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Old 04-07-2008, 10:43 PM
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idylbrush idylbrush is offline
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Photographing art

I have been asked to do a demo on how I photograph my artwork. I thought I might see if there is any interest on the subject before I put a lot of work into it.

So, let me know.
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Old 04-08-2008, 12:08 PM
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Re: artwork photo stuff

OK, lets start.

I find photographing artwork to be one of the most difficult things I do with art. It is so critical and at best just a representation of the true effort. Add some of the oddity items I use and it gets very complex.

I allow myself the privilege of having two photo areas, now that sounds rather grand but overall it means I have a spot inside and a spot outside. Nothing fancy or even dedicated but a place I have found I get good results.

For outside photography I use a east facing wall or an east facing window. The quality of the light is such that it renders colors and textures a bit more accurately and is my preference. I most frequently will use "bright shade". In my case that means waiting until the sun has risen high enough to shadow the east wall. That means I don't have to be up at the crack of dawn or anything like that.

For interior photography I use a 4X4' piece of homosote (a pressed paper product) which I have covered in black felt and attached to a wall. Homosote is a product that can handle tacks, hangers, pushpins and various forms of attachment. I like the black felt since it tends to go really black even with photo lighting.

My studio is very small so every square foot has to count. My photo board also acts like an idea board when not used for photography. You can see it above my desk.

It has taken me years to assemble the pieces to my photography process so don't expect an over night change. I do think with some simple changes you can see some improvement in short order.

The most important part of all of this is to be patient and take time. Wow, that is a big thought, take time. The more thought/effort placed in the set up will result in a better piece in the end.

The basics. You need a piece of artwork, a place to hang it and a camera. Simple enough. I will tell you that digital cameras really love sunlight, they embrace it. Knowing that it means generally photos taken in natural shaded daylight will be better and over the years I have found that to be true. The issue arises is how to find sunlight at 2:30 in the morning when you are working on a deadline.

At the moment I have a small 10.2 megapixel point and shoot camera. It is a pocket model and takes some very nice photos considering the size and cost. My second camera and the one I use the most is a 35mm digital single lens reflex camera with the ability to change lenses as desired or needed.

My preference is for the digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera since the smaller camera has parallax issues. Parallax is when the out edges of a straight line curves. This is due to the lens configuration and the way the image is recorded. While not perfect it is still a good photo source. The DSLR seems to not have these issues and for that reason alone I find it appealing.

When I photograph outside I like to use a tripod. Don't have one then improvise. A stool with a stack of books will work. Anything to stabilize the camera and keep it square to the artwork. I also like using a remote shutter release. Don't have one, use the timed shutter release. As a last resort use your finger to trigger the shutter. Why? There is a tendency to move when using the manual shutter release. Try to eliminate any action that will get in the way. So, stabilize the camera and then stabilize the shutter action for better pictures.

Unless there is a good reason not to, I mount the artwork in a horizontal plane(landscape). Cameras are designed to be native in the landscape plane and keeping the artwork in the same plane reduced confusion and other issues. Rotate the image in the photo manipulation program later if needed.

I do use a small level to be sure it is as level as possible and then I also level the camera so they are as close as possible to the same level condition. The whole point is to be sure that everything is at the same angle. Minor variances can be corrected in your photo programs but start off on a good foot and make it easier later on.

I am going to stop here and get some photos done showing the set up and how I like to place things. Hope you will hang in there with me.
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"The thing about art is that life is in no danger of being meaningless," Robert Genn
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Old 04-08-2008, 07:23 PM
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Mary Woodul Mary Woodul is offline
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Re: artwork photo stuff

This is very good information, Howard. I had no idea about the wall to the East. I'll be on the look out for how you set it up.
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Old 04-08-2008, 08:13 PM
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Re: artwork photo stuff

Different directions have different light qualities. North light can be cool, east light is slightly warm, south light is more golden and west light can run from purple/blue to red and everything in between depending on the time of day.

I happen to think east light is about as good as it gets for my work.
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"If you think you can, or think you can't, your right!"
"The thing about art is that life is in no danger of being meaningless," Robert Genn

Last edited by idylbrush : 04-08-2008 at 08:32 PM.
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Old 04-09-2008, 09:49 AM
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Re: artwork photo stuff

I thought I might start with an outside photoshoot and use my point and shoot snapshot camera.

These cameras are readily available and can give some great results as long as some of the distortions don't affect your perception of the artwork. For the most part it works well.

If the work is small enough I tend to tape it to a window. Windows tend to be very vertical and tape sticks and comes off easily. I use either drafting tape or blue tape. Simple tape rings on the back of paper may do the trick. If the artwork is on canvas then tape the edges of the canvas frame to the window.


I have purposely done a few things wrong. I am shooting in full light with sun. Note that the upper left corner is showing signs of flare from the direct sunlight. To avoid this change the angle of the painting to the sun. Also note the blue tape holding the painting in place. If you look at the upper line of the canvas it curves down to the right. This is due to lens distortion of the point and shoot camera. In this case the work is small enough that the distortion is readily apparent. This means that in the cropping process you will have to cut off some of the image and it may show signs of some distortion.

I superimposed a rectangle over top of a photo to show the amount of a painting that can be cropped out due to the lens distortion. Only you can determine if this is acceptable or not. If you try to do this with your own camera you can at some point decide if it is acceptable or not.

While exaggerated, it does show what can happen if you are not square on to the surface plane. Note the left side narrows down and is distorted.

Even with a bad start you can still get a relatively good image. this has been cropped and turned, sharpened and resized for the web. While it isn't perfect, is may be good enough for some purposes.
What I am looking at more than anything is no hot spots, good color, sharpness of image and how close does it come to the original image.

Remember these are representative of the original artwork not the artwork.

It is also important to remember that about 85% of those seeing your artwork may never see it in person but by these photographic representations. So, they are important.
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The only person you can't fool, is yourself! (Oz The Great and Powerful)
"If you think you can, or think you can't, your right!"
"The thing about art is that life is in no danger of being meaningless," Robert Genn
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Old 04-10-2008, 08:07 AM
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Re: artwork photo stuff

While I generally don't like using direct sunlight it can be done as seen above. It works and there are times when it is desirable.

Mary, sometimes we need to learn to deal with what we are dealt. Isn't easy but there are workarounds for almost anything. I try anything until I find something that works.

For most purposes I like bright shade for photography. For interior photography it gets a bit more complicated. I use a rather basic layout of lights and filters. Because my work involved metal leaf it is almost a requirement to have polarizing filters. For others it would be a waste of time and money.

Basic photo light set up.


Same set up using halogen work lights.


This is the layout I use in the studio. Over the years I have purchased lights of photographic quality, that is something I felt I had to do. If you don't want to make that kind of investment then try using halogen work lights available at hardware stores and home stores. Small units with clamps would be ideal but the larger units work as well. Make reflectors of white mat board or foam core and use these to reflect the light back onto the artwork Using these work lights direct may lead to odd shadows and what appear to be markings on the surface. This is caused by the reflector and the safety cage on the lamp. This is a photo of the larger model with the safety cage removed. This is for demo purposes only and I highly recommend leaving the safety cage in place at all times.


By bouncing this light on a white card you can soften the light which in turn softens the shadows etc. You can also make a reflector by using a piece of cardboard and attaching aluminum foil to the surface. I would suggest using the satin side and be sure to crumple the foil first.

You are going to have to find ways of supporting the reflectors so they bounce the light onto the artwork. Remember it needs to be stable but temporary. As an inventive group i am sure you have some ideas on how to make this work.

Over the years I have decided to make the investment in some studio lighting. Nothing terribly expensive but good enough to work.

I purchased two light stands (sturdy ones) and two halogen light heads (small compact and efficient). I also was careful to add two sheet polarizing filters (I did make a holder for these sheets, the pro units were just far to expensive). I also purchased a metallic surfaced reflector in a 12" size. (this is to assist in the metallics and getting them to reflect light rather than become black holes.) If you are doing 3D work, reflectors might be of use as well. If you are doing 2D none metallic works the reflector may not be required or desired. Again, a piece of cardboard with aluminum foil may be an option.

Some sort of camera stabilization is very helpful. I purchased a sturdy heavy duty tripod for this purpose. A stool with a stack of books may work if you are not wanting to make that kind of investment.

In order to get the external polarizing filters to work properly you need to have a polarizing filter on the camera lens. This may not be possible on a point and shoot camera but on a digital SLR you can purchase a filter like this for each lens.

I have also added a remote shutter release. This helps control the shakes that might happen if you were to use the on camera shutter release. There are those that are physically attached to the camera through a side port or some have a remote control shutter release. I generally use the attached shutter release and find it works very well. If your camera has a timed shutter release this can be used instead of a remote release. Saves a few dollars.

The last thing I added is a camera level. It attaches to the hot shoe of the camera and is designed to quickly allow me to level the camera left to right and front to back. A standard line level is also a viable option for this purpose.

this shows the camera level (about 40.00) and the line level (about 5.00)

The last piece of equipment I have is a stringed mirror. Sounds a bit odd but it works. I took a small mirror, about 3 X 6" and attached some twill tape to the back of the mirror. I can pin the tape to the homosote and hand the mirror at the middle of the artwork. I make adjustments to the camera position so that when I look through the lens i see the reflection coming back at me. This gets me close to being square on artwork.

simple mirror with tape attached.

If you can't see the camera reflected back at you you are off center.

If you can see the camera clearly centered you are probably about as close to centered as you can hope for at this time.

Next I will do a setup and shoot.



It takes me about 5 minutes to have the studio set up for photo sessions. that is assuming I haven't cluttered the space up with other things like artwork, packing crates, etc.
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The only person you can't fool, is yourself! (Oz The Great and Powerful)
"If you think you can, or think you can't, your right!"
"The thing about art is that life is in no danger of being meaningless," Robert Genn
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Old 04-10-2008, 10:42 AM
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Re: artwork photo stuff

Howard, what a wealth of information and it fills me with joy because since I have been doing the realistic still lifes, I invested in some of those halogen clamp lights for my still life set ups and also use white boards to bounce light off and on to the set up, but I never thought I could use this for photographing my work. This also solves the problem of timing because sometimes it is night time and I want to post something but can't because I can't take a picture of it.

Another pleasant surprise, I did buy a polarizing filter for my SLR camera.

Nice little invention with the morror also, I do find many times that I have tilted my camera when shooting and I should get in the habit of using my tripod and the timer.

Thank you so much for all of this work you are going through, it will be tremendous help for so many of us and I will add it today to the helful links thread because it is one to link to from other forums, when questions like this arise.
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Old 04-10-2008, 11:38 AM
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Re: artwork photo stuff




This is my space set up as an office. It takes me five minutes to make this a photo space. I really don't mind all the equipment around I just move the chair out of the way.

The artwork is in place and leveled, the camera is centered and leveled.
The lights are in place as are the polarizing filters.

I had to make a minor alteration to get it exactly on square. I did use the mirror which got me close but not perfect. Photoshop helped me turn it square and then when cropped it covered all the image with a minor exception in the lower right corner. Not enough to worry about for me.

This is the straight cropped image.

I made a few minor adjustments to the color.

Gave it a bit more presence.

This shows the sharpness of the image.

This is the finished image.
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The only person you can't fool, is yourself! (Oz The Great and Powerful)
"If you think you can, or think you can't, your right!"
"The thing about art is that life is in no danger of being meaningless," Robert Genn
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Old 04-10-2008, 02:57 PM
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Mary Woodul Mary Woodul is offline
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Re: artwork photo stuff

Interesting to see the filters for the lights, now I know what you are talking about with those. The lighting helps tremendously to see details in your work.

BTW, that is also another very nice painting!
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Old 05-02-2008, 05:34 PM
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Re: artwork photo stuff

Howard, I also have a small compact digital camera and would you recommend that we never use a close up function plus zoom for drawings and paintings?
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Old 05-02-2008, 07:18 PM
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Re: artwork photo stuff

Most handheld point and shoot cameras have a limited zoom and after a certain point it becomes a digital zoom. Digital zooms can really deteriorate the image. I would maybe play with the physical zoom to see if it can reduce parallax. Who knows, depending on the camera, it could help.

Give it a try and see what happens.
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The only person you can't fool, is yourself! (Oz The Great and Powerful)
"If you think you can, or think you can't, your right!"
"The thing about art is that life is in no danger of being meaningless," Robert Genn
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Old 05-02-2008, 08:02 PM
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Re: artwork photo stuff

This is a wonderful tutorial, Howard! Thanks so much for doing this for us all. Now, I'm going to have to figure how to adapt it to photographing jewelry and three-dimensional art, because my photos of my necklaces and dolls really suck...



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Old 05-02-2008, 08:21 PM
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Re: artwork photo stuff

Thank you, Howard.
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Old 12-26-2010, 10:09 AM
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Re: artwork photo stuff

that is great information for me I just had fifty pictures framed and I have to photograph each one of them i hope this style works with glass. artistxposed
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Old 12-28-2010, 06:54 PM
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Re: artwork photo stuff

WOW - everything I needed to know about photographing my artwork! Thanks Howard. As a new WC member I'm really glad that tutorials such as yours are available for years - Thanks.

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