How to Take Pictures of Artwork for Your Art Portfolio: 42 Tips

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How to Take Pictures of Artwork for Your Art Portfolio

A Nikon D90 Digital SLR Camera in "livevi...

A Nikon D90 Digital SLR Camera in “liveview” mode. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When making your art portfolio to be sent to art and design schools for review, you will have to take pictures or scans of your artworks to convert into digital files. An increasing number of colleges and and universities are asking for digital portfolios in the form of PDFs, JPGs and digital or on-line slideshows as their required portfolio submission format.

Some works are best photographed while others will be captured best as scanned images. We’ve compiled in this blog entry advice on how to photograph your artwork with good results. It’s a fairly simple process, but there are factors that you need to consider to be able to capture the best quality image of your artwork so you can share the special details of your work with the most impact.

You could have a professional photograph your works for the absolute best results but it is really not necessary to go through that expense  when students have easy access to quality equipment and editing software.

Without further ado, below are tips on how to take pictures of artwork to be included in your art portfolio.

Lighting

  1. Take your artwork outside and make use of natural light.
  2. If the sun is too bright, find shade to dial down the intensity of the artwork as it appears on your camera. Adjust the white balance if your camera has that option so that the whites are a light grey tone and the white does not appear to glow.
  3. Make sure the camera is set to the appropriate lighting condition: sun or shade to have accurate color rendering.
  4. Watch for any shadows or glare.
  5. Take artwork out from behind any glass frames if possible. If there is glare coming off the art, try to position yourself and the art such that there is a dark background so that glare is avoided.
  6. If you wish to shoot your artwork indoors, choose a bright room or use powerful lights to avoid certain parts of your artworks from being darker. The higher the wattage of the light, the more evenly the light will be distributed to your artwork.
  7. Set up two lights on either side of the art set at 45 degree angles to the art and far enough away from the artwork to avoid too intense a light. Some photographers suggest as much as four meters away from the artwork.
  8. For paintings, set up your lights on one corner (still 45 degrees from the artwork and you) to cast shadows on the strokes and reveal texture.
  9. Having two lights, setting them up on both sides of the artworks minimizes texture and can remove wrinkles on the artwork’s surface.
  10. Turn off the room lights when shooting indoors.
  11. Remember to set your camera to the appropriate light source type and check that the colors look accurate in the setting.

Positioning your artwork

  1. Take a picture of your artwork when it is already dry (for paintings).
  2. Place your artwork on a wall so that it stands upright.
  3. Make sure that the wall is white or plain so that the focus is on the artwork.
  4. Use a tripod or a box to keep your camera steady when taking a picture.
  5. Position the camera so that there is no tilting and the artwork appears dead center on your camera lens and watch that the front of the camera body is parallel to the face of the artwork. Watch that the edges of the artwork are parallel to the edges of the view finder or use perspective control if you have that option in your camera’s menu.
  6. You can shoot art on the floor too provided you are careful to keep the artwork squarely in the view finder and avoid any cast shadows on the piece.
  7. To avoid the artwork from swelling up on your camera, move the camera back and zoom in.
  8. Zoom to above 50mm; anything less than that will distort the framed edges of your artwork.
  9. Leave only a little space around art in the view finder of camera when shooting the artwork to maximize its resolution and then crop slightly for a good clean image.

Setting up your camera

  1. Clean the lens of your camera using a microfiber cloth.
  2. Use a digital SLR camera rather than a small point and click model. If you can’t afford one then borrow or rent one. Any quality brand like Canon, Minolta, Pentax or Nikon will do a good job for you. An entry level to medium quality level camera will suffice.
  3. Use a camera with less glass such as a 50mm lens (as opposed to a compound zoom lens) for sharper images.
  4. Use a linear polarizing filter over the lens to avoid large portions of glare on your artwork.
  5. If you’re not sure on how to manually set up your camera for the shot, setting it up on auto-focus should be fine but I prefer to use the magnifier option with manual focus to ensure that the lines are all crisp–push the magnifying lens icon two times and then set the focus to be crisp. Push the shutter release or view finder flip to revert to the normal view.
  6. Choose aperture priority and select a mid range F-stop so that the focus is sure to be crisp like around a 5.6 and ideally closer to 8. With Aperture Priority and the rest set to auto adjust the camera will calculate the appropriate other settings, without you having to know how to calculate it all yourself. Play with the aperture settings such that the other settings conform the the below parameters.
  7. For best results use a minimum of 50 or 60 for a shutter speed. Anything slower will likely be slightly blurred.
  8. Set the ISO (refers to sensitivity of image sensors for your digital camera) as described above ideally to its lowest setting – around 100 – to make the picture sharp and keep it from getting grainy. Adjust if necessary.
  9. Turn off the flash of your camera to make use of the indoor lights you have set up (or outdoor if you are taking a picture outside).
  10. Adjust the white balance setting of your camera so it shows the tones of color you see on the artwork with your eyes.
  11. Set the timer to at least two seconds so you will have time to remove your hand from the camera and keep the camera stable.

During and after taking pictures

  1. Take multiple shots of the artwork so you can choose the best one to include in your portfolio.
  2. For sculptors, take picture of your work in different angles and try different lighting set ups to show the sculpture’s best attributes. Side light is often good for sculpture.
  3. Consider bracketing your shots: this means to take a few shots with different exposures, selecting one F-stop above and below the ideal setting or select bracket from your camera’s menu features.
  4. Don’t pack up your gear until you’ve reviewed the pictures in your camera and computer. There may be mistakes in the pictures that may require you to retake the artwork.
  5. Correct the image using features in your camera. For instance, use exposure compensation feature to edit the picture if it’s too dark or light. It depends on the features and the naming conventions in your camera.
  6. After editing the picture on your camera, don’t delete the original file as you may have to use it again later.
  7. Crop the file using an image editing program to remove the space around the artwork.
  8. Don’t make it a habit to rely on using image editing programs to fix your pictures. It’s best that you take the best possible shots of your artworks instead.
  9. Save the artwork as PSD (for Photoshop) or TIFF to retain the image quality before saving it to an image file.
  10. Save file as JPG and set image quality to maximum for best results.
  11. Find out the file size requirements of the program you are applying to or the slide presentation platform you are using and compress the image to those requirements.

Sources:

Images created using Quozio and Pixlr.

For more tips on how to take pictures of artwork, click here to read our follow-up post “More Tips for Taking Pictures of Art from the Experts” where professional artists break down their process of getting the best photographs out of their artworks.

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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