As an artist, you’ll eventually want to photograph your art — to post on social media or your website, to submit to a gallery or contest, to create a series of greeting cards, to make giclée prints to sell…or even to print on mugs, pillows and T-shirts. Heck, we know one artist who printed his work on shower curtains!
For some purposes, such as social media and websites, photographing art isn’t necessarily a problem or even difficult. Provided you have soft, even outdoor light, most smartphones are capable of taking a decent photo. But for other purposes you’ll need to get a little more sophisticated, using high-resolution digital cameras, tripods, studio lights, colour checkers, polarizing filters, computer applications and more.
However you choose to photograph your artwork, you’ll soon find doing so presents a laundry list of challenges — or headaches, as I like to think of them:
Glare/Uneven Lighting — Glare can ruin a photo of a painting, obscuring details, shifting colours and making it unsuitable for printing or displaying on social media and websites. In the same way, uneven lighting creates dark and light areas that change the painting’s appearance and colours.
Colour Cast/Inaccuracy — Your goal when photographing art is to produce an image faithful to the original when displayed on-screen or printed. A colour cast (a shade that affects the whole image) or incorrect colours make this impossible.
Distortion/Keystoning — If the camera is not parallel to the painting, the top or bottom of the image may appear to be different widths. If using a wide-angle lens, the image may “bow” in the middle.
Noisy/Grainy/Blurry Image — If the camera is not focused correctly or moves during exposure the image will be blurry. If there is not enough light you will need to use a higher ISO, producing unusable grainy or noisy images.
Painting Too Large — A large painting may be difficult or impossible to fit in the camera frame; moving back to fit it in may produce an unusable low-resolution image.
Images Look Different On-Screen vs Printed — Ideally, the image should look the same on-screen and printed; both should match the original painting.
Resolution Too Low — If produced incorrectly or using unsuitable equipment, images may not have enough resolution to use for making prints, cards, etc.
The good news? There are solutions to each of these headaches. Based on my own experience photographing art I’ve put together a document that summarizes each challenge and lays out solutions you can apply in the studio and during post-processing.