Taking Flat Artwork Photos

As promised in my getting photos web ready, I’m going to cover how I take artwork photos in my studio.  You really should document each of your artwork with high quality photos for your portfolio, records, website and marketing materials.  This guide was created for beginners and creatives new to photography.

I’ve also included amazon affiliate links in case you need some of the supplies I use.  In this guide, I will cover as many aspects of how I take artwork photos but feel free to leave a comment below if you need more advice.

You will need:

1. Location

Pick a bright, well-lit wall in your space.  If there isn’t any spot in your home good enough, you can still take great photos.  Either take photos outdoors or try asking your local library/cafe if you can borrow one of the study rooms with a window. Do understand you will have to bring all your artwork and photography supplies with you.

Make sure you have a table or chair to display your work on for unframed pieces.  You can also use your easel.  I use a special corner of my studio, which has a desk surface beside a window.

2. Lighting

I prefer to work with natural light.  I find taking photos on cloudy, overcast days are best for artwork.  I find the light is more evenly distributed.  If you are taking sculpture photography, sometimes natural sunlight adds warmth to your artwork.

Depending on the direction your window is located (north, east, south or west), you need to find out if morning or afternoon light is better for your photos.

Elaine Joy Roach Set-Up of taking unframed artwork photos in her studio
Copyright Elaine Joy Roach, 2018

If you can’t shoot indoors by a window, you can use a lighting kit.  There are 2 ways to go about this.  The DIY version or purchase a complete set from Amazon (USA or Canada).

artwork photos camera set up with light kit
Copyright Elaine Joy Roach, 2018

DIY Version

Take two identical clamp lamps and use daylight led bulbs. Mount your two light sources onto a post or chair 45 degrees from your camera.  Tape white fabric or plastic over the lamps to diffuse the light.

3. Camera & Tripod

Grab the best camera you have access to.  You can also rent camera equipment. Toronto has a few locations that rent out equipment, one company is Vistek.  or even borrow from your school or public library.  Shoot with a tripod.  If you don’t have one or can’t afford one, make a steady stack of books to put your camera on.  No matter how talented you are in holding your camera, your photos will be better on a tripod for artwork photos.

Photography Basics

Before we tackle camera settings, let’s cover some basic photography terms.  I suggest using manual settings on your camera for best results.  Grab your camera manual to learn how to shoot in manual mode and how to change your camera settings.  Play around till you are comfortable changing the settings.

White Balance

Setting your white balance is important.  You need to let your camera know what is white so it can cast the right colours for your photos.  Make sure to adjust it every time you start a photo shoot.  Your white balance is affected by your light conditions (sunny, cloudy, indoors).  If your whites aren’t looking white in your pictures, it means you haven’t set your white balance properly.

Exposure

Exposure is how bright or dark you want your photos to appear.  By changing the following camera settings (aperture, shutter speed and ISO) you choose on the exposure for your photo.  If you ever wondered how did they make that photo have a certain emotion, the key is the exposure.  Shadows and other elements can make an everyday scene appear dramatic.  For artwork photos, we want bright and detailed shots.

Aperture

Simply put, aperture is how much light you want your camera to let in for your photo.  The lower the f-stop (f#) the more light you are letting in.  The higher the f-stop (f#) the less light you are letting in.

Aperture also controls depth-of-field.  Its how much of the picture is sharp and how much is blurry.  For artwork photos, we want to use shallow depth of field (low f-stop).  You would use high f-stop when you want to shoot a landscape photo and want everything in focus (no blurriness).

Shutter Speed

If aperture tells your camera how much light to let in, shutter speed controls how long you want the aperture to be open.  Slower shutter speeds (1/60, 1/80) allows for brighter pictures and higher chance of blur.  Faster shutter speed are great at trying to capture freeze frame type pictures in fast situations like sports or bird flying.

Blur occurs when the camera captures a subject moving while the aperture is open or if your camera shakes while the aperture is open.  Whereas faster shutter speeds (1/320) allows for darker pictures and less blur.

ISO

ISO really stands for International Organization for Standardization.  It tells the camera software to make it extra sensitive to light. High ISO leads to brighter pictures and more noise.  In contrast, low ISO brings darker pictures and less noise.  Noise is all that grainy details you see in your pictures.  It sometimes look like lint.  We want your artwork photos to be print quality so low ISO.

4. My Camera Settings

For artwork, I tend to use this setting

Shutter Speed: 100

ISO: 200

Aperture: I take many photos at various apertures (also known as bracketing).  I tend to go between f2 to f2.8.

Here’s what it looks like picture by picture.

Sample of aperture bracketing of artwork photos
Copyright Elaine Joy Roach, 2018

In this example, I think that f2.5 has the most accurate colours when viewed at 100%.

I basically take photos at different apertures for the same artwork.  Why? Natural light fluctuates from one minute to the next.  If a cloud moves over, the amount of light changes.  Also, you also give yourself insurance this way.  If your picture looks dark, let more light in by picking a lower aperture.  If your picture looks too bright, choose a higher aperture (higher #).  This is the only setting I change when taking artwork photos.

Use a tripod.  Shoot hands-free by using a timer or shutter remote to take our artwork photos.  This also prevents us from getting blur and can use slower shutter speed.

Taking Unframed Flat Artwork Photos

Here’s my set-up:

Copyright Elaine Joy Roach, 2018
  • Grab a foam core larger than your artwork
  • Place pushpins on it for your artwork to sit on
  • Rest the foam core on a flat surface (table or chair) and the wall
  • Set your tripod so the camera is even height with the artwork
  • Adjust the camera so that you are parallel to the image (if your artwork is a little slanted then slant your camera)
  • Leave a little white space around the artwork in your camera for editing
  • Start taking photo with aperture at f2
  • Change aperture one up and take a photo up to f2.8
Photo of Elaine Joy Roach camera during a photoshoot
Copyright Elaine Joy Roach, 2018

I use the pins to create a shelf for my artwork / print to sit on.  I prefer using these flying paper airplane kind.  It has a flat top which I don’t have to worry about editing out in Photoshop.  You can go with clear pushpins if you like or even bulldog clips but you will need to crop or edit them out for your prints.  For my Canadian friends, these are the best push pins I found on Amazon.ca.      I picked up mine from Staples on clearance, so I don’t think they have them available anymore.

Close of the push pins
Copyright Elaine Joy Roach, 2018

Taking Framed Artwork Photos

Here’s my set-up:

  • Hang your artwork on the wall
  • Level your artwork (Small level from Amazon.com)
  • Level your camera / tripod (Small level from Amazon Canada)
  • Set your tripod so the camera is even height with the artwork
  • Adjust the camera so that you are parallel to the image (if your artwork is a little slanted then slant your camera)
  • Leave a little white space around the artwork in your camera for editing
  • Start taking photo with aperture at f2
  • Change aperture one up and take a photo up to f2.8

Dealing with reflections / glass frames

I set up black curtains around where I shoot photos.  You can also suspend black paper roll behind the camera.  Also, I remove all reflective / shiny objects out of the area.  I even cover the table with a black cloth.

When I take photos, I tend to wear dark clothes and also hide behind the curtains.  Depending on the light, sometimes I even wrap cloth around the tripod.  The less areas the light have to bounce, the less chance you will get a reflection in your picture.

Ideally, you would take a photo before you have your work framed professionally.  But it happens, you are in a rush for a deadline and drop it off before documenting it.

I hope this helps some of you take better photos of your artwork.  Once you have your photos, don’t forget to prep them for the web or for printing.  There are places where you can pay a fee to have your artwork photographed.  I hope this guide shows you how to do it yourself.

Do you take your own artwork photos? Do you do something different when shooting your artwork?  Any advice for sculpture product photos?  Would it help if I made a video guide?  Till next week.

Much love,

P.S. If you found this useful, please leave a comment or share.  I love getting feedback so I can keep improving.

 

Always helps to hear if my work connects with you.

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