10 Tips for Photographing Your Own Paintings

photographing your own paintingsAt some point you will need to photograph your paintings as it will be necessary to provide images for promotion on a website, to enter your work in juried shows, to present it to galleries, or for printing in marketing materials such as brochures, etc. Good photos can make all difference when it comes to selling your paintings or finding the right gallery to promote your work.

The following tips will help you to take some reasonably good photographs of your own paintings. For the times when you need quality, high resolution images to be used in printed materials such as magazines, giclee, posters, books, etc., you might want to consider hiring a professional photographer.

Equipment you will need:

  • Camera — with minimum 12.1 megapixels, batteries, and memory card
  • Tripod — one that is stable and will hold the weight of your camera 
  • Lighting kit — for indoor photo shoots

Tip #1: Photograph your artwork on a flat surface (such as a wall) with a grey, black or white background. Hang the work with the center of the painting right at eye level. It is best to hang the painting on the wall rather than leaning it against the wall. For larger paintings, they can be laid flat on the floor and then shot from above looking down.

Tip #2: Take your picture square on from its centermost point, not from an angle. Carefully align the edges of your painting in the viewfinder or LCD of the camera. Make sure the sides are straight and tops and bottoms are level, the slightest tilt or angle will distort the view making your art look like a trapezoid in the picture.

Tip #3: Take your painting out of its frame and remove any matting before photographing to prevent any unwanted shadows. If you can’t take it out of the frame or matt, then it can be cropped out later using Photoshop. Also it’s not a good idea to photograph a picture under glass as it can cause unwanted reflections and glare.

Tip #4: When shooting your photo get the entire image in the frame with a little bit of the background. You can crop out the background later using Photoshop or some other photo manipulation software.

Tip #5: Use a photo editing software program, such as Photoshop, to improve your images. Crop out any background, frame or matting, if need be. It can also be used color correct your pictures, balance contrast and eliminate any distortions.

Tip #6: Use a tripod with your camera at eye level with the center of your painting when photographing your art. The most common cause of blurry photos is a shaky camera. Still photography is best done using a tripod. Place the tripod at a distance far enough away where your painting will fill almost all of the viewfinder or LCD, yet you are not too close to get distortions.

Tip #7: For the best results, set your camera to the largest size it can take photos at and also at the finest quality of picture. This will utilize your digital camera to the maximum of its megapixels capability. Refer to your camera manual to determine which is the best size for your purposes.

Tip #8: Choose the following camera settings:

• Color mode: Adobe RGB (not sRGB)
• Image size: Set to the largest size your camera can produce
• Image format: Use RAW or TIFF. JPEG format is best used for the Web.
• ISO (which corresponds to the film speed setting on a film camera): 100
• White balance: Set the white balance to match the type of bulbs you’re using in your floodlights. (Recommend daylight-balanced – 5,000 K-bulbs)
• Exposure control: Manual mode
• Flash: Turn off
• Aperture and f-stops: f8 for most lenses
• Shutter speed: Without a tripod — don’t use a shutter speed below 60, or the motion of your body will result in blurry photos. With a tripod — don’t go below 30.

Tip #9: Photographing outdoors — The best light source for photographing your paintings is outdoor, indirect sunlight. Natural, indirect light will show your art better than any other light.

Photograph when it is cloudy or overcast sky
Mid-morning til mid-afternoon (10 am – 4 pm)  is the best time
• Position your painting so sunlight falls on the top, at an angle well above straight-on, especially from the left and your art will look more closely to the actual piece.

Tip #10: Photographing indoors — Choose a well lit room to set up your photo shoot in. A room where you can shine light evenly on all sides of the artwork. Lighting is extremely important in producing correct color. Turn off the room lights and use only one light source to illuminate your painting.

• Block the windows and set up your lights. Do your best to use one light source. For evenly lit shots, position two 500-watt floodlights on either side of the art. Make sure the light is bright and uniform throughout the room.
• Be careful to not shoot your art near color objects. Those objects’ color(s) can reflect in the art.
• Turn the flash off on your camera. If not, the flash will produce “hot spots” on your art.

UPDATED: 22 April 2016

10 Tips for Taking Artist Reference Photos

camera reference photoResource photos provide invaluable reference material for your paintings and will complement any on-the-spot sketches you may want to do of a location or subject matter.  If you need to take reference photos for your paintings, here are some tips and things to keep in mind.

Tip #1: Photograph objects or locations that interest you. The same applies if you want to paint people or animals. The reason for this is you will be spending a lot of time staring at those subjects as you create your painting. If you don’t like the subject matter, it will show in your painting.

Tip #2: Have a camera available to use at all times, if possible. A good “point and shoot” digital camera will work for this. They are affordable and easy to use. Try to get one with at least 12.1 megapixel capability. Never leave home without your camera. You never know when “photo ops” will present themselves. So be prepared.

Tip #3: Remember the basic rules of composition also apply to photography. Before snapping your photo, try composing the subject matter in your viewfinder. The more your do at this step in the process, the less work there will be when you actually compose your composition on canvas. A good rule of thumb is to utilize the Rule of Thirds when deciding upon the placement of objects within the scene.

For more information about the Rule of Thirds refer to the article titled “Creating Better Compositions in All Your Paintings“.

Tip #4: Take lots of photos from may different angles and levels. Take at least a dozen or so photos, if not more. Later as you are looking at them on your computer the many photos will allow you to determine what elements will work in the composition and which ones will not. At least one (maybe more) will present itself as being the best one to use to compose your painting from. Set aside photos that simply don’t work. Never settle for using a photo that you don’t feel good about.

Tip #5: Use your zoom to get close-up shots for detail. If you can’t zoom in close enough then your shot will probably not provide you the detail you might need.

Tip #6: Don’t limit yourself to taking photos from eye level only. Bend down or even lay down to get a bugs-eye point of view or stand on something for a birds-eye view. These angles can also make interesting compositions for your paintings.

Tip #7: When photographing a building, it’s best to move around and photograph one section at a time and squarely on. The picture of the building will be distorted if you stay in one spot and pivot your camera.

Tip #8: For panoramic views of a location, it is best way to snap a number of photos that overlap each other. The next step is to piece them together using Photoshop or some other photo manipulation software program. Consider taking portrait (vertical) shots rather than landscape (horizontal).

Tip #9: Snap resource photos to capture fleeting moments. Moments like cloud formations, sunrises and sunsets, birds in flight, or seascapes.

See article titled “Photographing the Setting Sun for Your Sunset Paintings” for more information on shooting reference photos of sunsets.

Tip #10: Take reference photos when you have a model sitting for you. They can reduce the time a model needs to sit for you. Utilize your resource photos when painting the extra details in portraits, such as clothes and chairs, etc. They can also be referred to when it isn’t convenient for the model to be in the studio.

Additional Reading

Is It Really Okay For Artists To Use Reference Photos? Part 1 and Part 2