Hello from the road!
We started our cross country plein air road-trip yesterday, so I got this ready ahead of time to send out. I hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to sharing our Coast-to-Coast plein air training as soon as we have it ready!
This is not a comprehensive article on the best practices for photographing artwork. I am not a photographer and frankly it’s been a source of frustration for me for more than 30 years.
This is simply a quick guide that offers a few tips for preparing photos of your art for shows, critiques and your web portfolio.
During the 90’s I had 4×5 transparencies taken of my paintings by a wonderful fellow named Steve Bigelow. They cost me $45 each – I have quite a stack of them.
That was when I planned to pursue the lithograph or giclee marke, which means I had a few copies printed, kept them in a box and sold one to a friend once in a while. I just had a hard time getting excited enough about selling copies of my paintings to do much more than get my work put into 4×5’s.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the ‘idea’ of prints – the ability to reach thousands of potential art lovers every year, rather than dozens, but my heart just isn’t in it.
Occasionally I still get my work photographed by a professional photographer, usually by Tony Frederick at CS Kern. He does a fantastic job – but, once again, it’s tough to spend $50-$100 for a photo of each painting when I don’t seem to do much more than use them for my website. I know that’s shortsighted – articles, books, prints – we never know what the future might require, but the 18 MP’s I get right now is plenty for most purposes.
With the understanding that most of my photos are primarily for my website (for collectors who are familiar with the texture and look of my paintings already), I don’t spend too much time fussing over exactly replicating the color nuances and subtleties you’ll see when up close and personal with my originals. I do shoot in RAW format and save the files in case I ever need to tweak a photo.
We have a Canon Rebel T3i that works wonders. Not sure when we purchased it – seems like at least 7 or 8 years ago (time and holidays are mostly irrelevant for artists – we only care that weather conditions on a given day are good for painting). For most, especially in the early years of learning, most digital cameras 3-5 MP (higher Mega Pixels are better usually – too much to talk about here like image sensor sizes, etc.), or even a smart phone, will do the trick.
The most important element is light – a consistent source preferably.
For those who want a detailed system for high end photographing of your artwork, I recommend Richard Schmid’s book Alla Prima II: Companion – eventually I will organize my studio with a similar setup – www.richardschmid.com. There’s also a detailed article about photographing art at dallasartsrevue.com.
For those like me who haven’t yet dedicated a space to just photograph our paintings, or who have limited space or maybe a limited budget for equipment, here are a few tips that might help you get the most out of what you do have.
5 Tips for Better Pictures of Your Artwork
1. Take it outside! Sunny or overcast, both will work. Sunny works best for me because the colors are more saturated, but sometimes the clouds just won’t cooperate (or they get a kick out of watching us struggling artists). The critical part is to face directly into our source of light (if overcast, position your art where you get the most light) I also try to tilt the painting either back or forward until I eliminate the glare – just experiment. If indoors, try to use color corrected or daylight type fluorescent bulbs (and plenty of them – I have 16 – 4 ft. bulbs above my easel).
2. Get a program that will allow you to adjust your image – like Photoshop. Photoshop Elements is fairly inexpensive or there is a free program at http://www.getpaint.net/index.html that has good reviews – I have not used either one, so this is all feedback from others – I cannot personally vouch for them. I have used Photoshop since the 90’s and now have the CS cloud subscription that runs about $54/month – less for just Photoshop – http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html. A good image editing program is almost essential if we plan to enter shows or have professional looking images to show galleries or place on a website. Look for a program that can crop, adjust the colors and set the white balance.
3. Use a tripod if possible – if not we should try to set our arms on a stable support like a table or our knees. Line up the image in the view finder so all the sides are straight, not in a trapezoid or twisted shape. Also, fill the space as much as possible with just the painting. With our software we can crop out everything except our painting. Unless of course we want a pic with a frame on it for our records. I like to get as close as I can with my camera and then move backward until the image distortion is eliminated – stepping back a bit farther so the image has some space around it and then focusing and zooming in helps – just don’t go too far back or the zooming in will cause distortion (I’m talking a couple feet, not several yards).
4. It’s best to adjust the color with the original nearby – we might think we know exactly what our colors are, after all we painted it, but it’s way easier with the original to compare with.
5. If you have one, place a GreyCard in the photo. I use the Camera Trax 24 color card card which you can find at https://www.cameratrax.com/color_balance_3x5.php. The GreyCard will allow your software (or a good print company) to adjust your colors and light temperature accurately.
Here are a couple photos that show before and after Photoshop with the GreyCard:
I’ll let you guess which is which…
This is the cropped image (after some reworking) for showing on my website or sending to shows:
Photographing artwork is tricky business. Fortunately digital photography takes out the expense of film and the waiting for development. What was even more painful was to find out none of the photos worked and the painting is now sold and in a new home…
Be patient, experiment like crazy and keep on painting! The life of an artist certainly isn’t an easy one, but it’s incredible, and I love it.
Do you have any other tips for our community for getting better pictures of our masterpieces?
Hi Bill – this is really helpful. In terms of lighting, I prefer outdoors over indoors but even then, I have to play with the white balance in my camera to get it right. For indoors, I bought a professional photography bulb (the ones that are super bright and hot) and a white photography umbrella. I turn the bulb around to face backwards into the umbrella which then diffuses the light on to my painting. I don’t have to make color adjustments in photoshop with this method.
Thank you for this. I really needed it.
Thanks, Bill–I hope you like this from a photo I took last summer driving home one night!!