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