How To Photograph Art Successfully
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Many of you have asked me how to photograph your art for good quality presentation and prints. After many hours of research and a few years of experience under my belt, I’m sharing what some of the experts have recommended and what works for me. When you look at my images, you can zoom in and see very crisp detail such as my Boca Birds painting. Take a look and click the magnifying glass. See the detail? With proper care, you shouldn’t have to worry about posting a detailed images that will be stolen. See my post here for information on copyright concerns pertaining to protecting your art.
If you are photographing your work for the web, reproductions, or your website this tutorial will help your presentation look much better.
6 Important Key Factors
- Camera Knowledge-Highly Important (Not hard. I will explain)
- A Good DSLR (Digital Single Lens Release) camera works best if making prints, but a high quality cell phone will get you close
- Lighting/Indirect Outdoor lighting is always best
- Set Up
- Appropriate editing/post processing software for your computer/phone
- A Tripod
NOTE: Before I explain each step above, the most important factor in taking good photographs is to understand your camera and how it works.
USING MANUAL MODE
I can’t stress enough how much better your photographs will be if you learn manual mode. While this may scare many of you (Don’t worry; it did me too at first) it is the best option to get crisp photos with correct color.
How To Photograph your Art Tip: Check your phone for manual or pro mode.
Most of today’s quality cell phones such as I phone and Samsung now have this option. My Samsung Galaxy offers Pro Mode which works so well I was able to capture some stars during the recent solar eclipse. After reading this tutorial check the settings and/or mode button for pro mode.
USING RAW FORMAT
Look for RAW FORMAT in your camera’s menu settings.
My Samsung Galaxy actually has this option. This option is only available in manual mode, not auto. Why am I telling you this?
You will get much more control over your photos shooting in RAW and Manual mode.
Let me repeat that. If you want to learn how to photograph your artwork successfully, You will get much more control over your photos shooting in RAW and Manual Mode. Have you ever attempted to edit JPEG or JPG photo and had it result in diminished fuzzy or pixelated quality? Here is why…
JPG or JPEG only reads about 70% of the full pixels. On the other hand, RAW FORMAT will save 100% of your pixels for editing. Note, depending on your camera, the file extension will be different. Here is a common list on Quora.
How To Photograph your Art Tips
- Most new phones such as the Samsung Galaxy and I phone have an option to photograph RAW images. Click here for how to set images to RAW on Samsung. Alternatively, Click here for how to set images to RAW on iPhone.
2. You will need a program that reads RAW Images. Standard computer programs will not read them. It’s easy to do an internet search to locate one, but I have already done the work for you.
I phone photos can also be edited in Lightroom which I believe is also a free download.
If you have a DSLR camera that shoots RAW, the camera software should read it. More in the Post Processing section.
Please note that RAW format will need to be edited in a program that can handle it then you will export to a JPG or PNG for uploading to the internet or sending via e-mail.
There are multiple factors involved in getting a good photo. It’s not difficult, just a few operations to get yourself familiar with.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR CAMERA’S FUNCTIONS
Before I explain each step above, probably the most important factor is to understand your camera and how it works.
The 4 main photography components to adjust for proper exposure resulting in good photographs
Get to know these. Print this list to use each time.
- Shutter Speed appears in increments such as 1/25, 1/250, 1/500, etc. Shutter speed is measured in seconds. 1/500 is 1/500th second. Equate this to the blink of an eye. The lower the shutter speed would be a slower blink. Letting in less light and resulting in more blur. Try to aim for a shutter speed of around 1/125 or higher.
- Aperture (also referred to as F-stop) This is found on DSLR Camera. The lower the F-stop, the more light, caution but potential for blur if it sees any foreground objects first. Common increments are f1.4, f2, f 3.5, f5.6 and up to f22 ( I believe, but never went that high) More about this on the next page
- ISO measures a camera’s sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO is used in brighter situations and will show less grain. However, the higher ISO will increase light in your photo. I recommend not going over 200 ISO if you are going to do prints. If you are just photographing for your website 400 should work. Higher than that will most likely be grainy.
- White Balance – Sets color for current lighting conditions. You know the setting for full sun, cloudy, shade, etc? Some argue this is not as important because it can be adjusted in post processing. While that is true, I personally find it easier to match it to my work while photographing because I’m very picky about accurate color representation.
Tips: If your photo is too dark try decreasing your shutter speed a bit to get more light. If your shutter speed is too low causing blurred images, increase your ISO to allow more light into your camera.
*Note, professional camera should have a custom white balance setting. This may give you better results, but the process varies from camera to camera. You can do an internet search on how to set the white balance for your specific camera. You will likely need a gray card. I found mine on Amazon and it’s not much of a cost.
How to photograph your art successfully includes proper set up
- Invest in a tripod. You can find them reasonably at retailer such as Walmart, Target or Amazon. I prefer this ball and joint tripod I purchased from Amazon which holds the weight of my DSLR. You can also find a cell phone tripod attachment at Amazon.
Why? Tripod’s hold the camera still. Your body is in constant motion not matter how still you hold your hand, so you will get your best shot from a tripod.
2. Distance– If you get too close to your subject, your image will blur. I find that for most of my photos, I need to stand back 3-4 feet.
3. Positioning Artwork-Hang your work as straight as possible. Aim for 90 degrees from floor. You can purchase a display gridwall panel for this purpose, or try to adjust your easel.
Prepare To Take Your Photo
As you can see from the above steps, you will need to find a proper balance between your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Remember to set your white balance for good color and your focus lock.
In learning how to photograph your art, Set your proper exposure by doing the following
- Choose the correct ISO, usually 200
- Set your aperture if option is available. Some such as my Sony sets with my focus. Aim for 3.5
- Correct Shutter Speed 250 minimal 500 and up best
- Correct White Balance-You will see this affect the color of your photograph drastically. Try cloudy or look up how to custom white balance. It’s very simple.
2. FOCUSING (Very, very important)
When it comes to how to photograph your art, Your focus is important. A DSLR will have multiple focusing options such as center, spot, area, zone and wide. I prefer to use Zone or wide focus because the entire image will be in focus. In my experience if you use spot focus, it may cause the outside areas to be blurry.
*****Important. Use your focus lock. If you just depress the shutter button to take your photo, you will most likely get a blurred photograph.
Your camera needs a moment to focus. Most if not all cameras have the option to depress the shutter button ½ way to focus. Depending on your camera settings, you should hear a beep and/or see an indicator light. This lets you know your image is in focus. At this point, continue to depress the shutter button to finish taking your photograph. Do not release and depress again. If so, you will need to focus lock your subject again.
Yes you can do most of this with your phone. Just look at the pro mode. The only option my Samsung doesn’t have is the aperture, commonly referred to as f-stop. Just go to pro mode and play around.
If you follow the above, you should get a fantastic shot.
Let me elaborate a bit on the above. Think of your camera lens as an eye which works similar to a camera lens.
1. How fast your eye blinks would be the shutter speed. If your eye stays closed longer, it doesn’t see all the movements in actions shots. It’s the same with your shutter speed. So a low, slow shutter speed will blur action shots. I even find it will sometimes blur my still shots probably due to a little camera vibration. I try for a shutter speed of 500
2. The amount of light affects your size of your pupil which is similar to your cameras aperture. The wider open the lens on your camera, referred to as f-stop, determines how much light is let in your camera, the smaller larger number on the aperture, the smaller the lens opening letting in less light.
In a DSLR window, a number such as 1.8 (very expensive lens) 2.5, 3.5, and so on will appear to let you know what your aperture (f-stop is). Some cameras allow you to set it such as my Canon, but my Sony Crop sensor determines it automatically. The lower the number the wider the lens, such as a large pupil in the dark, the more light your camera captures. However, that can cause some blurring. I aim for 2.8 to 3.5 with a shutter speed of 500 or more.
DSLR Camera’s will have an exposure indicator which is set of vertical lines. When the indicator is in the middle, it is telling you you have exposure set properly. Exposure is your shutter speed, combined with your white balance, and correct aperture.
Most likely you will have to post process your photo even if it’s just to crop your image. I always have to crop my photos because as I stated, getting to close will blur them.
Find a program that will crop your RAW image. Do not do this in JPEG for prints or good presentation. Crop in RAW and you can export to a Tiff file (rather large file) for further editing. Again. you will need a program to do this unless you do it all with the RAW image. You may want to purchase Adobe Photoshop or like me use the free slightly different version of GIMP which does have a learning curve, but I couldn’t live with out it. In GIMP, once you’ve edited your image, click export, you can then choose the size of the file.
Before I end this tutorial. I want to let you know that I learned a lot from this small paperback book. I read a bit each night. The book is titled: Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson
Additionally, you can find more helpful resources on How To Photograph Your Artwork on these following sites:
I do hope this helps you in photographing your art for good presentations and reproductions.
Pleas note, I do not get any royalties, commissions, or other form of payment for mentioning any of the products in the article. They are listed only to assist you.