Saturday, April 18, 2009

Basic Tips for Photographing Art for the Technically Challenged

Digital cameras have been a revolution, and revelation for artists in particular. I'm sure you remember the film days; pay for film, and for processing, waiting sometimes days to get your slides back...and then crossing your finges, hoping, hoping, that the exposures were good, that the camera was in focus... that the lab didn't lose your film right before the big art show entry was due... (happens)!

There are times you will want and need to take your work to a professional photo studio. I trust you'll figure out those times. For the Daily Painter, though, who wishes to post a photo a day, there's nothing faster and more cost effective than taking your own. I've been shooting photos since my teens but I still consider my style 'point and shoot'. A true professional photographer would be appalled by my lack of camera knowledge. Still, after decades of hining my 'non-method', I may have some useful tips for the non technical among you-- and you know who you are!

Getting the most of out of your 'raw' photos
  • Photoshop can work wonders on many photos, but the better your original image is, the less editing, headaches and better final results you'll have.

  • Unless you have the luxury of professional photo lights set up somewhere in your studio, you'll probably get the best photos outdoors. You'll have to do some experimenting to find what works best for you, and it may vary somewhat by each painting.

  • If you're shooting watercolors, drawings, pastels, etc.: Photograph before framing with glass! You will save yourself so many headaches.

  • Try photographing in a variety of light settings; I'm fond of middle of day (that is, around 10 a.m. and again around 2 p.m.) 'bright shade'-- to minimize glare and 'hot spots' from brush strokes.

  • Try angling the painting into, and conversely, away from the sun; see which works the best to reduce glare. You might also experiment with the positioning of the canvas; lay it face up on a table or on the ground, hang it on a wall, or at an angle leaning on something-- all will provide somewhat different results-- and the background gets cropped in the end anyway.

  • Do try and square the edges of the painting in your viewfinder to minimize straightening issues in the editing phase. Take at least a half dozen images of any artwork and choose the best one to begin editing. Remember, there's no film to waste here-- go crazy.

  • Check the manual on your digital camera for ideas; while I'm not one to read cover to cover, there is always useful information that can be located through the index. If you are fortunate enough to have a camera with some built in settings*, try several of them on any single artwork and see which has the best look. *(mine has built color settings for Portrait, Landscape, a combo of the first two, Macro (close-up), Museum (very handy if you must shoot indoors), and a number of others.) Over time you'll discover which setting works best for your kind of artwork.

  • If you have a new camera or haven't experimented much with it, try shooting at every 'preset' it has. You might be surprised at what variety you'll get, and the perfect camera setting for you may be lurking somewhere in the presets.

  • Once you've gotten a good starting photo, check back to these tips for easy ways to make your photo the best it can be with Photoshop. A good photo WILL help you sell your art.

(note: if you have anything to add, or a link to your favorite method of photographing, I'd be happy to post it.)


  1. R, this is a great resource. Glad you set it up as a separate blog. I have one little contribution, for what it's worth.

    I discovered that my work photo'd best in full sun (to the complete horror of any professional, I'm sure). I started out with a black velvet background, recommended by Bob Burridge because it was supposed to kill any shadows that the art might create. That might be great for wrapped canvases, but for my flat watercolors, it was a problem -- I couldn't tape them to the velvet and it was so dark that the contrast with my work messed up the camera's light metering. I finally switched to a neutral gray matboard clipped to a slanted board. I can tape the unframed watercolor to it and it doesn't skew the light meter readings.

  2. Hi Chris, A great comment. Sunlight is often better than almost any indoor light, unless one has the luxury of studio lights and equipment(and any idea how to use them). The idea for a neutral gray background is very good!

  3. Such a timely post!
    I've been taking photos of my Acrylic mixed media artwork (it can be rather large in size). It seems I often lose something with the beauty of the color or definition from a distancce. I also struggle with lighting or getting a close up, it seems too confining of a depiction of the work. I want the potential buyer to feel like the photo is a fairly accurate vision.
    Yet, every once in a while it all comes together. I've had most of my luck with the setting on museum. I'll have to try a black velvet background. Great post and I will be back for more of your suggestions.