How to Photograph Your Artwork

Or should I say, this is how I photograph my artwork.
I photograph my artwork for my records, for web usage and given a high-resolution camera, for making prints.
I worked out a good, simple set up and I stick to it.

Equipment needed:

  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Lights
  • Tape or some method to hang art on the wall

Use a camera that you can set the lens to 50mm. With a point-and-shoot cam set zoom such that there isn’t any distortion in the image. No bowing out or in of the picture frame. A camera that you can adjust the white balance is also a good idea. White balance is how the camera interprets the color of the lights you are using. The light from incandescent bulbs is very different than the light from florescent bulbs. Set the white balance to whatever type of light you are using. It also helps if you can adjust the ISO. ISO is film speed. The lower the film speed the higher the quality of the photo. I use enough light that I can set my camera at the lowest ISO setting: 100 in my case. If you can’t set the film speed, just set to highest quality level.
With low film speed for quality, my exposure times are usually pretty slow. Because of this I use a tripod and set the camera to take the photo using the self timer. That way I am not hand-holding the cam and it eliminates blur from shaking. If your cam doesn’t have a self timer mode (most do), increase the film speed so that you get an exposure time that will allow hand-holding. This speed is relative but usually something around 1/100 sec. will do it.

Any tripod will do but try to use one that is sturdy enough that you won’t worry about your camera tipping over. The tripod will allow you to use longer exposures if necessary which you may have to do if your lights aren’t very bright.

There are many types of lights you could buy and there many sources on the web that tell you how to cobble together a light set. You don’t need flashes or professional studio strobes. My set up consists of what I would call amateur lights. I bought them at a photographic supply store. They consist of adjustable stands that holds a dish at the top where the bulbs go. I use 250 watt and 500 watt bulbs in them depending on the size of the piece that I’m shooting. I could use florescent bulbs as well and will when these bulbs run out. Here is an example. You can see that it doesn’t take much to put together a light set. Check the dollar store. If you go with regular bulbs be careful, they get hot. I’d opt for florescent bulbs(set white balance of camera to floroescent to get proper color).
You could also buy a copy stand. A copy stand is basically a set up that consists of an area for your art, light mounts and camera mount all in one.

Here’s my set up:

Lights on either side of art at a 45 degree angle to art. This is avoid getting reflections in the shot. If your camera/lens setup can accept one, you can also put a polarizing filter on your lens if your work is particularly shiny.
Tripod out front at a distance that gets the art in the frame when lens is set to 50mm.
I have the boxes there for larger pieces that can’t easily be fixed to the wall. I lean the piece against the wall. If you do this, be prepared to remove distortion in a program like Photoshop. You want the flat plane of your art to be as close to the film plane or sensor plane of your camera to avoid distortion.

How can you tell that you have even lighting? Hold a pencil in the center of and perpendicular to your art. If the shadows are even on either side of pencil you are good to go. You also want to make sure that the lighting is even across the art-corner to corner.
See photo below.

Mount camera on tripod, frame photo, dial in exposure, shoot.
You’ll then need to take the photo into an editing program like Photoshop or Gimp. You may have to adjust the color balance, levels and remove distortion. The better you get at setting up the shot, the less you’ll have to adjust. I think photos of art look best when they are clipped out from the background. If you don’t have access to these programs, at least use a consistent background. One that doesn’t compete with your work.
You can use Photoshop or Gimp to size your work for web usage as well. Save a large version at hi resolution then you can re-size for web usage, etc. Done.

If anyone has any additional tips, let me know. Thanks.

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