You could be the most talented artist around. But unless you learn how to photograph your artwork, no one will know.
That’s why every artist needs to know how to take photos of their artwork.
It’s not negotiable or a nice-to-have. Photographing art is an essential skill every artist should have.
As an artist myself, I had to test, try, and tweak until I learned how to get good photos of my artwork. It can seem a little overwhelming at first, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with a digital camera.
So, I’ve put together this simple yet detailed guide to photographing artwork. You don’t need to be a pro photographer to take some great shots of your art. With these tips, you’ll learn how to showcase your artwork looking its best.
I’ll walk you through everything you need to know, from setup to your camera settings.
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Why You Should Learn How to Photograph Paintings?
If you’re still not convinced why you need to master photographing your artwork, this section is for you. There are many reasons to spend a little time learning how to take shots of your art. Here are just a few!
Great photos of your artwork can get you more followers on Instagram. It’s such a visual platform, so you need your work to look vibrant and eye-catching to stand out.
But once you start growing that warm audience, your followers can become customers. You’ll have a warm audience who are interested in your work.
The next reason is if you want to sell prints of your artwork, you’ll need a way to reproduce them. That high-quality shot could convince someone to click buy in your online store.
Having amazing photos could even score your media features or get your work into a gallery.
So as you can see, it’s a vital skill for an artist to develop. And there are some key pitfalls you need to avoid when you start photographing artwork.
For example, you need to pick your setting and get the exposure just right. You don’t want your artwork to look over-saturated or washed out.
But the good news is that it’s not as complicated as it sounds. And you don’t need to splash out on a professional photographer. That’s an expense that’s out of reach for many budding artists.
You can learn how to take perfect shots of your artwork for your website or social media. This guide will teach you how, so you’ll soon feel confident photographing artwork.
7 Simple Steps for Photographing Art
Here’s everything you need to know about how to photograph artwork with a digital camera. I’ve even got tips for if you only have your smartphone camera to work with.
Any artist can photograph their paintings with these simple tips. So, read on and then give it a go for yourself!
1. Prepare your artwork
The first step is to have your artwork primed and ready to shoot. It should be dry and stretched flat, especially if it is a painting on paper. You want to avoid any shadows that will change the look of your artwork.
I’ve found the best way to take photos of my artwork is to do a batch of paintings at the same time. You’ll save time and work more efficiently.
Getting your canvas, equipment, lighting, and camera set up is time-consuming. You don’t want to have to do that for just one painting. Instead, wait until you have a few pieces to take photos of and then do them all at once.
Think about how you’ll display your artwork for your photoshoot. Do you have an easel you can stand your canvas on? Or will you prop it against the wall?
(Image credit: Matthieu Comoy)
An easel is the best solution as you can adjust the angle. Then, it will hold your painting stable and secure while you take your photos.
But you can also DIY a solution or lean your painting against the wall.
When you’re ready to take your photos, make sure that your camera and canvas are parallel with each other. Your camera should be directly in front of the canvas. You want to get it straight ahead in your photo and avoid any distorting angles.
2. Choose between outdoor vs. indoor shots
Before you start taking photos, you should work out where you’ll take them. Do you want to take your photos outside or inside? And where exactly will you take them?
You’ll need to make this decision ahead of time to ensure that you have the right equipment.
Either way, you’ll need a large space with good lighting. If you plan to shoot indoors, you’ll likely need a lighting rig unless the room is bright and well lit.
(Image credit: KAL VISUALS)
And if the weather is changeable, you should have a backup plan in case you can’t shoot outside. (Or you can wait for better weather if your timeline allows!)
If you’re on a budget, there are some great ways to DIY your lighting setup. Check out these cheap lighting hacks for photographers!
3. Set up your lighting
Now you know where you’ll take your photos, it’s time to get your lighting ready. It’s an essential element to ensure your artwork has the right amount of exposure.
I prefer to take my photos outside because natural light makes the artwork look as true to life as possible. It’s also a cheap solution, as you don’t need to buy any extra equipment!
If you’re outside, you need to consider where you’ll set up your canvas in relation to the sun.
(Image credit: laura adai)
I recommend placing your canvas at an angle to the sun instead of head-on. That way, your artwork is fully lit up, but you avoid any harsh glares that could alter the look.
You should also keep your eye on the weather forecast. You might think that a sunny day is an ideal time to take photos. But if it’s too bright outside, your artwork can look washed out. You’ll also have to deal with glare and over-exposure.
So if possible, aim for a cloudy day. It’s nature’s way of providing the soft, dispersed light that’s essential for taking good photos! The best times of day are early in the morning or late afternoon before the sun starts to set.
For indoor lighting, the best solution is to have two lighting sources. They should sit on either side of the canvas at a 45-degree angle. That will light your entire canvas evenly and avoid any reflections back to the camera.
If you can’t afford to buy any lighting equipment, choose a well-lit room. Take your photo near an open door or window but not directly in sunlight. You may need to get creative, but you can still take excellent photos on a budget.
4. Choose the right camera
You don’t need to spend hundreds buying a brand new camera. If all you have available is your phone camera, you can still take some great shots.
But there are a few basic requirements to ensure you get the best photos. If your camera has these features, you’re good to go:
- A camera with at least 8 MP (but 12MP+ is ideal)
- Aperture settings
- ISO settings
- The option to use the flash or turn it off
If not, then it’s worth asking your neighbors, friends, or relatives. You’d be surprised how many people have a digital camera tucked away at home. You could even borrow a friend’s new smartphone to snap your shots.
But generally, you’ll get the best results with a digital camera. The best digital camera will allow you to control the settings to get the exact look you want to achieve. It will also have a larger sensor which will capture more light and result in better image quality. (Find out more about camera sensors here.)
So if you plan to take a lot of photos of your artwork, it’s worth buying a good digital camera. That’s especially true if you want to sell your art prints and need them to look flawless! Think of it as a business expense and an investment in your career!
When it comes to choosing a lens, the sweet spot is around 50mm. I don’t recommend a wide-angle lens as it can distort the image.
(Image credit: Thomas AE)
Once you’ve got your camera, you should also invest in a tripod to hold it securely. That will prevent any wobbles or blurring when you take your shots. You’ll get a better, more accurate shot than if you hold it in your hands.
You don’t have to spend a lot on a tripod – there are some great affordable options like this Endurax tripod. Whichever one you go for, double-check that it’s compatible with your camera first of all.
5. Adjust your camera settings
You’ve got your camera, lighting, and canvas ready to go. But don’t skip this step! Adjusting your camera settings is the key to taking clear, successful photos.
Here’s what you need to adjust each time you take photos of your artwork:
Adjust the white balance
The lighting will affect your photographs, so you’ll need to tweak the white balance each time.
(Image credit: ShareGrid)
You might even find that you’ll need to make adjustments throughout the day if the weather changes.
Another helpful tip is to take several photos with different white balance settings. Then, you can pick the best results when you’re editing the shots.
Set the Aperture
The aperture refers to how far the lens opens to let in light. It affects the sharpness or blurriness of the background of an image.
Aperture is measured in f/stops and ranges from around f/1.4 up to f/16.
It can seem a little confusing at first. A larger f/stop means that the lens will open only a tiny amount, creating a narrow aperture.
The smaller f/stops denote a large aperture – or more exposure to your image.
But you don’t need to understand all this to get the best results. I recommend setting your aperture to around f/11 or f/12. Then, you’re good to go!
You don’t need a wide aperture when photographing artwork, as you don’t need to capture the background.
If you’re using a tripod, you don’t need to worry too much about the shutter speed. The tripod will hold the camera secure and prevent any blurring. So, you can use a slower shutter speed.
But if you don’t have a tripod handy, make sure to set the shutter speed to more than 60. Otherwise, your image might not be crisp enough to see all the details.
Don’t get worried about all these terms if you’re new to photography. The ISO controls how much light the camera will capture. It affects the exposure, brightness, and grain of the image.
You’ll need to consider the lighting when choosing the right ISO setting. The general rule is to use the lowest ISO possible so that the image doesn’t come out too grainy.
In daylight, an ISO of 100 is perfect. It will reduce any noise or grain and allow you to capture crisp details.
But if you’re in a low-light area, you may need to set a higher ISO to make sure you get a sharp and accurate shot. There’s more on ISO here if you want to dig in deeper!
6. Take lots of shots
Now, it’s time to take your shots! Always take more than you think you’ll need. That will give you more choice and allow for errors and blurring. You can pick the best and delete the rest.
When setting up the composition, allow some extra space around the canvas. You can crop it out later, but it will ensure you get all your painting in the image.
After each shot, you should take a few seconds to check the lens focus. You can even tweak the white balance setting if you like. Taking the time to do this will ensure that you get some great, usable photos.
iPhone (Smartphone) Tip:
If you’re using your iPhone (smartphone), try moving your phone further away from the canvas. The reason for this is that iPhones have a wide-angle lens. So if you’re too close, it can distort the image and make your canvas look curved around the edges.
(Image credit: jeshoots)
If you stand back, you should get a more realistic photo. But if you do struggle with this, you can also fix it in the post-editing process. In Photoshop, you can remove any barrel distortion.
7. Edit your photos
So, you’ve taken your shots, and your work is done. Well, not quite! Now the real work begins.
You need to edit your photos to ensure they look as impressive as in real life.
It’s time for photo editing! For this step, you’ll need a computer or tablet and good photo editing software.
The first step is to crop your photos. Take out anything that shouldn’t be in the image, like the surroundings and shadows. You want the final version to look polished and neat.
Then, it’s time to color correct and fix any other issues like the white balance and exposure. You should adjust the contrast and run a filter that will sharpen any details.
Don’t forget to resize your artwork to reduce the file size. Unless you adjust the size, you’ll have large files, which can slow down website loading times.
(Image credit: Mel Poole)
Once you think you’ve got the settings right, I recommend printing a test sample. The colors on your screen may not look the same as a printed copy. Once you’ve printed it out, you may need to tweak the colors a bit more or adjust the exposure.
The final step is to add alt tags and create detailed descriptive titles for your files. This step is vital for SEO and can help more people find your artwork. It’s essential if you’re uploading your artwork to social media or your website. So, don’t skip it!
Tip: save the image above to your Pinterest to re-read this article later!
The Wrap Up
With this simple guide, you now know everything you need to know about photographing art.
You’re all set to take some fantastic shots of your artwork. Just follow these steps, and you’ll have some great photos to showcase your work!
Hopefully, I’ve answered all your questions about setup, equipment, and digital cameras. But if you have any other questions, drop them in the comments, and I’ll get back to you ASAP!
Share your tips for photographing artwork below, too. I’d love to hear your recommendations!
Remember to keep in mind the lighting, angles, and shadow when you take photos of your artwork. Don’t forget to adjust your settings each time, and take more shots than you think you’ll need! You can select the best ones as you edit.
I’ve used this exact formula for photographic my own art, and I think it will work for you too.
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