Photographing Artwork

More Detail from cameras to post-production

This ArtMakers information sheet is an introduction to using photography in Social Media and on the web covers the following topics:-

            Types of Cameras

            Angles

            Light

            Background

            Post-Production

            Extra Equipment

Cameras

From talking to artists, we know that everyone has their idea of what they like to photograph artwork with. 

Firstly, the question you should ask yourself is, what is the photograph going to be used for? If it’s only going to be used for social media and small images on your website or other online selling platforms, then you may be able to get away with using a Smartphone. However, if your photos need to be reproduced for print or anything larger scale, then you may want to opt for a higher-end camera, or get a photographer to shoot these professionally and use your Smartphone for the rest!

With technology moving so fast, Smartphones are easy to use and in most cases are of satisfactory quality. DSLR’s can be expensive, and they take some time to learn, especially if using the manual setting which allows you to control the speed, focus and light intake of the camera. Point and shoot cameras can be an option, however, it is important to compare the quality this produces compared to a smartphone as the smartphone may be better.

Something to also think about is how the images will connect to your desktop or laptop so that you can access and edit the image if needed. Cables will be needed for most older DSLR’s and point and shoot cameras to transfer images. Newer models will likely have Wi-Fi or Bluetooth availability so that you can transfer images to an online cloud system, such as iCloud, Google Drive or One Drive or to your computer desktop. Smartphones will have Bluetooth and WI-FI so this makes image transfer easy. 

Even if you don’t edit the photo, it is still always good to transfer the image onto a larger device to see what it might look like to a buyer. It is hard to see detail sometimes on camera and phone screen and it is better to check than lose a sale due to the inaccuracy of a photo of your artwork.

How to shoot a photograph of your Artwork

Angle

There are several things to consider when taking a photo of your artwork. The first being the angle of the camera to the art. You want to set out to photograph a flat full-frontal image of your artwork. To achieve this, take some time to make sure your camera is positioned at the same level of the artwork, not looking down, or up or from the side.

If the angle is wrong you may find there is a warping effect to your image, the artwork edges may look curved or wider on one side to the other. Don’t rush this, the last thing you want to do is end up having to crop the image to make the sides straight, therefore cropping out parts of the artwork.

You want the centre of the camera focused on the centre of the artwork. If you can add a screen grid to your camera or smartphone, this can help line the artwork up with the camera lens.

Settings for Manual DSLR

You want to set your camera to have a fast shutter speed, this is less important if you are photographing with a tripod. A fast shutter speed means your photos will have less of a tendency to be blurred due to camera movement.

Set your camera to a low ISO. Setting ISO high will cause noise in the photo, this is not to be mistaken for grain which is often a side product of film photography or it can be added later in post-production. Noise can cause your work to lack clarity and sharpness and impact the image colour.

Depending on whether your artwork is 2d or 3d you want to consider the optimum aperture size. If the 2d piece is angled well and flat you can set your camera at a lower aperture, which lets more light into the photo. However, if you are shooting a 3d artwork, you want to set your aperture as high as it will go. This means you will have more of a chance of getting a shot with all the 3d artwork in focus.

Keep in mind that setting your camera to have a fast shutter speed, low ISO and a large aperture will affect the light in your photos.

Light

Light is incredibly important in keeping the colour of the image as true as possible to the original artwork.

Natural light will always be the best choice, especially if there is heavy cloud coverage. Direct sun can cause shadows and glare in a photo, whereas the clouds diffuse the bright sunlight into a balanced light source. If you can photograph outdoors then we would recommend this, just try to make sure you have a clean white background, however, you can always crop the background out in the edit. If you know the weather will be sunny rather than overcast, pick early morning or late afternoon when the light is softer.

If photographing outside is not possible then your aim is to either set your work up in a bright room with a big window and white walls, so that the light can be reflected onto the artwork, or to replicate natural light indoors with artificial light.

The colour of the bulbs you use to light your artwork can be the difference between a good and a bad photo. Most photography studio lights will come with a daylight toned bulb, this light imitates sunlight and is a cold light tone compared to the warm yellow light that we are more familiar with within a home setting. When purchasing or hiring studio lights make sure they have several different diffusion options, which are usually in the form of a softbox around the bulb and also come with daylight bulbs.

Like with anything, you can purchase cheap or expensive light, they all do the job, the expensive ones are just more robust and may have more settings, but cheap ones usually are fine.

If you do have a big window in a room but don’t have particularly reflective white walls, you can reflect light using a photographer’s light reflector. These come in lots of different sizes and colours, usually white, silver or gold, depending on the coolness or warmth of the light you want to reflect on to the artwork. If you are working alone you may need to attach these to a frame or balance on something to hold the reflector in the right place.

For small art works you may want to purchase a Lightbox/tent. This is a wire-framed cube in which you can set your artwork. Make sure to identify if you are purchasing/hiring one with lights installed or if you are buying one that needs to be lit by studio lights. Studio tents/boxes quite often do come with studio lights as a package. 

The big plus with creating a contained place to photograph small art works is that you are controlling the light which makes for an easier and more consistent shoot. 

Background

In most cases, you will crop the image so that there is no background distraction. However, occasionally you may want to have a backdrop to your artwork, especially if it is a 3d artwork.

If outside, you have a couple of options include using a clean white wall, a complimentary background like wood or even in situ where the artwork is going to be exhibited.

For inside, a roll of white photographic paper can be purchased and either hung on a frame or attached to a wall. Fabric can be used; however, creases will show and also make sure the material is not translucent when light is directed at it.

For 3D artworks you can make a DIY infinity curve which gives the effect of the artwork floating. You need to cover the surrounding floor and background wall with white paper. Then attach a large piece of paper to the floor with Sellotape, and curve the paper up to the background wall and tape this in place. Then position the 3D artwork on the bottom of the curved paper and when photographing you should achieve a floating effect of your work.

Some artists like to have their work seen in a room setting. If you have a nice house set up with good lighting and simple décor that suits your art, then this can be a good way of achieving this. However, if not, there are plenty of websites where you can purchase photographs of rooms to which you can add a photo of your artwork. If using this, just make sure that the artwork size in the room backdrop is correct, otherwise, this can be false advertising and customers might be disappointed if your artwork isn’t the size you are promoting it to be.

Post- Production

Once you have photographed your work, it is worth putting the photos into a piece of editing software so that you can check the colour, light balance and tidy the image up by cropping if needed.

If you are looking for perfection and have the time, you will want to make sure your computer screen is calibrated, so that your images don’t end up looking bad elsewhere whilst looking ok on your own screen. If you look on the internet how to calibrate your specific model of computer or screen, there should be directions. 

Alternatively, I have known photographers who look at photos on several different screens to see the variations, through this I have been told that iPhones often run brighter than androids, and in the end, you can only control your settings and not what other people are seeing on theirs.

You mustn’t over-edit, you aim to always try and make the image as close to the artwork. If you oversaturate, sharpen or create too much contrast, you are only setting yourself and your buyers up for disappointment.

DPI (dots per inch) or PPI (pixels per inch) is worth thinking about and this leads us on to copyright issues.

Most publications need at least 300dpi, however, for social media you should lower this to around 72dpi, the image shouldn’t look different on social media or your website, however it means that people who illegally download your image won’t be able to enlarge it to create prints of it.

MegaBytes (MB) and Killabits (KB) = 1000KB make 1MB. 

I always save higher-res photos for my own log around 10MB’s and then create smaller image files for use on my social media and website. With websites you want images generally under 300k (killabits), depending on how many images you have on a specific page. This is because if you put 10 large photos on one page, this will need a lot of internet bandwidth to open your page and could result in people giving up trying to look at your website/images.

 Some websites get around this by having a system that opens the page as soon as one image has been downloaded onto the page successfully, this spreads out the opening of page content instead of only opening the page once everything has been downloaded.

There are also website plugins that convert large media files into small files without downgrading quality too much. 

Extra Equipment

Like with most things you could throw a lot of money at photographing your work and this is where you need to weigh up whether getting your artwork professionally photographed may be the cheaper option.

However, there are a couple of accessories that will make your life easier. Having a tripod will help stabilise your camera and also create a controlled consistent set-up. If you are using a smartphone or lightweight point and shoot camera, then a lightweight tripod should be fine unless you are photographing outside. This is where you may need a heavier tripod or at least tripod weights so that wind doesn’t cause camera shake. If you have a DSLR you will need a sturdy tripod as you do not want to set your expensive camera on a flimsy tripod.

If you photograph outdoors or indoors with natural light you can buy a phone app called helios pro – https://www.chemicalwedding.tv/app%20Pages/HeliosPro.php

This shows you what the light will be doing at the location at specific times of the days in advance of your shoot.

Screen and lens cleaners – always make sure you are photographing through clean lenses whether this is on your smartphone or DSLR.

We hope this has helped!

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