If you’re an artist, then you’ve probably had an experience like this – you make a really cool-looking drawing or painting, and then you either scan or digitally photograph it, only to find that the digital copy doesn’t look quite as good as the physical copy does.
It’s a strange experience, so I thought that I’d try to think about some of the possible reasons why this can happen. Here is what I came up with after a few minutes of general thought:
1) Too much or too little digital editing: Often, when an image is scanned, it can look slightly “faded”. This can be corrected by opening the image using an editing program (if you don’t have one, there’s a freeware open-source program called “GIMP” [GNU Image Manipulation Program] that can be useful) and adjusting the brightness/contrast levels in the image until it looks less faded. A good rule is to lower the brightness and increase the contrast.
However, heavy digital editing of an image can also affect some of the more subtle details in a picture (eg: slight variations in colour may be lost if the contrast and/or brightness level is too high or too low etc..) too. Likewise, strong adjustments to the brightness/contrast levels can also expose every small flaw in your image (eg: small unpainted areas etc…). Although this can be corrected with brush/pencil/ colour picker tools in most editing programs, this can take a bit of practice to get right.
So, too much or too little digital editing can also make your picture look better on the page than on the screen. But, just remember that if you’re actually selling the original of a painting or a drawing, then any digital copy of it posted online must be an accurate reflection of the original work.
2) Lighting: Although I’m not an expert on photography (and have relatively little experience with it), I do know that lighting can seriously affect the quality and appearance of a photo.
So, if you digitally photograph your artwork, then it may be worth experimenting with different types of lighting (or doing some research on lighting), to see if you can find a better type of lighting.
Even though some of the problems caused by too much or too little lighting can probably be corrected with digital editing, you’ll probably end up with a better photo if you sort out the lighting whilst actually taking the photo.
3) Technology: Put simply, even modern technology has it’s limitations. After all, colours can only be displayed on computer screens using a combination of red, green and blue (compared to how we view and mix colours in real life). Computer screens also have a limited display resolution too.
Likewise, all cameras and scanners have a physical limit on the resolution of any images that they take. Likewise, file size might also play a role in the image resolutions that you use. So, a lot of extremely fine, close-up details (eg: the texture of the paper, ultra-subtle colour variations etc..) might be lost in an “ordinary” digital photo or scan of your artwork.
In addition to this, your choice of file format will have some effect on the quality of the image. For example, JPEG images can have a slight blurriness to them when viewed in close-up (albeit with the considerable benefit of a lower file size). However, Bitmap images are significantly crisper when viewed in close-up – although the file size is often significantly larger due to the lack of image compression.
4) Physicality: An actual painting or drawing obviously has a very physical quality to it – the paper has a certain texture, the paint or ink has a particular smell etc… After all, it’s a blank piece of paper or canvas that you have sat in front of and physically altered for several minutes, hours etc..
All of this additional stuff is lost when an image is converted into a digital file. So, although the picture itself might not change much, it might seem slightly different without all of this additional physical stuff.
Likewise, when you are actually drawing or painting, you are probably looking at the picture from a very slightly different angle to the angle of your computer screen. For example, I tend to balance my sketchbook on my knee whilst drawing or painting, which means that I view the picture at a slight angle. However, when the image is scanned, it is seen from a “straight-on” perspective.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂