Technical Savvy: Photographing Your Art

Whether you are creating images for the purpose of promoting a workshop, selling tangible products online or presenting your art with hopes of licensing, the photos can be the deciding factor in whether or not you successfully reach your goal. 

Ideally, I prefer to scan my art in order to get the best representation.  At times this is not possible either because the art is dimensional, the paint is wet or the surface doesn't fit or conform to the the scanner bed.  Some materials don't scan well like iridescent pigments or gilding, which tend to look flat or dark.  It is at times like these that I must resort to taking photos.  You don't need a fancy camera to take reasonably good photos, just a few tips regarding lighting and presentation.

Taking quality photos presents several challenges including lighting, clarity, perspective and focus.

Lighting
First, consider the lighting.  Unless you have a professional setup complete with diffusers and the like, you do not want to use a flash when photographing your art.  It will create a hotspot where the color is washed out or reflections if the surface has any sheen beyond flat matte. Midday daylight on an overcast day is ideal but not always available when you are ready to take pictures.  

Photos taken in sunny conditions
have warm hues & distracting shadows
In sunny circumstances you can duplicate overcast conditions by using a white umbrella.  Simply position the umbrella so that it casts a shadow on the object you wish to photograph.  This will neutralize the warm temperature of the sunshine allowing your colors to appear true.  Not into freezing or sweating for the sake of quality lighting?  Then let's more indoors.  You can set up an area using clamp lights (available at hardware stores) fitted with full-spectrum (daylight) bulbs.  Make sure you have several (I use six to eight) surrounding your work to eliminate cast shadows.


Photos taken using a white umbrella
exhibit true colors.  Seamless
background paper showcases the work.

Lastly, familiarize yourself with the features available on your camera.  Many include "white balance" options for taking photos in various light conditions.

Clarity
The absence of clutter, a.k.a., clarity in your photos will make your art the focal point.  Nothing screams unprofessional like a background of blacktop or grass.  Keep props to a minimum as well lest you confuse the viewer.  Seamless background paper is available on large rolls that you can pull down so that it curves behind dimensional art  flowing from the vertical to horizontal position without a hard crease.  If you select only one, a neutral grey is the most versatile and least likely to influence the colors or your work.  Alternative backdrops include fabric (smooth or draped), mat board and art paper.  The size of your work will have an impact on the background choices available to you.  In a pinch, us the plainest backdrop you can find and resort to photoshop to remove unwanted area and replace it with a neutral background.

Perspective
The angle at which you take you photo can distort your art in an undesirable manner.  For flat art you can place your setup on the floor and stand directly over it to take the photo.  Pay attention the the edges of the frame.  Each side of the flat art should should be parallel with the corresponding edge of the frame.  If the sides slant away from the corners then your camera is positioned at an angle relative to the art. You need to tilt the camera until all are aligned.  Large artwork may require a step ladder to allow enough distance to fit the work in the frame.  Conversely, a macro setting is helpful for small works or extreme closeups.  Digital zoom can cause distortions so use it with caution. 

Dimensional art should be positioned so that you can take the photo so the work is viewed at eye-level.  This can be achieved by raising the art or lowering yourself.

Focus
Although this one may seem obvious it cannot be overlooked.  You can't fix blurry.  With auto-focus being a standard feature on digital cameras blurry photos should not be a frequent issue.  In most cases you are too close for the camera's preset minimum distance for auto focus.  In this case select the macro feature, if available, or step away from the art.  The image can be cropped using photo-editing software.  Another cause of blurry photos is camera movement.  To combat this, use a tripod.  The mounting plate on a tripod turns so that you can position the camera as needed for the proper perspective.

With minimal investment you can portray a professional image with the images you present.  Your photos are sometimes the only opportunity you have to make an impact on a potential client.  It is worthwhile to take the time to make sure they speak well of you.

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