More Tips for Taking Pictures of Art from the Experts

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More Tips for Taking Pictures of Art from the Experts

Last week, we published an article filled with great tips and advice for students about how to take pictures of artwork for their art portfolio. This time, we’re featuring advanced tips for taking pictures of art from several artists with tons of experience in photography from the Art Marketing group at LinkedIn.

This post should further help art students refine the photos to be included in their portfolio. More importantly, the tips for taking pictures featured here will teach people the best practices in photography that could open the door for them to take up this discipline more seriously, if not turn it into a professional career.

Dave Rheaume

Toronto-based Dave Rheaume has been working as a television director and editor for the past 28 years. However, his passion for the arts allowed him to create paintings, some of which have been sold to private collectors and included in exhibits such as the Juried Ottawa Art Expo and the Autumn Art Sale at the McMichael Gallery.

paint easel

paint easel (Photo credit: Mouse)

I take my paintings outside and set them up on an easel or against a wall. The best days are slightly overcast ones because it puts pretty even light on the canvas. It’s important not to be right up close to the piece because the wider the camera lens the more ‘keystoning’ or bending you get at the corners. So I step back a few feet and then zoom in a bit until I more or less have the image square in the viewfinder.

I brace against a solid object (a tripod would be best) while I take the picture to avoid camera shake. The strong light means the iris of the camera will clamp down and there’ll be less noise. Then I take the picture into Photoshop, add a warming filter (because daylight is somewhat blue compared to incandescent light), and adjust the constrast/brightness/saturation ratios until I’ve got it where I want it. Photoshop also has a ‘sharpen’ filter so I do that once too. I’m leery of doing it too many times because it starts to ‘invent’ information after a while, but one round of sharpening seems to clean up all the lines nicely. I’m pretty happy with the results. I’ve made some pretty large prints from them.

Amy-Elyse Neer

Amy was born in California legally blind and only had her eyesight corrected when she was four. Despite it all, she loves to show vibrant colors and infectious humor in her paintings. Visit her shop at RedBubble and Art Fire to see her artworks on sale!

My ex-husband is a photographer and he taught me quite a few handy tricks when he would photograph my works, David gives excellent advice, but I would add a few tips to his list, if using artificial light, indoors.

  1. Do not aim the bulbs directly at the work. Use three or four light sources – daylight bulbs if you can find them – and aim them just past the work. For instance, a light in the upper right corner should be aimed to just outside the lower left corner, A light on the left edge should be aimed just past the right edge. Using three or four lights from different angles will help eliminate shadows from any texture in the paint, and by not aiming the hottest spot from the bulb directly at the work, you will be eliminating glare and hot spots (this is if you can’t afford professional lighting with diffusers and such).
  2. Most hardware stores sell inexpensive clamp fixtures for lighting, They have a squeeze clamp, a cord and switch and a shade that looks sort of like a metal mixing bowl (I got mine for about $9 a piece 15 or so years ago, not sure how much they are now, but they are probably still comparable) and you can use any bulb with a standard thread in them. These make excellent studio lights.
  3. Let the lightbulbs come to heat before you start taking pictures, This usually means (even with CF’s) turning them on and waiting about 15 minutes, The difference in the lighting from cold to warm is dramatic. You get much better light in the pictures if the bulbs have come up all the way.
  4. Invest in a color chart/wheel that has a gradient scale and set this near the painting in an area you can crop out later, this will help you in post production when you go to do your color matching and gamma correction in your software. Once the color correction and gamma are adjusted, just crop out the chart. ( I usually clip it to the easel just above the canvas with a grip clip)
  5. If you have limited space to place the camera, and you are taking the picture from close in, experiment with using the Macro setting. (This usually, on most cameras looks like a little tulip icon) Depending on how far back you can set up the camera, this can help capture fine detail. It won’t always be the best mode to shoot in, but definitely give it a shot or two. I find about 70% of the time in a limited space situation this can really sharpen up the detail.

Dave McDonough

Look, Mixed Media, 18.5 x 22.5 x 2, $1,100. Image taken from Artwork page from his site.

Look, Mixed Media, 18.5 x 22.5 x 2, $1,100. Image taken from Artwork page from his site.

Dave started taking the arts seriously when he reached his mid-twenties. His three-dimensional artworks in the Pop and Op Art style are mostly political in nature.

Scanning is probably the best option for paintings but, as I produce three-dimensional shadow boxes with glass, plexi-glass and highly reflective materials, I have to photograph my work.

My suggestions are as follows:

  • SLR Cameras

    SLR Cameras (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    If possible, shoot with an SLR

  • Always put your camera on a tripod – if you don’t have one, GET ONE!
  • Always shoot with either a timer or a remote control
  • If shooting with an SLR, enable mirror lock up
  • If shooting on a tripod, disable any image stabilizer your camera or lens has
  • Shoot using different camera settings (ISO, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority)
  • Natural lighting works best so try and shoot outdoors if possible. If not try to shoot in a room well lit with natural light
  • If shooting indoors, play with lighting. If you don’t have professional lights, use lamps (with and without the shade) and play around with the positioning of them
  • This last point is really important: Acquire a good software program like Photoshop and invest the time needed learning how to use it. If you can’t figure it out on your own, take a class. Don’t rely on the built in easy fixes the software offers. Do it yourself

Truthfully, a professional would have done a better job than I could, but I simply can’t afford them.

If you want to see what you can do on a shoestring budget, here is a link to my website. I shot all of my artwork myself.

In case you missed our massive tip list on how to take pictures of artworks the right way, click here to read “How to Take Pictures of Artwork for Your Art Portfolio: 42 Tips.”

If you’ve done all the tips above but still remain unsure about the photographs to be included in your college art portfolio, then get a FREE Portfolio Assessment from Karen Kesteloot to improve your skills in photography and make an art portfolio that will get you into the best art and design colleges! Click here or on the banner below for more information.

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