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Tips for Photographing Your Art

If you want to earn an income from your art, you might want to think about making (digital) images by photographing your work. Images like these can be useful. You can use them to create promotional materials, and you can also make posters, postcards, bookmarks, or other smaller items to sell online or at art fairs. Photographing art, however, is not as straightforward as shooting a few quick snaps. The quality of the image you shoot will determine the quality of the end product. There are a number of things that you need to take into consideration.

Choosing Your Camera

There are several ways of capturing an image. You can use an analogue camera with film, or you can shoot slides. Negative film and slides can easily be turned into digital images by scanning them with a good digital scanner. Slides produce high quality images. That is why some landscape artists swear by it. By far the easiest technique, however, is to use a digital camera. You will need a digital camera with a resolution of at least four megapixels. This resolution gives a sharp image in up to an A4-sized print. For posters and professional print work you will need a 12 or 16 megapixel camera.

Why You Need a Tripod

It is best to use a tripod when photographing a work of art. This way the camera position remains fixed, and you can produce a nice stable image. Without a tripod you are more likely to create distortions in your image.

How Lighting can Make or Break an Image

Lighting is an important factor in photography. Colored light will result in a colored recording. Traditional light bulbs or halogen lights emit a yellow-colored light, while daylight is more white. You are looking to recreate the conditions of daylight. The flash on your camera is one way of recreating daylight, but it is useless when photographing paintings or three-dimensional work. The flash creates overexposed spots on the surface, which will show up white. The best way to light two-dimensional work, such as a painting or a drawing, is to light the work from two sides. Make sure both sides are evenly lit, meaning that the balance of light is equal. Three-dimensional work is also lit from two sides, but here the light needs to be unbalanced. Think of lighting a sphere from the front only. Doing this flattens the sphere into a circle. By adding a second, weaker source of light to the back of the sphere you get to see the full shape again.

Lighting Options (Daylight – Outside)

In the middle of the day the color of the light is the most neutral. Avoid shooting in direct sunlight. A slightly cloudy sky gives the best light. Shooting outside is a good option if the weather conditions allow it.

Daylight – by the Window

You can photograph a painting by placing it at a right angle to the window. The amount of light on the window side will be greater than on the other side. This might be difficult to see with the naked eye, but the camera will definitely pick it up. You can compensate for the lack of light on one side by using a reflective screen. A reflective screen doesn't have to be fancy. You can use a white sheet of paper, a sheet of Styrofoam, or a triplex board you painted white.

Halogen Light Kits

If you are going to photograph art regularly, you could invest in a professional studio kit. Halogen light kits come complete with tripod and umbrellas, which diffuse the light evenly. The yellow light of the halogen can be canceled out by correcting the white balance in your digital camera. The halogen lamps use a large amount of power, about 1000 Watt each, so you need to take care when using them. The lamps get very hot, so be careful if you need to move them, and always let them cool down before storing.

Flash Light Kits

A flash light kit consists of two flashes on stands with mounted umbrellas to diffuse the light. In order to measure the light you need an exposure meter. The simplest way to connect your camera to the flash lights is by using a sync chord. More expensive methods are using a infrared transmitter or a radio trigger.

The last two options are beautiful, if costly, solutions.

Setting up the Angle

To photograph a painting put the camera perpendicular to the center point. Check for converging lines. When the camera is in the wrong position a rectangular painting no longer looks rectangular, but becomes distorted instead. Slight distortion in an image can still be corrected by adjusting the angle using an image editing program.

Setting up Your Lighting Arrangement

To light a painting, place two light sources at a 45 degree angle to the center of the work. The distance of the lamps is determined by the size of the painting. The further away you place the light sources, the larger the area is that you can light. The height should be equal to the center of the painting. You can find the center of the painting by drawing two imaginary diagonals, from corner to opposite corner. It is worth taking your time with this and measuring everything out carefully. The camera will pick up small differences that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Choosing a Background

When you photograph a painting the background is not important, because you can crop the image in an image editing program. For three-dimensional work a white, black or gray background is best. If your work is in situ, and the background is not neutral, perhaps you fashion a makeshift screen with paper or Styrofoam. This will achieve a more neutral background that is easier to work with when you edit the image.

Measuring the Exposure

Most cameras have an internal light meter that measures the light reflected back from the object you are trying to photograph. While this is sufficient for a balanced work, a very dark or very bright painting will not photograph well this way. The colors will not correspond to the original. That is why you need to fool the light meter with a gray card. A gray card is a piece of cardboard in an exact middle-gray color. You use it by holding the card in front of the painting while measuring the light. Write down the values you have measured, and photograph your work with the corresponding shutter speed and aperture.

Photographing your art may not be straightforward, but it is worth doing well if you want to use the resulting images for promotion or to make objects for selling. The above tips will help you to achieve a professional looking image.

About the Author:
Clare Tames is a self-employed freelance graphic designer, formidable cook, and avid reader. She written on contemporary and classical art in various print publications, and is just now beginning a writing career online. She works out of her home office in California, where her two children attend high school.