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The Essential Guide to Photographing Your Artwork

photographing your work

It can take countless exhausting hours for artists and designers to create and finish a piece. You also have to fit in marketing your work, making sales, and networking. With so much to do, it’s often easy to forget an important part of the process: photographing your artwork. But don’t forget this: in our short attention span world, you have only a brief moment to capture a viewer’s attention before they move on to the next artwork. Without quality images of your work, you may miss that opportunity.

Think of the images of your work as works of art themselves. If the photos of your work are poorly composed, blurry or lacking detail, grainy, badly lit, or contain distracting elements (your hand, a view of your living room), the viewer will likely jump to another, more eye-catching image. Every image you post online should be created with care and attention so that you can give potential buyers the best impression of you and your work. With just a little extra effort, you can easily take excellent photos of your work. There is no need to hire a professional photographer or buy expensive camera equipment. By preparing the proper setting for your artwork photoshoot, you will only need to consider a few camera basics to create images worthy of your art. You can also control the environment where you shoot your work, making sure it’s free of distracting elements, movement or changing conditions, such as lighting or distance from the camera.

Photograph your art
Click to watch the video tutorial “Photographing Your Art to Increase Sales”, a great companion to this article.

Understanding Basic Camera Principles

Making the right equipment purchases will make photographing your artwork that much easier. When purchasing a camera, research and compare the different types of features to get exactly what’s needed for high quality images. It is preferred that a camera has manual or assisted controls (i.e. shutter speed, aperture, etc.), a mid-range or wide angle lens, RAW file format, and image processing software. It is not required that a camera have multi-point or phase detection autofocus, low light, performance or high ISO sensitivity, built-in-flash, or a high megapixel count. It’s also worth noting that it isn’t necessary to purchase a camera if you’re on a budget: You can borrow, buy, or rent various types of camera. For example, we recommend looking into the following options:

  • Buy a Nikon camera on Amazon for $399 or rent it for three days for $47.
  • Purchase a Sony Alpha a5000 at Amazon for $369 with a three-day rental price of $38.
  • A Canon EOS Rebel T5 at Amazon for $399 or renting it for three days at the cost of $44.

Get to know your camera be learning what each control does and where each control is. These considerations usually revolve around the three most important concepts in photography: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

While learning these principles often takes a great deal of practice, there are basic tips to follow when photographing your artwork. First of all, it’s important to shoot in RAW format, so that you have greater flexibility when editing your photographs. In addition, remember that aperture, shutter speed, and ISO work together when using a camera. For example, smaller aperture creates a higher focal range (depth of field), and lets in less light requiring more exposure (shutter speed). A slower shutter speed means movement can cause blur, while a higher ISO means less light and less exposure is required but the images will be more grainy. In an effort to make photographing your artwork easier, a tripod and good lighting will make setting these controls less important.

photographing your artwork
The three basic requirements for a great photo of your artwork are a camera, a studio, and lighting.

On most cameras, the camera controls are found and labeled on a round dial on the top of the camera. The “P” stands for Program where the camera handles aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. The “A or AV” stands for Aperture Priority where you choose aperture and the camera handles shutter speed and ISO. The “S or TV” stand for Shutter Priority where you chooses aperture, and the camera handles shutter speed and ISO, and the “M” stands for Manual, where you choose aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Once you’ve taken your photograph, you can adjust almost all of these issues in the RAW file except depth of field, and you cannot fix out of focus shots due to a shallow depth of field.

Setting Up the Shot

After you have borrowed, rented, or bought a camera, it is time to go to your studio location and focus on the art. When background framing your work, you should limit distractions and use a uniform background or one with a continuous tone. Make sure you are not using a color that competes with the art, and note that light objects should use a dark background and dark objects should use a light background.

It’s also very important that you minimize shadows. You can create an easy DIY background set up or you can purchase one. Two background set-ups you can purchase that are within a good price range include the LimoStudio Photography Photo Video Studio for $64.99 and the Shutter Starz 3086 Light Cube Photo Tent for $47.13. The LimoStudio kit includes a very comprehensive set of equipment for this particular use, including both a black and white muslin backdrop and background support structure. The Shutter Starz 3086 Light Cube Photo Tent comes with four color backgrounds (white, black, blue, and red) and filters the light to prevent shadows and reflections. This gives a clean professional backdrop to all items being photographed, which can be lit by flash, fluorescent, quartz, tungsten, and floodlights.

After setting up your studio and preparing for photographing your artwork, it is important to keep in mind what affects lighting and color. Color management on the camera’s sensor attempts to ensure accurate color of your work, however, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain as your images are sent to different media. To help mitigate this effect, turn-off any camera processing, like auto sharpening, HDR, gamma settings, or film types. Keep in mind that computer monitors can look slightly different depending on the computer’s operating system, and different types of light sources will give off color that affects all colors in a scene which can affect your white balance settings.

To fix white balance, you can use daylight bulbs to light your work and adjust in your RAW workflow. For your artwork lighting setup, first place the camera on a tripod behind the light, slightly pointing down at the artwork. Next, place two diffused lights about 3ft to each side of the artwork, turned inward at a 45-degree angle (height will depend upon type of work and potential shadows).

As another option, you can include a light behind and above the artwork, shining down onto the background to diffuse shadows, and then use a roll of seamless paper or cloth behind the artwork and curve the material under the work to create a seamless background. Finally, use support stands to hold it up or attach the back to a wall.

If purchasing additional lighting equipment for photographing your artwork is out of reach, you can create DIY lights and a diffuser by making an aluminum clamp light and using a Rosco Cinegel sheet of diffusing material. Creating a DIY aluminum clamp light will cost $7.99 and consist of a 5.5-inch adjustable aluminum reflector, a 6-foot cord and rugged molded-on plug, and an up to a 60-Watt lightbulb. A Rosco Cinegel 20″ x 24″ (50 cm x 61) cm sheet of diffusing material will cost $8.98 and will create a smooth field of soft shadow and less light. This sheet is excellent for frames and overheads. If you would rather buy lights and a diffuser, you can purchase an Emart photography umbrella lighting kit for $39.49, or the Shutter Starz 3086 Light Cube Photo Tent for $47.13.

photographing your artwork
In the absence of the proper lighting equipment, you can opt for a DIY lighting setup.

Editing the File

The last thing to do after photographing your artwork is to use a raw processing software. Software options that we recommend include Adobe Lightroom, Affinity Photo, Darktable, and Xrite Color Checker Passport. Adobe Lightroom has a complete RAW Workflow, streamlines common editing processes, has excellent library management along with a Mobile Companion App, and is only $9.99 per month. The Affinity Photo software is extremely fast and reliable, easy to use for non-photographers, a little basic for hardcore photographers, and costs $49.00. The Darktable software is free and is an open source with a database of images. Darktable has advanced functionality, but can be considered a little clunky. Lastly, Xrite Color Checker Passport costs $85 and has automated color correction and a Lightroom plug-in.

Photographing your artwork is equally as important as the beautiful artwork you have created and generally requires the same amount of work. When photographing your artwork, the resulting images need to look their absolute best to make sure that anyone looking at those can get an up-close, in-depth and quality experience – almost like they’re seeing it in person. If you’re able to achieve such a polished photograph of your work, the likelihood that you’ll make a sale can only increase.

What are your tips for photographing your work? Have you done it yourself or hired someone? Share your tips and experiences!

About the author

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art, law and business. He is currently serving as the VP of Product Innovation at Orangenius, where he hopes that his many interactions with the various members of the Orangenius community will provide lots of important material for Artrepreneur. You can find his photogrphy at or through Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in NYC.

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