Tutorial – Photographing your artwork

This is a tutorial for those wishing to improve their skills in photographing their artwork.

We artists are often very good at the core process of creating art but sometimes we struggle with some of the peripheral jobs surrounding it. The first ones that spring to mind are marketing, paperwork and photographing our work so that we can catalogue it or enter it into galleries, shows and exhibitions. I have some tips for the last one.

Firstly, no matter what your level of development as an artist, get into the habit of photographing your work as you create it, thereby having lots of “Work In Progress” images. There are many reasons for this including being able to look back and chart your progress, putting your work on the internet in forums where you can get critiques, and even writing magazine articles showing how you create your art. I create separate folders on my computer for each series of WIP images named with the year it was created, the species and the title of the art (for example “2011 Zebras Lifeblood of Etosha”). This way, I can instantly find what I’m looking for.

Secondly, photographing your finished work is a fairly simple process as long as you follow some easy steps.

Set your work up (cleaned and free of blemishes) on an easel and your camera on a tripod to eliminate shake and blurring. I use the ‘self timer’ function so my hand doesn’t create any shake.

Have your camera pointed at your work at exactly 90 degrees with the camera positioned so it is aiming at the centre of the art. This will help eliminate any distortion of your image.

Have your camera positioned a little further away from your art and use the zoom slightly. This will further eliminate the distortion you get from wide angled lenses.

Frame your art well in the viewfinder. Get it nice and straight now even though this can be adjusted later on a computer.

Use natural lighting as much as possible. You will find your results will vary considerably depending on how you light your art. If you have the old tungsten lamps in your studio, your work will have a yellowish tinge when you photograph it. You can balance this out by adding fluorescent or the more modern mercury and halogen lights. However, nothing beats natural light for accurate representation of your work. Unless you are a very experienced photographer, do not use flash. Better to put your easel outside using natural, indirect light (not in the sunshine).

Make certain you shoot your work before you’ve framed it behind glass. If this is not possible, make certain there is as little glare or as few reflections as possible. You can further reduce distracting elements with a polarising filter.

Once you have your image on your camera and then loaded onto your computer, crop it so that there is no extraneous background showing. You can also rotate your work by degree to make certain it is absolutely straight.

Further editing on a computer
It is important to determine what you will be doing with the images of your finished artwork. If you are going to use them to produce prints, there is nothing wrong with trying to improve your work in an image editing program. This can be done by adjusting the contrast, brightness, colour balance and using various other tools that these programs offer.

However, if your goal is to enter your work into competitions, exhibitions and galleries, it is vital to resist the temptation to ‘improve’ your work by image editing. Your goal must absolutely be to represent your original artwork as accurately as possible. There is a very good reason for this. Let’s say you are entering your work into an exhibition. You may need to email your image to the organisers (many shows are like this nowadays) and the judges may then jury your work into the show. Once you’ve been accepted, the next step is to send your original piece to them. If this does not accurately match your digital image the judges may in fact reject your work.

Happy creating!