Photographing art


I'm sure we all have our own way of photographing our art. A lot of times, I hire a professional. They have all the right equipment and lighting (namely those Tungsten lights). But I can't always afford that.

I have found that photographing the art outside is best, for me. Always against a flat, neutral background, in even shade. The sun has to be at either 11:00 AM or 1:00 PM, depending on how the art is facing, but not directly above. The sun can be behind or to either side of me, just as long as I can see the camera (that helps!) and the painting/art is in the even shade. An overcast day can sometimes work too, but I'll have to brighten the images a bit in Photoshop.

I always, always, use a tripod. That might be most important thing, otherwise, I might as well not take the pics at all. I used to use an SLR, but now I just shoot digital and keep the setting on auto. It works great, as long as you have a good lens. A good lens is important too.

How do you do it? Inside? Outside?
I do mine under the front porch shade. I lay it flat on the floor of the porch and look straight down on it with the camera. In the wintertime I have an exercise room that is like a sunroom with windows all around and I lay it on the floor in there on a clear day.
Mine is an annoying process.

After a painting is dry enough to handle, I remove the attached light on the easel, lower that part of the easel in order to get it out through the studio door, and I wheel it down the hall and into my kid’s room. Since she’s gone now, that room has become a storage area for half of my paintings. But it also faces south so has good (enough) light for photographing. If I need to drag a floor lamp from downstairs, upstairs, to balance out the light on the left side of the setup, I will. But usually, thankfully, I don’t have to. Because that’s one drag of a drag!

I have a nice little tripod but it has to be set up on her bed in order to face the easel/painting setup under the alcove. (No other rearrangement/distance will work and I ain’t moving a bed around!) And of course, a bouncy bed with a tripod on it, and with a person moving around on top of the mattress, doesn’t make for the steadiest of contraptions. So, I’ll find something hard and flat to put on top of the mattress to keep the tripod still. I’ve realized though, that I can hold the camera steady enough without the tripod, so lately, I’ve been eliminating this part. Less work. Good enough. Then I just shoot with my ancient little digital Pentax. Check the settings and check the results as I go, and take enough pictures to futz with later on the computer. This means rotating, cropping, naming, sizing, inventorying, posting and filing. More annoyance.

Finally, I’ll disassemble and backtrack the setup and soon after, I’ll (matte) varnish the surface. I photograph before varnishing because I don’t want to deal with glare while shooting.

Annoyance temporarily suspended.
I know what you mean about the glare. Good you don't varnish until after the photos. Do you ever forget? I've forgotten to sign before the photographing process. That kinda bugs me sometimes.
I’ve never forgotten to varnish but ironically, your post just reminded me I forgot to sign the last three I did! I’ll do them tomorrow but that was the first time I forgot THAT little task...

I’m sure the future holds a lot more forgetting and more laziness until I’m just drooling into me mud pies.
Here's how I photograph paintings that are tipped-in into books (like Bukowski's). The shot comes straight from above.

Thanks Roni. I don't have as many Buk books as I need to photograph my own artists books, but it's always a chore depending on the fly pages, so this is somewhat helpful. I usually do my books differently every time because they're all different and fickle.
I use a DSLR (or for smaller stuff, a good scanner) for photographing my work in sections and then piece it together with Photoshop Elements, but I was having a dickens of a time with lighting (glare, not enough light, uneven lighting) until I got two cheap soft boxes from B&H Photo. The stands seem flimsy, but they work great and I also use them when I'm painting so I don't have to deal with shadows. I don't have super high-powdered bulbs in them, just some curly fluorescents. I got something like this on sale:
... I was having a dickens of a time with lighting (glare, not enough light, uneven lighting) until I got two cheap soft boxes from B&H Photo. The stands seem flimsy, but they work great and I also use them when I'm painting so I don't have to deal with shadows. I don't have super high-powdered bulbs in them, just some curly fluorescents. I got something like this on sale:
Thanks, Harold, for introducing me to soft boxes, which I hadn't known about. After experimenting with a multitude of approaches, I've been using a jerry-rigged system which I find still doesn't solve all my lighting issues but is much better than all that preceded it. I'm going to look into soft boxes!

While painting, my jerry-rigged lighting system consists of two lights, one from each side, that shine from high up near the ceiling; one is in an open aluminum reflector and the other is an architect's lamp mounted on a couple of louvered door panels that I use as a room divider. The architect's lamp is at least 6 feet away, and the reflector is a little further. I'm using this system b/c it was recommended by Ron Francis at wetcanvas (who can generally be relied upon to provide accurate info) a long time ago, and it does seem to be helpful in creating a consistent light without bright spots. I also use high CRI bulbs, recommended by contumacious (who also can generally be relied upon to provide accurate info) at wetcanvas. CRI= Color Rendering Index, and with a high number the color is more true to life. I often use this to photograph completed paintings as well, because outside, it seems like there are so many surfaces around my building that reflect light a lot that even when I go out to try to get a good photo on a dreary day and in the shade, that there's always a spot of glare somewhere. I intend to buy a clip-on polarizing lens to use with my iPhone and I hope that will help.
I went through all the fancy photography and I decided my paintings just aren't photogenic. So these days I just use my phone and hope it's near enough.
Hi everyone. New guy here.

I never really worried about having super high quality photos since I don't sell anything online. I just needed a photo that clearly showed the painting so my entry would not be handicapped by a poor photo being sent to the jury. Well, the pandemic has changed that. Two national juried events I have entered have canceled their gallery hosted show and are going to be online only. If my photo isn't top notch, I now feel like my chances of selling will be reduced proportionally by a lower quality photograph and increased with a high quality one. I do not enjoy taking photos of my art, so I am not very happy about it. The good news is that I don't have to ship my paintings unless they end up selling.
Hi Cremnitz. Maybe it will do you good to start at least taking pictures of them outside?
Hi Cremnitz. Maybe it will do you good to start at least taking pictures of them outside?
I used to shoot outside at around with a good camera, parallel angle to painting on a tripod, 85mm prime lens, turn everything auto off on camera and shoot various stops between f4 and f11, use my own WB cards and use only 100, 200 iso and manual focus. Auto tends to misinterpret colour.
I find that natural daylight, but not direct sunlight, tends to work best. However, I have yet to meet the camera or scanner that can reproduce colors accurately.
I do well with my images outside in the shade. I use my old Cannon G4, which still has a good lens. My VP2770-LED monitor is calibrated and it all works well imo. My scanner is as good as it can be for now: an Epson Perfection Photo V550. I do not do much tweaking in Photoshop on the colors. I do a little bit on the levels and that's about it. I don't mess with any colors. I just wish I had a system now for a place to shoot them outside on the shade. I don't have that set up here yet. I have good images for when I lived in LA and had the perfect shade spot.
I shoot my paintings on the easel inside my little bat-cave studio, one north window and overhead tungsten. I have an array of cameras, 35mm film and DSLRs that I've accumulated, but my go-to is a Canon Digital Elph 12mpx point-and-shoot set to Auto. It takes high resolution pics for a cheap little camera and it's easy to use. I shoot a number hand-held (should use a tripod but I'm lazy) until I get a sharp one, and download to my desktop. I use Adobe Photoshop 7, an old program that is resident on my computer, been using it for 20+ years. I crop the image, correct the color balance the way I want it, adjust brightness and contrast, make small corrections on anything in the painting I don't like, and save it. I consider this part of the creative process since my digital image is probably all anybody (but my wife) will ever see of my work.
I understand few people want to get into digital editing of their photos, it is tedious, time consuming and frustrating at first. I would suggest getting a cheap point and shoot camera - OR, iPhones nowadays take excellent pictures (so does my Samsung Galaxy android). A Google search will turn up a list of photo-editing and retouching shops for online service. Also consider high school photo clubs and college art departments for a young genius looking for a side gig to make money. My 12-year-old granddaughter has become a fantastic artist with digital drawing programs. Exploit these children! :) The advantage of digital is if it gets messed up, it's easy to correct or start over. That's my two cents, hope the read was worth it.
Exploit these children! Ha ha ha! :ROFLMAO: You said it.

Your process is a lot like mine, only I try to shoot outside. You have the Tungsten though, and if I had one, I'd shoot inside too. Although, now I live in such bright light (even in the shade) I have been shooting on my easel indoors since I've lived here (a couple of years now). My PS program is also an old one I've been using for 20 years as well. I mess with the levels first, then color balance, brightness, and crop. I just got a Canon EOS and I love it. I set it on Auto and it's pretty amazing.
I've struggled with photographing oil pastel work in a way I never did when shooting my silver gelatin photos. Then, I used a copy stand, a unit which comes with affixed lights on either side of a large-ish base for the work. A perfect 45 degree angle, I think. Works great for prints. But there's always glare from oil pastels that I can't seem to get rid of. Part of that may be due to the texture I try for with op's, adding several layers. I don't know.

I agree with Arty that open shade outside is about the best bet, especially with any medium that has a high sheen. I still struggle with it - fortunately, I'm not shooting to get my work into shows, because it rarely looks good.