How to Photograph Your Artwork the Easy Way! Part 1

Not all artists are natural-born photographers. In fact, photography can seem really technical and overwhelming for many of us. Nevertheless, every serious artist should be documenting his or her artwork.

Getting good photos of your paintings can mean the difference of selling or not selling your art or finding the right gallery!

In this two part series, I will share my simple tips on to ’how to photograph your artwork the easy way’…

In the past, I paid thousands of dollars a year for professional slides of my paintings. Now with the ease of digital cameras, I am able to document my artwork myself and save money.  But before you get started taking pictures, there are a few basic things you should know about the camera, equipment and lighting.

CHOSE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT!

Camera:

  • First of all, there are many types of cameras to chose ranging from an inexpensive Point & Shoot for about $100 to an expensive digital Single Lens Reflex. Do your homework and find the one that will serve you best.
  • Right now I use two digital cameras, an older 35mm Canon EOS Rebel and a new Sony Cyber Shot with 12.1 megapixals.  I have to admit that my little point & shoot Sony is taking amazing pictures with great ease!
  • Keep this in mind – the 35mm-film-equivalent of 50mm to the medium telephoto equivalent of 100mm is the right zoom range for copying flat art. It is best to stick with a medium telephoto lens for 2 dimensional art. Wide angle lenses can work very well for sculpture.
  • Make sure your batteries are fully charged and don’t forget the ’memory card’!!!

Optical Zoom vs Digital Zoom:

  • Optical zoom uses the lens of the camera to enlarge and bring the subject closer.
  • Digital zoom is not really zoom. It enlarges a portion of the image and simulates optical zoom. The camera crops a portion of the image and then enlarges it back to size with poor image quality.
  • Always use optical zoom!!! Chose a camera that allows you to disable digital zoom.

Tripod:

  • The most common cause of photo blur is a shaky camera without a tripod. When buying a tripod, make sure to check for stability. You want to trust it with your camera. Can it hold your camera’s weight? I prefer to go for quality brand names like Sunpak, Slik or Vanguar

Easel:

  •  Chose a sturdy easel that will not blow over in the wind! Set your flat art securely on the easel as perpendicularly to the ground as possible (keep the painting from doing a face-plant!) This angle will help you line up your art squarely with the camera.

 A BIT ABOUT LIGHTING

Lighting Outdoors:

  • Experiment with different lighting conditions for the best results.
  • Mid-morning til mid-afternoon (10am – 4pm)  is the best time to achieve the most accurate color rendition.
  • Diffused daylight with bright, overcast skies is best for photographing art outdoors.
  • If the day is blue & sunny -
    • Try the open shade (a color correction filter might be needed to eliminate the bluish cast of shadows in daylight).
    • Or, turn your painting at a 45 degree angle from the sun. (This usually works best for me).
    • Sunlight is great for good color renditions, but may create problems with too much brightness, cast shadows, reflected light and glare.
    • A polarizing filter can cut down glare or try angling the art toward the sun.
    • Just like with plein air painting, partially cloudy days are least desirable due to frequent changes in light and shadow.
  • Adjust your camera’s White Balance setting for proper sunlight under differing circumstance.

Lighting Indoors:

  • Try using indoor natural light by photographing your work using daylight exposures near windows that are admitting north light. Make sure the light is bright and uniform.
  • You might be using overhead fluorescent lights. Do your best to use one light source. Make sure the windows or doors don’t let in the blue daylight.
  • Or, if you use light bulbs (which are red), make sure no (green or yellow) fluorescent lighting gets in your photographs. Cameras get confused.
  • Adjust your camera’s ‘White Balance’ setting for halogen, fluorescent or tungsten bulb, lamp, candle light.

 WHAT CAMERA SETTING TO USE?

There are several camera “modes” you can use that determine how much thinking the camera will do for you. Nowadays, most cameras offer options ranging from fully manual to fully automatic. Serious photographers prefer the Manual mode where they have control over the image results – but they know what they’re doing. Just to be sure, I keep mine in the following semi-automatic mode…

P = Program automatic-assist:

  • This is my favorite Auto Mode which gives me some control over the settings. In ‘P’, the ISO and white balance can be adjusted or left in auto.
  •  ”P” allows you to manually override some settings, such as focus, while the camera still automatically adjusts exposure.
  • When photographing art, turn the flash ‘off’!
  • Just point and shoot.  Program mode is much like Automatic mode – the camera will still do most of the setup work for you -
  • Program mode is recommended for users who want good shots without thinking too hard about it, but require just a bit more control than is offered full Auto mode – That sounds like me!

Be sure and read Part 2 to learn how to start photographing your art the easy way!

Lori :-)

For more information here’s a few great sources: How to Photograph Art and Quick Tips on Photographing Your Works of Art

About Lori McNee

Lori McNee is a professional artist who specializes in still life, and landscape oil paintings. She is an exhibiting member of Oil Painters of America, Plein Air Painters of Idaho, serves on the Plein Air Mag Board of Advisors, and is an Artist Ambassador to Arches/Canson/Royal Talens. As the owner of FineArtTips.com, Lori blogs about fine art tips, marketing, and social media advice for the aspiring and professional artist. As a social media influencer, Lori ranks as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter, has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and named a #TwitterPowerhouse by The Huffington Post. She is a keynote speaker, has been a talk show host for Plum TV, writes for F+W Media publications including Artist’s Magazine, Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market, Photographer’s Market. Also, Zero to 100,000: Social Media Tips & Tricks for Small Businesses.

Comments

  1. River Hunt says:

    Thankyou for sharing another excellent article Lori, I’m in the process of photographing my artwork for next months exhibition catalogue, and can attest to the perils of variable lighting! A section on digital editing would be useful to others I’m sure, as I often Photoshop to crop, balance and optimise my works for print. Take care, River.

    • Hi River! Thanks for taking time to comment.

      I know first hand how challenging photography can be for the artist. It is good to hear that this article was helpful to you. In Part 2 I show excactly how I take my own photos – it will go live on Thursday.

      Good luck with your exhibition. Where will is be??? You are a good writer, please share a ‘tip’ with FineArtTips.com soon. :-)

      Best, Lori

  2. Dave Zippi says:

    I am looking to purchase an easel for photographing my artwork based on your tips. Can you recommend any easels that will securely hold my canvases at a 90 degree or plus tilt?
    -Thanks
    -Dave Zippi

  3. Lori-How much does the Sony cost? I bought a little $100 Cannon but it doesn’t capture the right colors very well.I cannot afford a proffesional photographer but need some good shots.Will the Sony do better than the Cannon?

    • Hello Tim,

      I bought it last summer and I can’t remember the exact cost, but it was around $300. I am usually a big Canon user. My 35mm cameras are all Canon…however, I am really happy with the Sony’s picture quality. Also, I have a Sony Handycam video camera that takes great images too. Cameras are always making big changes, so I would suggest going online and reading the reviews before purchasing. Last year, my little Sony point and shoot had top reviews for megapixels, and image quality – but, there is probably something even better now.

      Thanks-
      Lori

  4. This article was a big relief to me after struggling to photograph a couple of paintings indoors with a method that worked in the past but wasn’t working for these particular paintings….they had a textured surface rather than smooth and the lighting was emphasizing the surface and losing the details…everytime.

    I finally found your article about photographing art outdoors in natural light and it worked! Thank you a thousand times….it was so much simpler to set up, too.

    Christine

    By the way, I love birds, too. I have two macaws as pets and they are so smart and such characters….like living with toddlers that never grow up.

    • Yay! I am so happy to hear that you tried these photography tips and they worked for you. Digital cameras have sure made it easier for us novice photographers, plus photographing my art myself has saved me a lot of money. Thanks for letting me know!

      Happy New Year to you Christine,
      Lori

  5. Fabulous article! Just forwarded it to one of my students. Love your blog Lori!

  6. Ken Johnson says:

    Good Afternoon Lori,
    I’ve inherited some wonderful Chinese wall hangings, (the kind that look like scrools). These were given to my father-in-law who was the senior interpreter for the Chinese speaking nations of the world at the U.N. in NYC for 35 years. Many times dignitaries needed to be chaperoned around NYC and my “Pop” knew all the best chefs! Anyway there are wall hangings, some lacquer work, pottery and some carved jade pieces. If I hang a white or light pastel colored sheet on a wall getting north light, and use a small round vase table draped in a similar color fabric would that be the best backdrop or must I try to find a color that highlites the item?
    (At 62 I’m sort of new to this!)
    Thank you so much for your time.
    Best regards,
    Ken Johnson
    bigeasy@comcast.net

    • The backdrop color is your own personal preference. You might want to start with a mid-tone neutral color – taupe, mossy green, or gray. White might be a bit complicated at first. I hope this helps and I am happy to hear your are starting something new at 62!

  7. Danid K Sanchez says:

    Dear Lori,

    You are God sent to me! Thank you so much for such thorough and complete information you offer in your website.
    There is a lot to do but the guidance you offer will be the best tool I can use to put me in the path to success.
    THAN YOU!

  8. Thanks for linking to my article! Glad to be of help to your readers.
    Best- Lori

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