When you don't have access to a studio, getting the lighting right for photographing your art can be pretty difficult.
It is important to consider the following tips when photographing artwork:
Natural lighting tip: Try to use natural light whenever possible. Shooting in the shade or on an overcast day is preferable. Overcast days will help you to achieve a more even light source. When photographing in the shade, make sure there aren’t any patches of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will reflect light off of any surface, especially shiny surfaces.
To get consistent lighting make sure you photograph a series of work at the same time of day, and in the same weather conditions.
Studio lighting tip: When using studio lights to photograph flat artwork make sure your lighting is even across the entire subject. Photographing a piece of white card the same size as your subject is a good way to check this. If a corner looks too dark, you can pull the lights towards or away from your subject to get more even illumination. If you find your lighting isn’t even, or you are getting reflections from the surface texture of your subject, try reflecting your light source off of a white wall, a ceiling, or a large sheet of white paper. This should even out the light and will help prevent reflections.
If you can, try using two identical lights, one on either side of the artwork shining across the surface of the work at approximately a 45° angle. This will minimize reflections and give you an even light source.
Don’t rely on your camera’s built-in flash to light your subject. Doing this will reflect light straight back off the surface of the subject and cause a ‘hot spot’ in your photograph.
Reflection tip: Reflecting your lights off of a coloured surface will make the light source take on this colour. Try to use a white wall unless of course this is the look you are going for and you want your artwork to take on a lovely shade of pink, green, purple or blue!
Background tip: When photographing artwork it is important to have a relatively neutral background. Try to keep a clean white, black or grey background behind your work. Often a sheet or a large piece of card will work well as a backdrop. There is nothing more distracting than a cluttered background behind an artwork.
Scale tip: Keeping a visual record of the scale of your artwork is a good idea. Especially if you want to sell your artwork. Your photograph may become the only evidence of your artwork. To indicate scale include something within the photograph, for example, a ruler or perhaps a coin for a smaller subject. This will allow the viewer to gauge the relative size of your artwork. Just make sure it doesn’t sit directly in front of it! It is also a good idea to keep a record of the size of each artwork for cataloguing purposes.
Focus tip: Get it in focus. Make sure your image is pixel sharp.
Don’t assume that just because it looks okay on your camera’s viewfinder that you will get a sharp result. Check your images sharpness on your computer. If you find you are getting blurry pictures, you may be getting camera shake due to a low shutter speed (usually because there isn’t enough light). Using a tripod will ensure that you get the sharpest image possible. It is also a great aid to getting a well framed image. If you don’t own a tripod shoot in brighter light so you can keep a high shutter speed. As a last resort, in less than optimal lighting conditions, try resting the camera on a table or chair to steady your camera.
If your camera allows it: zoom right in to your image and focus, then zoom out again and take your shot. This will help ensure you get the sharpest focus of your image.
Composition tip: Composition of a flat artwork is essential. Frame your artwork within the viewfinder or onscreen so that the sides are parallel to the edges of the screen/viewfinder of your camera. Don’t stand off to the side of the work or lean the work against a wall and then stand above it. A good trick is to get a small mirror and tape or suspend it in front of the artwork. If you can see the reflection of the camera in the mirror, this means you are square on to the artwork and the sides of the artwork will be perfectly straight in the viewfinder.
Also, don’t try and go in too close with a wide-angle lens. Wide angle lenses have what is known as barrel distortion. Using these lenses can make the edges of your artwork curve in the shape of a barrel. Stand back a distance, zoom in and get a good tight crop on your artwork with straight edges.
Ideally your photograph will show the entire artwork with each straight edge, as it is in real life. Try to leave a little space around your artwork when composing your photograph so that the entire artwork can be seen.
Framed work tip: It’s very difficult to take photographs of artwork that is framed with glass. That’s because glass is highly reflective. Photograph your artwork before you get it framed or remove the glass before photographing, if possible.
Jewellery and sculptural artwork tip: Before photographing jewellery or sculptures clean off any finger prints and/or blemishes from the surface. If your artwork needs to be turned whilst being photographed, try to use a cloth or cotton gloves where possible to avoid tarnishing the piece. If your artwork has a highly polished finish, try to minimise any reflections as they will show you, your surroundings and the camera in your final image! The best way to avoid this is to create a light tent around your object using a light tent or draping around your subject with with partially transparent fabric.
Close-up tip: As well as photographing your artwork in the whole, remember to take close-up shots to show the work in greater detail. Brush marks, a complex section of the drawing – in fact, any area you would like to record. It is easier to take sharp photographs by getting close to the work and using the macro setting on your camera, (this is often indicated with the symbol of a flower). Macro symbol =
Now get out there and make your work look awesome!
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