Do it yourself - Take your own slides

Large drawings, paintings, and sculpture do not scan well. Taking your own 35mm color slides makes your work portable, scanable, and gives you a permanent record of your art. At the University of Wisconsin, I was taught how to shoot my own slides. Here are my tips on how to do this at Cogswell.


  • Tungsten light set
    There are 4 sets of lights on reserve in the library. I think they are tungsten elements, not halogen elements. If you are not taking a class with Gary Burnett, Bruce (the librarian) will not let you check out the lights. Find Gary and get his permission to check out a set. The set is heavy, comes with spare bulbs. There are 4 lights, use them all. Using 2 is not bright enough.
  • 400 speed tungsten slide film
    You need to shoot indoors; 100 is ok for still indoor targets, but 400 is faster. Get tungsten slide film; shooting on normal daylight slide film with tungsten lights tints your film brown. If the camera store you're at doesn't stock any, check out Keeble & Shucht in Palo Alto.

  • 35mm camera
    You need your own camera, with a light meter. Make sure you know how to change the F-stop (aperture - sic) and read the light meter. My 35mm camera has an automatic compensation mode that times each exposure relative to the current F-stop and amount of light. Manual cameras may not have this.

  • Tripod
    Mount your camera on a tripod to keep it steady. Since you're shooting indoors, the camera will take some long exposures. You don't want to blur your slide by moving while it's shooting.

  • Remote shutter release
    Whether it's an electronic remote control or a cable, a remote lets you take each shot without shaking the camera. You mounted your camera on a tripod to keep it steady, why take more chances of blurring your slide?

  • Easel
    I took my slides in the figure drawing classroom across from the Premiere lab, next to the SGI lab. There are plenty of easels in there to mount your work on. Set one up against the chalkboard, and set up your lights and camera around it.

  • Your art
    You brought your art, right?

  • Dark, quiet room
    Turn out all the lights in the room except for the tungsten lights. Flourescent lights (standard overhead classroom lights) will tint your slides green, ruining them. Sure you can salvage them in Photoshop, but that's extra work. You want a nice, evenly distributed and controlled light on your work, so block out daylight as well (wait until after dark to shoot, or find a room with no windows). You don't want people walking in or adding light to yours.


  • Set up
    Lock the door to your room. Set up each of the lights on a tripod. Plug them in, and turn off the overhead lights. Make sure any windows are covered. Set up your easel with a piece of art. Mount your camera on your tripod, and position the camera so you can fill the whole frame of the slide with your art. If your work is portrait oriented, turn it sideways so that its aspect matches that of the slide. It's easier to turn your work sideways than it is to keep moving the camera. Make sure the lens is parallel to the art. Crank the height of the camera until the lens is centered vertically. Make sure the camera is also centered horizontally. This keeps wierd perspective warping (parallax) from ruining your slide. Focus the camera. Position the lights so that they light your work evenly. Put 2 lights on either side of the easel. Lights need to be at a 45 degree angle from the center of your art. Keep lights between the camera and the art, but out of the frame. You don't want to cast shadows onto the art.
  • Bracketing
    Check the light meter. It indicates the F-stop you want to use. To get the best slides, you will take 3 slides for each piece. Take one slide at the F-stop lower than the light meter's reading. Take one slide at the recommended F-stop. Take the third slide at the F-stop higher than the reading. Bracketing your slides allows for errors in the exposure time.

That's all I know. If you have tips, let me know so I can take better slides.

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