How to Photograph Your Paintings (Digitally)

Whether you are an artist trying to sell your work or a collector trying to insure your priceless possessions, good photographic technique will often be called upon as an integral part of your job. Getting a good photo of your artwork can often mean the difference between selling and not selling your painting. This task can seem daunting at first. However, if you work at it with the following principles in mind, you will be sure to get the best images of your best paintings.

This article illustrates how to record your images with a digital camera. Although most of the principles and tips apply even if you are shooting slides, visit How to Photograph Your Paintings - Part II for five more tips specifically gear towards shooting transparencies .

Santa Cruz House, Framed

Prep Work
The first step in photographing your artwork is to get everything together. This involves:
  • Choosing a camera
  • Gathering all the artwork you'd like to shoot
  • Cleaning any artwork framed in glass to remove smudges and dust
  • Having fresh batteries in the camera or at least on hand
  • Getting a roll or two of film (if you are using film)
If you are shooting digital, you will want to:
  • Make sure you have the memory; clear a card if you need space
  • Install any software you need to get images & to manipulate them
  • Set up cables for connecting your camera to your computer
Once you've checked these items off your list, or at least are mentally prepared to tackle them when the time comes, you are ready to rock and roll.

Choose Your Weapon & Get Ready to Go
The first thing you need to decide is what media you would prefer to work with. This is usually an easy decision; if you only have a 35mm point and shoot and a roll of slide film, you will most likely be going in that direction. We used a Kodak digital camera for our project.

If you need to present your artwork to a publisher or show them in a slide show, get a roll of Fuji Velvia or your favorite slide film. If you don't need slides but still can't go filmless, I recommend a good color print film such as Fuji Super HQ or Kodak Royal Gold. With either slides or print film, it would behoove you to beg, borrow, or buy a Single Lens Reflex - if you do not already have one. A point and shoot will work fine, too; you just have to be prepared to correct for parallax and deal with less creative control. Also, you are likely to be more surprised (unpleasantly surprised, that is) with the lab results from a point and shoot than from an SLR. Since, with an SLR, you see through the viewfinder a much more accurate representation of what you are going to get in the final image, you can more easily catch errors before you expose. However, use whatever you have at hand; most anything can be made to work.

Gather any other accessories you might need. These could include a good tripod, a flash unit (if you insist - see next page), or a polarizing filter (great for cutting back glare on a painting behind glass). Batteries become all the more essential if you are shooting with one of those energy-sucking digital cameras; it gets even worse if you enjoy using the LCD monitor as a viewfinder. An AC adapter and an extension cord might be what you need in that case.

One last warning before we get going: before using a glass cleaner to clean glass that is protecting your framed art, make sure it really is glass. If it is Plexiglas - much lighter and more flexible than glass - do not use glass cleaner as this scratches up the surface. A soft cloth and a little warm water - very gently applied - should be as far as you go.

Ready to dive in? Let's go...

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