How should I photograph my Artworks?
In this article, Artfinder artists offer their expertise on the basics of product photography. From lighting and tripods to DIY fixes, learn how fellow Artfinder artists produce excellent product photography.
Though it may seem obvious, a good quality camera is an essential part of your tool kit and artists on Artfinder use a wide range of cameras with success including:
1. High-end DSLR cameras.
2. Point-and-shoot cameras.
3. Everyday smart phones.
However, as Jill Griffin points out, you needn’t shell out for a top-of-the-range piece of equipment: “Any camera could be used to photograph your work. It is not necessary to purchase a DSLR or spend hours setting up a tripod. Perfectly adequate and interesting photographs that get your work noticed can be achieved with a fairly up-to-date smart phone.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Ben Robson Hull: “I would imagine that most people will probably use a more basic 'point and shoot' camera. Ensure a fast shutter speed and take at an angle to avoid reflections, just make sure that your final image is a pleasing composition.”
You may also like to ensure that your digital camera or smart phone that can be interfaced with your PC, laptop or tablet to enable you to see images on a bigger screen – whether that be on a laptop or a tablet. This will ensure that you see any image on a computer screen just as your customer will.
Whether you opt for a high-end DSLR camera or a simple 'point and shoot', “ the best camera in the world will not make your products look amazing if they are not composed or lit well,” says Jill.
Capturing a Full-frontal Image
Whether you are using a high-end DSLR or an everyday smart phone, capturing full-frontal image of your artwork is the best way to allow your customers to truly experience the details, colour and size of your artwork. Full-frontal images should therefore, capture the entire body of your artwork, with even coverage from corner to corner.
To set this up:
1. Each shot should ideally face the centre of the painting at a 45 degree angle.
2. Next, try to find a clean, clear wall or surface against which to hang or lean your artwork to avoid backdrop distractions taking the focus away from your piece.
If possible, set the ISO on your camera low, at between 100-200 depending on the camera you are using. The ISO setting determines how sensitive your camera will be to light- if it is set too high, your images will come out grainy.
The image above, of Sandy Dooley's painting 'Springer Green', has been taken with a camera set to a high ISO- the colours appear grainy and distorted. A much more accurate representation is given by the photograph below, which was taken with an ISO setting of 100.
Be sure to turn off your flash before you start shooting- leaving it on could lead to misleading and washed-out colouring on your images. The below image has been taken with flash in a space with insufficient lighting. This has led to blurring and distortion in the centre, coupled with darkness around the edges of the canvas.
Check for any other settings that may distort from a clear and natural representation of your artwork. If your camera has a date stamp functionality, make sure that it is turned off!
All the artists that we spoke to - professional photographers, painters and printmakers alike - emphasised the importance of natural light.
Jill commented that “the best camera in the world will not make your products look amazing if they are not composed or lit well.”
Peter Walters suggests that "There is no substitute for the use of natural light, a nice overcast day can provide the perfect soft light for capturing your artwork, reducing glare and preventing colours from appearing washed out.”
Emily Hughes echoes this, but offers a slightly different approach: “Pick a sunny but overcast day for best results, or get around this by photographing early in the morning, or later in the afternoon when the light is softer.” However, if you prefer to work indoors “find a sunny aspect room with a big window and white walls to reflect the light” says Emily.
Of course, not all Artfinder artists live in tropical climes with an abundance of natural sunlight at all times of year.
Sally Fisher has developed an effective solution to her lighting problems: “As I live in Scotland, light is a real problem especially in the winter, so I invested in some studio lights and a photo light tent. I place the smaller framed work within the tent and shine the studio lights on to it. The light is diffused by the tent avoiding glare. It was quite a bit of investment but bright sunny days are few and far between here, so I think it was worth it!"
The ultimate aim, whether you photograph in bright light or in a tent is to ensure accurate colour reproduction. “ Almost always never choose a flash, it is likely to distort colour and will cast harsh shadows- unless you are a professional with all the proper reflective and softening gear. Your colours will not be represented fairly if you photograph in electric light, gas light or in direct strong sunlight" advises Jill.
Tripods can be useful to prevent shakes and blurred images.
As Emily notes,“a tripod will ensure consistency, and also if the light is a little low you can slow your shutter speed right down without having to worry about camera shake, or reducing your aperture.”
If your artwork is tilted, make sure that you angle the tripod so that your camera lens is parallel with the face of your artwork.
If you don’t have access to a tripod, you can rest your camera on a flat surface to keep it straight and still.
Movement when you take your photographs will lead to blurry images such as the one below, which will not allow your customers to appreciate the finer details of your work.
Professional photographers may spend hundreds on an infinity curve to create a professional back-drop against which to photograph their subject.
However, as Susan Vera Clarke remarks, a large piece of white paper offers an equally effective DIY solution: “When photographing a 3D artwork try making yourself a home made infinity curve. All you need is a large piece of white paper and a little patience.
Step 1: Curve the paper starting from the floor up onto a wall and fasten in place with a little tape (Make sure you have a good amount of flat (no curved) paper on both wall and floor).
Step 2: Place your 3D artwork at the base of where the curve starts and start snapping. This will give your artwork a professional floated look and will really highlight the colours and surface of your item.”
Before uploading any images to Artfinder, it’s always wise to upload any images to see how they will look to a customer.
“Discard ANY shot that is out of focus, has movement blur or if using a narrow depth of field places the focus on a point in your work that does not make sense.” Says Jill. “Make lots of photos from different angles so that you can choose the best three or four, and weed out the ones with shadows, poor colour reproduction and ones with movement or are not focussed well.”
Ben adds, “always ensure that your monitor is calibrated correctly so that you don't end up producing a file that looks OK on your monitor but garish and oversaturated on everybody else's. Ensure your final image file is in the sRGB colour space and sharpened for screen. Over-sharpening an image will do it a lot more harm than good so be gentle! If you just use a basic digital point and shoot and upload straight to the internet then don't worry about any of the above, your files should already be in sRGB and everything else should be reasonably handled by the camera.”
And if your images still don’t quite fit the bill, there’s always the option of subtly altering your images post-production to ensure a likeness.
You can use some basic photo-editing tools to crop your pictures and remove unwanted background space. The primary image of your artwork on site should be of the artwork canvas or image plate alone.
A typical image editor such as the one below, will allow you to Crop any access space from your image.
Other tools, such as contrast adjustment, can also sometimes be useful, but be careful not to over-manipulate your photographs, as you want them to remain as true to life as possible. Basic tools to crop images and adjust image contrast can be found on: 'Windows Photo Gallery' on Windows or 'Preview' on a Mac.
Lastly, avoid adding watermarks to your images as we have seen these to significantly reduce the chances of an artwork making a sale.
We hope this helps inspire you to take great photographs of your artworks!