Monday, November 29, 2010

Photographing Art

When I first started photographing my art,  I had a real hard time trying to get my pics to turn out nice.  Eventually I learned a few simple rules and suddenly things began to get alot easier and pics started looking alot nicer.  I am still always learning as I go, the way I see it we should all always be learning because the day we stop is the day we get stupid and that applies to everything in life.  Anyhoo, my life philosophies are besides the point here.  I decided to share what I have learned so far with who ever might need to still learn it.  I know how frustrating it was not knowing what I was doing wrong or what I wasn't doing right.  Getting a good photo of your work can quite often mean the difference between selling and not selling your work.  The tips and techniques that I am going to share with you apply using a digital camera...

Preparation - Having everything prepared before you start will save alot of headaches and alot of time.
  1. The camera you plan to use with a charged battery or fresh batteries and extra on hand as well as memory space either on the camera or an extra memory card on hand.
  2. You have a program ready on the computer you intend on using to manipulate the photos after you have taken them i.e. photoshop or GIMP (free photo editing software)
  3. You have the cable you will need to connect the camera to the computer
  4. Have all the artwork you plan on shooting gathered together and cleaned of all dust
Once you have checked all of the above off of the list you are ready to go.  I do want to mention what I learned when it comes to choosing your camera.  The higher the megapixels the better quality of pictures you are going to get.  I am not saying you need to run out and buy the top of the line camera but I am saying that if you are using something that is say only 2 megapixels your pics are not even going to be half as nice as they would be if you took the same picture with an 8 megapixel camera.  The difference is huge so if you have the opportunity to even borrow a camera that has higher megapixels you are going to be alot better off.  Use the highest megapixel camera you have available to you at the time!

Turn off the flash! - I can't stress this enough, all you will get with a flash is a distracting glare in the middle of the painting and nobody wants that.  The very best lighting for photographing art believe it or not is on an overcast day or in the shade.  Thats right, the direct sunlight is as bad as the flash.  So if it's not overcast outside make sure you are in the shade or indirect sunlight.  Turn the automatic flash off on the camera and if you are not sure how make sure you dig out your manual, this is very important!  If you feel that the picture needs a little extra light try to resist the urge to turn on the flash, you will be able to play with lighting quite easily later on on the computer.

Placement & Background - You are going to want to find a good place outside to take the photos, somewhere that you can lean the painting up against a wall.  A white background works best and if you don't have one available to you it is really easy to make.  At most dollar stores you can buy white foam boards, I think thats what they are called, they are alot thicker then bristle board but about the same size and they are stiff.  Get yourself a couple of those, depending on how big the paintings are that you are photographing will depend on how many of these you need.  No matter what size of painting you are shooting you will definately need a minimum of 2, one for behind the painting and one for underneath, this way when you go to crop the image on the computer you will have a nice clean white border all the way around all 4 sides.

Keeping Everything Straight - This can prove to be one of the most challenging parts of the whole thing.  If leaning one way or the other will cause the painting to skew within the frame which means you won't have a clean straight edge to crop, you don't want to crop off any of your painting trying to get things straight after the fact.  A few tricks I learned are.....using the guide in the middle of screen on the camera when you are lining up the shot to keep the painting completely parallel within the frame, keeping the camera steady by using a tripod or by steadying your arm on your body, or using a table of some sort to rest your arm on.  If you are not steady you will end up with a blurry shot.

Playing With the White Balance -  If you aren't use to the camera you are using or if you are and just aren't use to photographing your artwork, it may take you a little practice to get this setting just right.  Adjusting the white balance setting on your camera can make your job editing on the computer so much easier.  The white balance setting on your camera will help correct issues such as your white background looking yellowish or bluish in color.  This is important because if your white background looks any other color then white then the colors in your artwork aren't going to look they are suppose to either.  You may have to snap a few pics at different white balance settings and then take them to the computer to really get a better idea of how they look.

Go To The Computer - Once you have taken all of the necassary shots, take alot of each painting.  You will find it easier to take 25 shots of one painting then to take 5 and think you got a good one in there and you haven't.  Don't fool yourself if you think that can't happen because it can and it will.  It is easier to delete unnecassary photos after you have found a winner then to have to go back and set it all up again.  Ok, so assuming you have all of your pics you are going to want to retrieve them from the camera and onto the computer and open up what ever program you are intending on using for editing.  Even the simplist of programs will give you what you need to create a nice image.  Basically all you want to is......
  1. Crop the photo, it is better to leave a thin white border around the image then to crop off the edge of your painting.
  2. Correct the brightness and contrast, you are going to want to play around with the brightness, contrast and midtones until you get the image to resemble as close to the original painting as possible.  Unfortunately with the process of taking the digital photo it can cause a sharp oil painting to have a washed out watercolor look.  For that reason you might want to play around with the sharpness as well.  Don't be afraid to play around with these options, that is what they are there for.  Just make sure you save the original and you keep a good original to go back to if you have to.  Keep the original painting next to you when doing this so you have something to compare the image on the computer to.
  3. Once you have the image cropped and you have adjusted it to look like itself you will need to resize it so that it can be easily uploaded to your web page or online portfolio.  I have found that around 640 px works best for on the web.  You may need to go even smaller if you need to include your pics in any emails.  Keeping the image a small size for the web will help protect you against having your pics stolen, as well for even more protection you might want to create a watermark to go across your artwork of your name and/or website.  This way if someone does share your artwork around the net without your permission you are still getting credit for the artwork even if the person sharing it doesn't put your name with it, your name is already on the artwork so its all good! :)
Now that you have figured out how to take beautiful photos of your artwork you may be thinking about creating art prints that you can sell.  I discuss this topic in a whole other blog post How To Create Art Prints.

Well, I think that should be enough to help a person get started.  I know that if I had found all of this info in one spot all up front it would have saved me quite a few headaches, which is what lead me to write this post. So I hope you find it useful and good luck with your photos! :)
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