses, they do not flat objects as well as fixed focal length lenses, and they often do not focus close enough. One inexpensive alternative is 50mm lens. The best lenses for this work are macro lenses; they are designed to shoot a flat field. I use an older Nikon 55mm f3.5 macro lens. It does not have any automatic features when I use it with my camera, but those features donít do me a lot of good with copy work. I have exposure information since I used the meter to set my lights.

Autofocus often doesnít work well on artwork, since there may not be enough contrast to focus on, and I donít want to reposition my camera to focus. I usually place a coin or other object on the original to focus on and focus by eye when I use the macro lens. I can check my focus on the computer.

Of course, when I am using a film camera it is a little easier to focus, since the viewfinder is designed for manual focus. One of the other problems with focus is that I have to stand on a stepladder to focus. I wouldnít have to do that if I shot the original mounted on a wall, but it is much harder to get the sensor parallel to the original!

The key to doing good copy work is to have enough respect for the original to want to do a good job, and to be careful with the work.

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About Author / Instructor / Photographer, John H. Siskin
Photography Instructor: John H. SiskinJohn Siskin is a commercial and fine art photographer who makes architectural, portrait and macro images. He has worked for General Motors and Disney Studios. He teaches the BetterPhoto course An Introduction to Photographic Lighting and is the author of the book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers.

In addition, he teaches studio lighting black and white photography at Los Angeles Mission College. His studio is in Reseda California and more of his work can be seen at

His work has been part of many exhibits. His photographs have been shown at the Brand Library, 2nd City Art Gallery, Haroldís Gallery, Farmani Gallery, and The Atelier. He has been a participant in the Valley Studio Tour several times.

John has published quite a number of technical articles about photography. His articles have appeared in Photo Techniques, View Camera, Studio Photography and others. He has written about photographic lighting, building lenses, framing, photographic lab work, building cameras, as well as some more speculative photographic subjects. Since he is so well versed in photographic subjects, he is often hired as a consultant by businesses.