View Full Version : taking photographs of artwork to post

07-19-2007, 11:51 PM
I am running into difficulties taking decent photos of my art to post here, and I'm wondering how others approach it. I'm not talking high quality photos to enter a contest or something, just something that has reasonably good color, etc.

I have a good digital camera, I've tried inside, outside, with and without flash, and it's usually still off--too blue, too yellow, washed out, etc. I can fix all but the worst in Photoshop, but I feel like that's cheating--plus I don't always have the time. Usually my outside pics are in the evening, due to certain bedtimes....Should I go for noontime shade? I don't have any special lights to use.

Thanks for your advice!!!


07-20-2007, 01:07 AM

There was an article a few years ago in the Pastel Journal about taking photographs like this. I think since then, that article has been compiled in the the reference material for "The Guide to Entering Juried Shows" - the recommendation was to get two 500 watt tungsten bulbs and set them at opposing 45 degrees facing the general center of the face of the image.

I got these for about $35 or so apiece - the light fixtures including the bulbs from B&H Photo, and they have worked well for several years for anything I have had to take a photo for.

You might try to adjust the white balance in your camera to get more true coloration initially in your photo.

If you can't spot the light setup, maybe you could find a bud who might be able to help you take photos. If you were here in KCMO, I'd be glad to help you out. Hope this helps.

07-20-2007, 10:04 AM
Taking photos for a juried show often has strict rules and expectations. If you are taking entering shows, it is necessary to pay close attention to those expectations. And taking photos to post here can be a good way to practice. It's worthwhile, but can be time-consuming. It sounds like you need a simple and reasonably non-time-consuming way to take photos to share online.

Outdoor light changes in color through the day. If I am taking photos outdoors, I like a lightly overcast day, which is a natural diffuser. Shade light is cool (in terms of color temp) anyway, and more so toward evening. Shade light will also be affected by the color of whatever is nearby. A good outdoor setup would be if you could find a white wall in shade in mid-morning or afternoon and have that behind you-- it will reflect even sky light onto your painting. This can even work for making photos for juried shows, but certainly would work for simple photos to post here.

Different cameras deal with color in different ways, and some are notably better than others. I could not afford an expensive camera, and chose my Canon A95 for its reputation for color accuracy, even though it does "barrel" noticeably at closeup. It is not cheating to "fix" photos using Photoshop or some other graphics software if the point is to make the photo represent the art work more accurately. Fortunately, it is easy for me to correct the distortion with my software. Color can be more challenging, but once you get used to the idiosyncracies of a particular camera, it can take just a few minutes to make those corrections.

I have a simple indoor setup that works quite well: my easel is set up in a northeast facing bay. The easel is at an angle receiving light from the north and northeast windows. In the early afternoon the outside light is nice and even. I augment this with a daylight bulb (expensive for a light bulb) in an inexpensive fixture (actually, it's a chicken brooder with a clamp, and it is cheaper than the photo fixtures). This gives a good color balance that rarely needs adjusting.

Hope some of this rambling helps.

Dayle Ann

07-20-2007, 10:32 AM
Phew, Libby - I've tried and thought about this for a long time, and I don't think there's a real easy answer to it all. I'm not a camera buff at all, but here's waht I do.
I have a Fuji E510 5.2 Mega Pixel camera, and try to take 2 pictures of everything I shoot for WC!. They are taken with the subject usually laid down, and I simply take one in daylight, and a second with the flash, then just sort out which is best once they are on the PC. I have taken the daylight ones at differing times of day, an aspect I have never thought of before. Just making sure there is plenty of light. The flash one speaks for itself.
I have also taken some on an easel, but I find it's sometimes difficult not to get them distorted in some way - as in my summer lane pastel I recently posted. It missed all the detail!!
Perhaps if daylight is no problem, and your camera takes them, what about seeing if you can have some sort of filter screwed to the front of your camera's lense? That's about the best I can come up with really.

07-20-2007, 03:06 PM
Why would you think it's cheating to PP your photos in Photoshop? Cameras--film or digital--don't "see" like your eye sees. (Film's response to light actually matches the eye's response better than any digital sensor--convenience, not accuracy, is why digital has taken over.)

There's a WC! article about photographing your artwork: How to Photograph Flat Art (http://www.wetcanvas.com/Articles2/2810/87/). The only thing I can add to the article is where it talks about "color balancing" by using different types of films, the digital camera's equivalent is "white balance". If it's correct up front, any further color corrections should be minimal, particularly for WC! purposes.

My own setup is pretty minimal. I put my artwork on a tilted drawing table or easel, put a lamp on either side of the table with 100-watt "daylight" bulbs and make sure the work is evenly illuminated, put the camera on a tripod at a moderate distance (so I have to zoom in a bit, which minimizes lens distortions), make sure the camera is square, parallel, and centered over the artwork, check the white balance, and use a self-timer (or cable release) to take the picture (to avoid shake).

With my first picture I verify that the camera is indeed square, parallel, and centered and fix things. Then I take a couple pictures at several white balance settings and bracket the exposures. My 2MP digicam (I have a Panasonic FZ-1"superzoom") has more than 4x the resolution needed for WC! and the colors are close enough that all I need to do in PP for WC! is crop, resize, and sharpen. (The latest versions of the FZ's might as well be DSLR's for all their photographic capabilities: the user can control every aspect of the camera yet it can be as automatic as you want, and the color accuracy has only improved with each model.)

I don't use flash. Some works are too reflective for flash. But a diffused flash can sometimes help even out the illumination. Digital's cheap--try various combinations of lights and see what works.

If I was entering a contest, I'd prepare to send some quality time with my graphics program to get the colors exactly right. But if "close enough" will do, the above should be just fine.

Deborah Secor
07-20-2007, 06:12 PM
For pix to show here at WC I shoot on the easel next to a window with two 100 watt bulbs overhead, hand-hold the camera to match the edges fairly closely, and Photoshop to match color and value--at least enough to make me happy. I put the piece next to my monitor and get it as close as I can. A lot of the time I find that in Photoshop using the enhance > auto levels and > auto color correction is fast and close enough for comfort, except in some unusual paintings that are particularly light or dark in value range.


maggie latham
07-20-2007, 08:03 PM
I use a flatbed 13x17 inch scanner by Microtek. As a majority of my work is small, everything goes on the scanner If the pastel isn’t fixed, I pop it into a mat, and then the pastel is not directly touching the scanner….just clean the glass between every scan. Anything larger I shoot in the shade in the garden, and correct a little if necessary in Photoshop. It is important to keep the integrity of the original painting; so a little correction goes a long way. Often just by copying the image onto another layer, it somehow sharpens it.

07-24-2007, 09:25 PM
I have found the best (and easiest) way to take photos of artwork is outside on an overcast day. The best days are those overcast days that are still quite light. Flash almost never works unless you have off-the-camera flash units set up at approx. 45 degree angles to the work.

Do not fret about manipulating your photos in Photoshop. EVERY photo of artwork I take is adjusted. Cameras are miraculous inventions but they do not capture reality exactly.


07-26-2007, 11:08 AM
I think I would check the WHITE BALANCE on the camera first of all. If you google it, you will probably get some information as well as in the instructions that came with camera.

My digital camera always takes pictures at the wrong exposure, too dark. I modify that in Photoshop.


07-30-2007, 09:35 AM
If you want simple photos for email or web site posting , try using only north window day light.

I recently took some digital photos of some framed and glazed paintings that I don't have good slides of. Did it through the glass and was surprised to find that the reflections showed up but very little.

My studio has high windows on the north wall. I just laid the framed pastel flat on the floor a few feet from the studio window so the cool north light was coming in the proper angle to minimize refelction (of myself and camera). I stood directly over them and shot straight down with a hand-held camera. You can also stand on a chair if necessary.

You can see some of the effect of the reflection of myself and camera on the back of the purple coat. The colors are pretty accurate -according to my monitor, but might show up altered on some monitors depending on how the monitor gamma is adjusted.
There is nothing wrong with adjusting the result with PhotoShop so the viewed colors match the actual colors of the painting.

All of the plein air photos on my website were taken through the glass this way.
see http://jimfew.home.mchsi.com/PA.htm/

Jim Few, PSA

08-09-2007, 08:54 PM
I've been photographing my artwork with pretty good success so far. My setup is to go out under my deck (in the shade) during the middle of the day. I place the artwork on the floor (weighted down if necessary) and then "straddle" it so that it is completely square when I take the picture looking directly down at it. I take several pictures, to ensure that the photo is a straight as possible, is correctly focused and I try to have a little bit of my concrete patio showing.

I find that my patio gives me a neutral grey and helps the camera to detect the correct white balance. If you zoom in too far and have little or no neutrals on the page, it will completely throw the white balance off. Alternatively you can manually set the white balance to "shade" (but I always forget to reset it when I'm finished if I do this).


08-09-2007, 11:01 PM
Thank you very much for your time and detailed responses!! You've given me a lot of ideas to try out in order to improve the quality of my photos.

Maybe most importantly, I had no idea how many of you also do color correction digitally after taking a photo!!!!! I thought that it could be so easy to "tweak" a painting once in Photoshop that it would be frowned upon--but I guess maybe most of us would actually find it easier --and of course, more satisfying-- to fix it with pastels than with pixels! One more guilt trip to give up on....

Thanks again!