Photographing your Art Work - A Tutorial

The way your art work is presented by its photograph may well mean the difference in whether you are accepted into an Exhibition or Art Show or make that important sale.

We see many poorly photographed submissions by artists that simply do not translate into what the artist originally intended to convey. It is well worth the time and effort to get this aspect of your art presentation done properly so that your work is displayed at its best.

Here are some basic tips to assist you in improving your presentation.

What we're trying to achieve

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Most people will agree that the photograph without the frame is far more attractive.  As a bonus, it's far easier to process the image as well.

What we're trying to avoid

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Your Camera

Forget about using iPhones, iPads or similar mobile devices.  They’re great for casual snapshots, but they cannot deliver the results you need for your art. You’re far better off using a digital camera with a good lens, using its automatic setting.

Better still if the camera has manual settings where you can adjust the shutter speed and ISO settings, because this will give you total control over colour balance, lighting and exposure.

Inside or Outside?

You should photograph your Art Work outside when it is cloudy or with an overcast sky. Such indirect light will show your Art Work better than any other light.

Sunlight striking your work directly will cause glare and create excessive contrast.

Shooting inside using a flash is very difficult and should be avoided unless you have a good SLR camera with bounce flash, and you know how to use it.  Indoor lighting will usually produce a colour cast, as will factors such as room colours.

A flash aimed directly at the artwork is your greatest enemy, as it will produce “hot spots” on your artwork. So turn off the flash!

Stopping camera shake

By using a tripod you will avoid any camera shake and it is much easier to adjust the focus and composition of the picture. Even if you have no tripod, use a box or some stationary item such as a small stepladder or even the back of a chair to rest the camera on while you’re holding it.

Many people shake the camera when they press the shutter.  To get around this habit, using a self-timer will help, because it gives you the chance to steady the camera after you’ve pressed the shutter.

Match the angle

If your artwork is propped against a wall you need to match the angle of the camera to the tilt of the artwork so that it's square on. Make sure the camera is focused at the exact centre of the painting.

Do not use a wide-angle lens or a zoom lens zoomed out. This will create barrel distortion - horrible where the frame is visible. For best results the work should be positioned vertically.

Avoid frames and glass

If possible photograph your work unframed and without glass.  You should adopt the habit of photographing your artwork as soon as you are satisfied with the finished product.

It is very hard to get away from reflections in the glass. We’ve had photographs where we can see reflections of the artist, their camera and the furnishings of the room where the painting was hung.

Not having a frame included makes post-production much easier.

Fill the camera

If your art work has been framed, it is sometimes preferable to zoom in so that you photograph just the painting itself - frames are notoriously difficult to get square and straight in a photograph.

It makes post-production much easier but more importantly the subject of your work is better presented.  By using the zoom function on your camera you can quickly draw the viewer’s eye to the most important aspects of your artwork.

Raising your profile

Remember you are in the company of other artists who are taking a great deal of care to ensure that their work is presented in the best possible way.  Your work won’t stand out if it’s a poor quality photograph in the midst of good ones.

Well - actually it will stand out - but for all the wrong reasons!

With some simple experimenting you will quickly master the art of getting great results. You do not need to be a professional photographer but it is important for you take your art work presentation to a higher level.

After all, your reputation depends on it.

You can easily spoil the impact of many days of hard work by trying to save a few minutes on taking a photograph.

Look at what other artists are doing

Gallery 247 now has more than 50,000 paintings on view. Browsing those images will quickly show up the artwork that has been poorly presented and therefore lessening the chances of online sales or acceptances into Art Shows.

When to use image manipulation software

The most common reasons to use image manipulation software are:

  • You need to crop the image - usually to remove background or to remove a frame
  • You need to correct exposure or lighting
  • The image is too large - the file size is greater than the allowable 2MB.

Only you can judge whether you need to adjust the visual characteristics of your photograph.  To re-size an image, however, click here for a tutorial on resizing images.