Today more than ever, it's essential for an artist to know how to take pictures of his work. Whether it is to promote his creations on social networks, to post ads on online art sales platforms, or simply to print communication supports integrating a visual, it's now almost impossible for an artist to evolve without having good quality digital pictures of his canvases.
Throughout this article, we will therefore answer a seemingly simple yet rather complex question: How do I get quality images of my artwork?
Not all artists are photographers. If for some of you, the process seems obvious, for many of your peers, the successful photography of a painting is sometimes science fiction. Don't panic, we are going to explain how to capture your artwork as clearly as possible: follow the guide!
1. Equipment: A Necessary Investment
To obtain good quality images, you need at least a fairly recent camera or latest generation phone, capable of taking good quality photographs. Apart from this essential prerequisite, if you wish to invest more, other tools may allow you to facilitate and/or sublimate your work.
These tools aren't essential: a few clever DIYs can help you avoid these purchases, but be aware that they exist, and that they can be useful, especially if you make a lot of artwork, or if your profits allow you to invest in a time saving that will provide you more availability for creation.
Here are the tools you may need, ranked (subjectively) by their order of importance, from most to least necessary:
- An adjustable tripod: to stabilize your camera/phone, facilitate framing and avoid motion blur.
- An easel: to keep your artwork straight and stable.
- Two portable LED spotlights/projectors: by imitating natural light, these projectors will allow you to take photographs indoors, in winter, at night, or at any other time when the sun is not shining.
- A long white, thick and opaque fabric (or curtain): very useful for photography of sculptures, it will also allow you to unify the background of your artwork, and avoid light pollution from objects or light reverberations behind the canvas.
- A gray chart: Useless except if you have the soul of a professional, or if you excel in the field of white monochromes, this tool allows you to check and fine-tune the white balance of your photographs.
- A spirit level: This tool is necessary if you don't have an easel or if your canvas is too big for it. Otherwise, it will only be useful for the most perfectionist among you. Many smartphone applications are very good at this function.
Concerning the possible alternatives: You can replace the tripod by a stool or a small piece of furniture (bedside table, pedestal table...) and a few large books to adjust the height. If you don't want to invest in LED projectors, daylight is very efficient to make good photographs of your paintings: artificial lights will only allow you to be no longer dependent on the weather and the subtleties of natural lighting in your workshop / apartment / house. In the same way, if you don't have an easel to hold your artwork, you can fix the artwork on a white wall, with a spirit level. This will be enough to obtain a simple and effective rendering.
2. Set Up Configuration
Whether you opt for natural or artificial lighting, be vigilant on these few points:
- Never use the flash: it creates shiny areas on the images, and totally distorts the artwork captured.
- Photographing a painting in 2D doesn't meet the same requirements as photographing a portrait or a landscape. The light must illuminate the canvas uniformly. If a shadowy area takes up part of the canvas surface, it will tarnish your entire work, thus distancing your final shot from the true appearance of your artwork.
- If your artwork is in relief, thicker or thinner, make sure that the direction of the light doesn't cause unwanted shadows to appear around it. If this is the case, move your artwork until you no longer notice any unwanted shadows.
For an outdoor shooting, prefer a time slot in the middle of the day, when the sky is blue or white, and between 10am and 3pm, when the light is strongest.
For an indoor shooting, the room in which you will set up your installation should be at least 3m by 3m, and be equipped with blinds or curtains, so that you can adjust the outdoor light sources at your convenience.
If you are using a LED lighting kit, install both light sources on each side of your camera.
Regarding the installation of your artwork and equipment, follow these simple rules :
- The canvas and the floor should be at right angles to limit perspective distortion. The artwork placed on an easel or hung on a wall must be perfectly horizontal, with the lower edge parallel to the floor.
- Place your tripod/stool and your camera at a distance of 1 or 2 meters from the artwork, facing it, at the same height.
- Evaluate the distance necessary for the artwork to fit perfectly into the frame of your camera. Make sure that the canvas fills the screen of your device as much as possible, in order to limit the cropping of the margins when you retouch your images. This cropping reduces the resolution of your images, so it's best to limit it as much as possible.
- Once you are satisfied with the installation, program a self-timer for a few seconds (3 or 10) and take several shots to make sure you have the right one at the end of the process. The self-timer will prevent micromovements when you press the shutter button of your camera.
This setup is quite long and complex, so take advantage of it to take several pictures of your projects during the same session, if your work organization allows it. This way, you can save precious time and make your installation profitable.
3. Post-production: ensure the quality and harmony of your picture with the initial artwork.
Once your photos have been taken, transfer them to your computer, in different folders dedicated to each of your artworks, in order to facilitate your selection and retouching.
To retouch and crop your photos, we strongly recommend you to use Photoshop. However, if you don't have this software, you can choose other free alternatives: Gimp, Paint, Gravit.io (directly available in your browser), Pixlr (Mac) or SumoPaint.
Apart from cropping, you can also modify contrasts and brightness on all these softwares. This will allow you to get closer to the initial artwork, if you perceive important tonal differences with the naked eye. Don't overuse these modifications, which can make your image look very different from the actual appearance of your realization.
We hope that these tips will be useful to you and allow you to make photographs that are faithful to the subtleties of your work. If you're a beginner artist, we also recommend that you read our article with some good tips to boost your online artwork sales.