How to Photograph Your Artwork in 10 Easy Steps
Why Great Photos Matter
We’re going to let you in on a little secret. Whenever you apply for a competition of any kind – be it an art competition, a university scholarship, a job opportunity – really, ANY competition at all, the jury panel or committee assigned the task of selecting the best candidates will begin the process of elimination by weeding out submissions that failed to meet the criteria outlined on the application form in favor of applicants who took the time to do it right. This may sound harsh, but really it isn’t. It boils down to this: if you don't take the application process seriously, why should we take your application seriously? Professionalism is key...
In an art competition, the most important element of your submission is the quality of the images of your art work. These images are what we use to judge your work.
If you ever expect your art career to go anywhere at all, it is imperative that you present your work in a professional manner. Art is VISUAL. If the photos of your artwork are bad, you are sunk. Plain and simple.
That’s why we’ve put together this easy 10 step guide to help you produce great quality images of your artwork.
- Do not use your cell phone camera to photograph your work. Buy or borrow a proper digital camera that has a few basic settings, like being able to select the ISO. Lower ISO settings produce crisper, cleaner images, higher ISO settings produce grainier ones. The ideal setting is 200 ISO. Never go above 400 ISO. The trade off for a lower ISO setting is that it will require a longer exposure time. This means…
- You will need a tripod. Because you will be shooting your photos using longer exposures, it is a given that if you go at it hand held, the pictures will be blurry. Small hand movements will definitely register as motion blur. Using a tripod is also essential for a few other reasons…
- A tripod allows you to make sure that your camera is perfectly aligned to the artwork. It is important to photograph art head on in such a way that the edges of the art line up with the edges of the photo. If you are leaning the art against a wall or easel, you must take that slight angle into consideration. A tripod makes this easy. Simply tilt the tripod head so that the camera lens is parallel to the art work. An easy way to do this right is to make sure the edges of your art work run parallel to the edges of the photo. You should aim to minimalize any edge distortion as much as possible. Last point on the tripod front: by mounting your camera on a tripod and using the delayed timer feature that most cameras have, you will ensure that there is zero camera movement when the shutter goes off. Provided your focus is right, using the tripod and the delayed timer will produce the sharpest image possible.
- Don’t set up your camera too close to the artwork. First, because you want to avoid shadows of you or your camera set up on the art, but also because if you are too close, you will be shooting too wide. The widest angle on your lens will distort the edges of your art, and like we pointed out in point #3, you want to avoid that. Same thing applies if you are too far and zoom in too much. Set up your camera at a distance that allows you to shoot with the lens set comfortably at the mid point between ultra wide and ultra zoom. This will be the closest to the way the human eye sees things.
- A good auto focus should, with the help of a tripod for an accurate reading, provide a nice sharp image. Take more than one though. Sometimes the auto focus lets you down.
- Now we’re ready to talk about the real challenge: lighting. First point: NO FLASH! The flash will create a reflective “hot spot” on your artwork that will basically ruin the whole enterprise. Also the flash has a cold, nasty light that makes everything look really ugly. No. Flash. The best lighting is natural daylight on an overcast day. Ideally you would shoot indoors near a big window on an overcast day. Remember to set your art up at an angle from the light source that reduces as much surface glare as possible. In other words, avoid placing the art in direct light, even if it is muted and diffused.
- All cameras have lighting condition settings. If you are shooting on a cloudy day (even if your set up is indoors), pick the setting with a cloud icon. You can shoot indoors on a sunny day (remember to change the settings of your camera to the sun icon), provided you figure out a way to diffuse the light. White semi transparent curtains on the window work really well. The important thing is to avoid direct sunlight. It will give you the same problems as the flash: hot spots and maybe unwanted shadows if the work is textured. What you want to eliminate as much as possible is any kind of reflective glare off the surface of your art. That’s why it’s not a good idea to shoot something that is framed with a piece of glass over it. You just won’t be able to eliminate the reflective glare off the glass no matter what the lighting set up is. Remember to take more than one picture. If you take ten or so you will be surprised to find that some are definitely better than others.
- You’ll want to load these pictures onto a photo editing platform. Picassa is free, Photoshop or Illustrator can be had as a free 30 day trial. Either one will allow you to crop the image so that that the only element of the raw photo remaining is your art work. We don’t want to see your wall, your easel, or your living room. We only want to see your art. ONLY your art. Be precise about this. Make sure that there is no small sliver of frame, wall or anything of the sort. If you took the time to set up your camera properly, you should have no problem making a nice clean crop.
- It is not a bad idea to MILDLY adjust the contrast of the image to eliminate whatever trace of reflective glare off the surface of your work. DO NOT go crazy with this feature. A mild increase on the contrast is all that is required to make the image look great on a screen. Too much contrast looks really bad, so go easy.
- Save your image at its highest quality. Save a copy which you will then reduce in size to 800 pixels at its widest or longest side while reducing the dpi to 150 dpi. Save this version as a JPEG at the highest possible quality. Remember to name the file according to our requirements:
YourLastName_YourFirstName_ArtWorkTitle.jpeg (you don’t have to type in the .jpeg extention… it will automatically appear if you select “JPEG when you click on “Save as”)
You are now armed with high quality images of your art work and the necessary knowledge to get it right every time. Wishing you the best of luck!