Photographing Your Art

  • One of the issues I've noticed is that, for the most part, artists don't know how to photograph their artwork. Taking good quality shots of your art is important when you post them online and even more important if you are entering shots of your art for a juried art show. I was trained as a professional photographer and two-dimensional shooting was part of our training. I'll give you two approaches to shooting your art. First, the low-tech way and then the "proper" way.

    Low Tech Approach

    To shoot your art "low tech", you need a diffuse light source and the best one around is the sun. When the sky is overcast, but still relatively bright, it's the best time to photograph your art. The following steps are taken outside in the diffuse light.

    1. Your painting must be hung at right angles to the ground and at 90 degrees to the camera.
    2. Your camera must be parallel to the painting. It can fall out of parallel in two directions, tilting up-and-down as well as right-or-left.
    3. Once you have it parallel, it should be centred on the painting top-to-bottom.To achieve all this you need a reasonably good tripod.
    4. Use a medium to long telephoto setting on your zoom lens. The wider angle the setting is on your lens, the more distortion you introduce into the photo. This means being at least 3 feet away from the photo, if not further.
    5. If you have control over the camera's exposure system, to get the right exposure, use a "grey" card from a photo shop and set your exposure by putting the grey card in place of the painting and filling the frame of your camera with the image of the grey card and taking a manual reading. Manually set your camera to that reading and use it for your shots.
    6. Use a shutter release cable to minimize camera shake, or if you don't have a cable release, use a remote control or the camera's built in timer to take the picture.
    7. Open the resulting shots in a photo editing software on your computer and crop the shot so that no frame or background shows. Always crop so that you only show the painting and nothing else.
    8. In your photo editing software, make a copy of your cropped shot (In case you mess up the original) and adjust the colour balance, brightness and contrast until you get the best image you can. (Don't obsess over this, as every monitor will show the picture differently.)
    9. Save the final photo as a TIFF file for future use and then save a copy of the tiff as a JPEG file for submission. Repeated saving of jpeg files will deteriorate your photo. Each time you save a jpeg the software throws away a little data, making the copy slightly lower in quality. Tiff files do not throw away data.

    The Proper Way

    This is the "proper" way to shot a 2-dimensional object such as a painting. Most painters don't have the time or equipment to do it properly, however, this is the way it's done in a studio.

    1. Your painting must be hung at right angles to the floor and at 90 degrees to the camera.
    2. Your camera must be parallel to the painting. It can fall out of parallel in two directions, tilting up-and-down as well as right-or-left.
    3. Once you have it parallel, it should be centred on the painting top-to-bottom.To achieve all this you need a reasonably good tripod.
    4. For lighting, you need two "soft" light sources at 45 degrees to the painting surface, one to each side. In a studio, they would use "soft boxes" to diffuse the light. If you don't have matching soft boxes, you might aim the lights away from the paintings, onto large white boards, to soften and reflect (45°) the light back to the painting. (Turn off all other light sources in order to minimize reflections, colour shifts and exposure shifts.)
    5. On the camera, use a medium focal length "prime" lens. Medium focal length would be around an 80mm, although with most digital cameras a 50mm will do. A prime lens is a non-zoom lens. Zoom lenses introduce distortion. With a zoom lens, even if you do everything else right, the photo will either bulge out or compress in from the middle of sides and top&bottom. Prime lenses do this much less.
    6. Shoot from at least 3 feet away from the painting, preferably further.
    7. To get the right exposure, either use a separate light meter, or buy a "grey" card from a photo shop and set your exposure by putting the grey card in place of the painting and filling the frame of your camera with the image of the grey card and taking a manual reading. Manually set your camera to that reading and use it for your shots.
    8. Use a shutter release cable to minimize camera shake, or if you don't have a cable release, use a remote control or the camera's built in timer to take the picture.
    9. Open the resulting shots in a photo editing software on your computer and crop the shot so that no frame or background shows. Always crop so that you only show the painting and nothing else.
    10. In your photo editing software, make a copy of your cropped shot (In case you mess up the original) and adjust the colour balance, brightness and contrast until you get the best image you can. (Don't obsess over this, as every monitor will show the picture differently.)
    11. Save the final photo as a TIFF file for future use and then save it again as a JPEG file for submission. Repeated saving of jpeg files will deteriorate your photo. Each time you save a jpeg the software throws away a little data, making the copy slightly lower in quality. Tiff files do not throw away data.

    You might not go to all this bother if you are just taking snaps to go on OPAS, however, if you want to reproduce your paintings from photos for printing and re-sale, doing it this way will give you the highest quality results.

    Cheers,

    Keith

1 comment
  • KeithThirgood
    KeithThirgood I've had a couple of members ask how to photograph their art, so I pointed them here. It's important to take good shots of your art as it is the visual representative of what you do. Bad shots undermine the value of your work. Take the time to do them right.
    October 6, 2013