As photographers you will have to know how to photograph your art and how to do so correctly. Many creatives might think it’s tempting to just snap a some pictures of your art on your phone and that’ll do it, but as a professional artist, you really need to be able to share high quality photos of your artwork in your online portfolio website.
To accurately reflect your artwork and give a unique impression of yourself and your skills, your online portfolios and social media platforms need to represent you with high-quality images.
Indeed, I doubt you want to spend any unnecessary time working on your art and yet lose out on opportunities. To exhibit your work at galleries or publications your images need to communicate quality.
For many people, their first introduction to your work as an artist will be online. That’s why it’s important that you get familiar with photographing your images, since you are in fact, the photographer.
There are even photography opportunities where galleries hire photographers to document their artwork for sale or online purposes. Knowing this skill is essential not only for yourself as an artist, but also for acquiring a possible side income.
Here’s everything you need to know to get started with capturing high quality images which you can then use for purposes like presenting your art online and submitting your images to competitions and grant applications.
Here are our 9 tricks and tips for using cameras for photographing artwork.
9 Tips To Photograph Your Art
1. Should you have a specific camera to photograph your art?
At this point it goes without saying that you will be using the camera you’ve started to photograph as an artist. Can you use the same camera to document your artwork for reproduction? If it’s a quality camera, then yes, but using point-and-shoot cameras or anything similar – is a no.
You can use a high-end smart phone for images that are shown on your social media or platforms that don’t require large file sizes or high level of detail.
However, the best camera for art prints is either a DSLR or a mirrorless camera.
2. Scanning or photographing your artwork?
There are some factors that go into deciding whether you should scan or photograph your artwork. The biggest reason for this is the size of your artwork; can you fit it into a scanner and if there’s texture you want to capture.
Generally scanners do best in documenting smaller art pieces. There are large scanners too, but acquiring one or will be expensive. You can of course scan a large artwork in sections and the stitch them together digitally, but considered the amount of work that goes into this, it’s not the option that’s recommended.
3. Start with a simple background
You’ll start by planning your background to better bring out your work more clearly. Location is essential when documenting your work for reproduction.
The best setup for this would be a neutral colored wall, or ideally a studio space. Bright colors may distract from your artwork or even alter the color balance of your final photo.
The background should be as clean as possible, to keep the focus in the main subject – your artwork.
4. Artwork looks best when you hang it on a wall
The most professional look can be acquired when hanging your artwork on the wall. With framed photographic works leaning on the wall is also a nice touch to present your works with more of relaxed touch. Make sure the wall is neutral colored and otherwise clean.
You can also photograph your works on a table, leaning against the wall. Just make sure there are no excessive shadows around your work.
Use a level to ensure that your work will hang straight if you want to avoid creating more work for yourself in post production.
Great idea is to use the cameras timer settings, so that when you’re pressing the shutter it won’t result in any blurriness from possible movement.
5. Set the lighting
The most crucial parts in documenting your artwork is the right kind of lighting. In order photograph your work without any glare, make sure you have indirect lighting source and they are placed about 1-1,1,5m away from your artwork.
The best lighting setting is to setup two identical light sources. Both should be positioned in a 45-degree angle to your artwork to have the light fall evenly. This way you avoid creating hard shadows on your work. To make the light source softer, just diffuse it by shooting it through a white canvas like sheets or similar materials. Another way would be to bounce it off the wall.
Natural light can also work when documenting your artwork – Make sure you have your natural light source coming behind you and your camera, so it will fall softly on your work.
You can also just place your work to lean on the wall and let the other side be lighted with natural light and for the other side just add something where the light will bounce off from, like a foam board or a reflector if you have one. Again, make sure also these light sources are positioned in the 45-degree angles.
When using this lighting setup, you will reduce any texture that’s visible in your work, so reconsider using this lighting if texture is what’s needed in your documentation. For better texture visibility, let the other of these two light sources be brighter than the other.
Outside locations are always interesting, if you can make them work for yourself lighting wise. Cloudy days are perfect for even lighting since the light will be consistently diffused across your artwork.
6. Make sure you have the right camera settings
It might be tempting to just use the auto settings on your camera, but for better results, you might want to make sure the final image of your work is properly photographed.
Here are the main settings you should adjust to make sure you end up with high-quality images.
One of the three important settings ISO number. ISO measures the speed at which each image is captured. ISO tends to range from 100 to 1600, with the lower numbers resulting in the cleanest results.
A high ISO number means that your camera will be more sensitive to light, which will give you a grainy photo that won’t be the quality you’ll need when it comes to reproducing your original art as larger prints.
Another setting that you should get familiar with is the f-stop, also known as aperture. Your camera’s aperture settings will probably range from f/2.8 to f/22.
If the f-stop is lower, it will let more light in. This will also result in your images having a shallow depth of field – where some parts of the image will be blurry while others are sharp. Which is not ideal when you want to present your work as detailed and clear as possible.
When you adjust the f-stop to be higher, you will get an image where the whole image is in focus. For photographing art, choose an aperture setting that results in a more narrow lens opening like f/8, f/11, or f/16.
Try out which settings works best for you and your artwork.
The final setting that you need to worry about when photographing artwork is white balance.
Not having the correct white balance in your settings will result in too warm or incorrect colored white hues in your image, and it can distort the feeling of the image and your work.
You can choose from having auto white balance, where the camera will just automatically clean the whites correctly or then setting it yourself specifically for the scene you’re in such as fluorescent light, flash, daylight, cloudy etc.
Again here, like in the previous settings, do choose the custom white balance to better adjust the settings for your specific needs.
7. Use a tripod to achieve stable results
When photographing large artworks, using a tripod is highly recommended. In order to have a steady tripod, you can place some heavy bags if necessary to keep it still and sturdy.
When you have your art on the wall, position your camera exactly parallel to your work. Have the camera facing the exact centre of your artwork, both vertically and horizontally.
To make sure there are no movement in the camera, try using the cameras self-timer setting. By the time the shutter releases, the vibration should be gone.
8. Tilt your camera to avoid glares or reflections
Try avoid using the wide angle lens when photographing your art, since it will distort the proportions of the work and the final image will look unproportioned.
For best results, the artwork should be flat on the ground, with the camera held above it at exactly at a 90-degree angle to the ground. Make sure both the camera and the photographer aren’t casting any shadows on the artwork below.
For point-and-shoot digital cameras make sure you zoom in on the image (the zoomed out setting is almost always too wide angle). For 35 mm cameras, somewhere in the 35–70 mm range should be adequate.
9. Finalize it by editing your work
Once you’re done photographing your art, you will always want to do some editing afterwards, just to make sure your images are sized correctly. You want the final image is the most accurate possible representation of your original art piece.
This is where photo editing software like Photoshop and Lightroom comes into play. Using an editing software to edit contrast, shadows and white balance can save images that you thought you were not able to use.
Does the images look to dark or over-exposed? Look at your artwork and then look at your images – this way you can make the necessary changes.
With practice and knowing how to read the light and adjusting your settings the right way, you’ll be able to produce high-quality images of your artwork. This is a sure way to set you apart from the artists that are not skilled in documenting their work.
And now you’re done and can start uploading your images to your online portfolio.
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