How to Capture Your Artwork in 6 Steps

I am often asked how I take photos of my artworks and edit them for the best experience on social media and portfolios. We spend a lot of time dedicating and perfecting our craft, hours of drawing, painting - taking photos of artwork would be the last thing any of us would do. I’ve seen great artists with poor photographing skills and I’m not here to blame anyone. I’ve been there. Knowing how to photograph your work shows how serious and sophisticated you are about your craft. Saying that, I don’t mean you have to take a bunch of photos from different angles, unnecessary close ups, framed or not, and so on.. unless you’re asked from your client, or director. At some point in your life you’ll be asked to send your portfolio, your catalogue with available works for sale, process shots, photos for conference talks, studio visits, for exhibitions and you have to be prepared to show your professionalism.

My equipment

  • Nikon D3300 Kit 18-55mm VR II

  • Samsung Galaxy J6

  • Tripod

Set up your space

Take into consideration your background. I recommend neutral colours: white, grey, black. Avoid objects that take the attention away from your artwork, no extraneous objects. In my case either I hang my works on a wall or on a easel/tripod, and be careful how you position your artwork. It should be 1:1 parallel with your camera lens. We want a nice, stable and flat image. It’s best to try to frame your work, showing no background at all.

1/800, F5.6, ISO3200 / PRE light

1/800, F5.6, ISO3200 / PRE light

Set up your light

I work and shoot indoors, always. I have plenty of light on my artwork during the daylight from my windows. It’s best to avoid indoor lights as they can shift the colour of your artwork , especially at night. If you choose to work at night, you’ll need lighting kits. In my case I have used the ones with three adjustable bulbs or clamp lights. 

Adjust your camera settings

So we are done with the previous steps. Now the artwork won’t take a photograph by itself. In your DSLR and phone camera settings you have a variety of options.

Shoot with RAW. RAW saves a lot of information and details that later you can edit and crop your photos in lightroom or photoshop.

The ISO and aperture of your camera are critical to give clarity to your work. ISO measures speed. The higher the number, the more delicate the film was to light. If you work in a bright area, you might want to work with ISO 100 or 400. I usually work out the light to my desired levels with F5 and high ISO since I’m shooting in a room with the lights off.

The F-stop of the aperture of your camera adjusts how much light enters inside your photo by adjusting the lens. The higher the number, the less light is being gone through. With a DSLR the perfect range for shooting fine arts is between f-8 and f-11. Please avoid flash and use the tripod to capture still photos without motion and blurry movements.

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Set up your scanner settings

Select to work with TIFF files, similar to camera RAW. I scan my works with 600, 1200 dpi. That allows me to reproduce and edit my works in large scale. I convert my photos from .tiff to ,jpg files in adobe photoshop or lightroom for the best possible experience online. Uploading extremely high quality photos online will result in heavy compression and slow load, you might want to keep your work around 4000px.

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Editing your photos

With DSLR and phone camera settings, I experiment around with contrast and levels. I want nothing extreme and nothing less, taking into account framing my work before photographing.

If you’re working on a white surface, paper or canvas - regardless the medium you’re using, it’s best to avoid vivid and bright, high exposure lights. Keep things balanced. Below is my oil painting of Maria on canvas and if you noticed the canvas is a bit glary, because light comes from my right window. In my camera settings I eliminated the glary parts with F6.3, ISO 3200, 1/800 and used contrast in my filter settings, keeping the photo quality as close as to the original.

You can do the same in lightroom and photoshop with contrast and levels from your adjustment settings on your right panel. Insert a layer mask to your desired adjustment layer and invert it by pressing ctrl + I and use the brush tool to get rid of them.

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Works on paper

I scan most of my sketchbook drawings. When I’m using my camera, I use a few clips on the sides to photograph the sketchbook flat without any annoying flips. I use fixative spray for my graphite drawings to reduce shiny parts caused from graphite.

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