Documenting your work

Throughout your time on the course you will be expected to document your work and keep a record of developments in your practice. There are both practical and conceptual considerations in documenting work and you should discuss this with your tutors. Below are some notes to offer you some advice and examples of how to set about it.

Advice On Documenting your work with Slides

35 MM slides are still the most commonly used form of documentation that you will be asked to submit for “open exhibitions’, MA applications and project proposals. You will achieve better quality images for printing if you make high quality scans from slides rather than using images taken with an average quality digital camera so slides are recommended for images that you want to reproduce in a catalogue.

These notes offer basic advice on documenting your work with slides.

All films have an ASA/ISO rating which ranges from 25-1600. This indicates how sensitive the film is to light. A fast film: 400-1600 is used for low light levels but may give a grainy effect, while a slow film 25-100 is good for strong light levels.

For good quality slides a 200 ASA Kodak Ektachrome film is tolerant to most light situations provided that you use a tripod.

There are 2 main types of film- Daylight – colour balanced to daylight with a tendency towards a blue colour, and Tungsten- colour balanced for artificial light with a tendency towards a yellow/orange colour.

For indoor locations with some natural light chose a daylight film and take your slides around midday with all electric lights turned off using a tripod – only use a tungsten film if there is no natural light source available. There are filters that you can use and you may also choose to use lighting- you will need to seek technical advice for this.

Slide films are available as process paid or professional.

Process paid includes the cost of processing – however you are then reliant upon the post and the quality of film and processing may not be as good as having your film processed at a professional lab.

Professional films need to be developed in a lab through a process known as E6 processing- there are a number of such labs used by professional photographers that can process slides with a 2 hour service.

You can have your film “mounted” or “unmounted”. We recommend that you have them “unmounted” as you will probably have some wasted images and it is usually cheaper and quicker to do it yourself. A box of “Gepe” glassless slide mounts can be purchased at the WSA Shop costing about £6 for 100.


Some basic equipment you will need to take good slides of your work:

  • A single lens reflex camera with through the lens light metering
  • A tripod
  • A cable release
  • A half wide angle lens- for images that give the context of the work or for installation shots, NB a full wide angle lens has a distorting effect on the image



Things to consider when photographing your work.

  • The context of the work- in the case of a free standing object- can it be moved to a better and clearer location where bits of irrelevant background information will not intrude?
  • Take time to notice things like skirting boards painted black, tables and chairs in the way, etc. A tripod will help you “compose” your image so that you can minimise on clutter in your picture and offer you time to view the work from different angles. Remember that these slides may eventually be your only record of the work so it is worth spending a bit of time painting the walls where they are scuffed and messy!
  • For installation works you will need to take a number of images which best convey the viewers encounter with the work, images that give the sense of the work as a whole and its context and details that show the materiality and physicality of the work.
  • It may be useful to start by using a digital camera to take a number of images so that you can then select the best angles and compositions.



When you take a light reading through your camera lens it is an average reading of the light available. If you are photographing a dark object in a room with walls painted white it will assume that the white of the wall is a mid tone and your slide will therefore be too dark or under exposed. Similarly if there were a strong light as part of the work the light meter would under expose the rest of the image.

One way to avoid taking dark slides and the resulting waste of your time and money is to “bracket”. That is to take a number of photographs from the same position at varying light settings – you can either do this by adjusting the aperture or by adjusting the speed – adjusting the speed is usually less problematic.

The speed is usually changed by turning a small knob at the top of the camera with 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30, 60, 125, 250, 500, 1000 indicating fractions of a second so 1000 is fastest 1 is a whole second. If you adjust the speed to a slow speed (between 1-125) you will need a tripod and cable release otherwise you may have a blurry image from camera shake.


To bracket – Take one shot at the cameras favoured light reading (usually indicated by the arrow being in the middle of the light meter window) then one with the speed or aperture a stop up and one with it a stop below the reading suggested by the light metre.

If you are in very poor light you may need to change both the aperture and the time of the exposure. If you have an extreme situation – like the black object with white walls try taking the light reading from the object itself – take the camera up to the object and adjust the metre so that the reading is based on the object itself and then when back in position on the tripod take one at this reading then one down 1 stop and one down one more stop.

In an ideal world you would have at least 4 copies of each usable slide, so it would be an idea to take a roll of film bracketing the shots and taking a note of the settings and tripod positions and after processing this decide upon the best slides – then take 4 new slides of each shot at the correct setting – this could save you a lot of money as copies of slides cost much more – remember never send your only copy of a slide away for an application as you may never see it again..


Finally Keeping Slides

Keep your slides in plastic slide wallets in ring binder type folders in a clean dry dust free place. In an ideal world you would have one set of slides – (your master copies) in files which never leave your home and another few sets which can be used for applications or taken to show people.


OTHER MEANS OF DOCUMENTING YOUR WORKWhen documenting your work, you need to consider what is the most appropriate form. Apart from photography, there is a range of alternative methods of documenting your work. For example: Documenting your work using a video camera. This would be appropriate if you make large-scale installations; the work is kinetic or multi-media; the work is performance-based; the work is located on multiple sites; or it is time-based. When documenting using video you should think about how best to represent the work, this is something that should be consistent and relevant with your approach to making. You will need to test this out and discuss it with your tutors. On a practical level it is advisable to use a tripod to avoid camera shake and avoid using the zoom facility as this can make for uncomfortable viewing. Once you have recorded footage of your work with the video camera you can use the digital video editing facilities at WSA to create a concise, informative show-reel of the work. You can make multiple copies of this on VHS tape or DVD.  Creating a text-based document or file with visual images. This would be appropriate if you have made work that is performance-based, or publicly sited where the project has involved a dialogue with the public. For example, if the project involved recruiting individuals to work with you and this process was integral to the work, you could create a file that included all relevant correspondence (letters, emails etc) with those individuals. Creating a CD rom. Where your work has involved a range of media and approaches documenting your work on a cd rom with video clips, photographic images, texts and sound could be appropriate. A CD rom can provide a ‘map’ of the work and again you will need to consider the most appropriate way of representing the work- try not to get seduced by the technology to the detriment of your work.. Creating a blog or your own website.   

How to label slides


Slides and documentation of your artwork need to be labelled clearly and appropriately when you make an application of any kind. This should ensure that the recipient knows what they are looking at and that you receive your documentation back.

Unless an application requests a different format you should label your slides as follows.

First make sure the slide is the right way up then write with a permanent marker (fine nib):

  • Your name in block capitals at the top of the slide
  • Below this the title of the work in inverted commas and the year
  • A red dot on the bottom left hand corner

For an application where you are sending a number of slides you should write a number on each slide and include a typed slide list with corresponding numbers and titles and more specific details on the work such as size and medium, year that it was completed. Remember to check the application, as there might be a slide list as part of the application with a space for this and other more specific information.

If you are posting slides you are advised to use glassless slide mounts and to present them in a plastic slide wallet. You should write your name and contact details on the top strip of the slide wallet and post it with other information required, application form, etc (including a stamped addressed label for their return) in a sturdy padded envelope.






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