How to Photograph Your Artwork

Many artists wish to use their digital cameras to photograph their own artwork for the purpose of making prints and for many other uses such as web pages, greeting cards and promotional materials. Yes, you can do your own photography and get results that will allow you to make good giclee prints without the expense of the setup fee. On this page we'll offer a few pointers to help you get better results. You'll probably need to consult your camera's manual to change some of its settings.

Lose the Shake - You're going to be photographing at relatively slow shutter speeds so the use of a tripod is essential to getting a sharp image. You can pick up an inexpensive tripod at most camera shops that will do an adequate job. The second element in avoiding camera shake is to eliminate movement induced by your fingers in pressing the shutter release button. Use a cable release if you have one, or just use the camera's self timer.

Get Things Square - In order to minimize distortion of your image, you need to get the camera square to the artwork. The easiest way to do this is with a mirror. First get the camera on the tripod and approximately centered in front of the painting. Have someone hold a mirror flat and centered on your painting and then adjust the tripod until the image in your viewfinder or display shows the reflection of the camera's lens.

Slash the Flash - The last thing you want is your camera's automatic flash making a major glare ball in the center of your image. Turn it off.

Get the Right White - The color temperature of the light that you are working with will dramatically impact the color-accuracy of your file. Digital cameras use a setting called "white balance" to adjust for lighting temperature. Typically, the automatic white balance setting works just fine for normal camera use, but when you are photographing paintings it can be thrown off by the colors in your work. There are manual settings for white balance on all digital cameras and you can choose the appropriate one for your lighting conditions: cloudy for outdoors in shade, tungsten for typical lightbulbs, or fluorescent. Many cameras provide for reading a custom white balance by taking an exposure of a white or gray card. Check your manual.

Select the Best -  Make sure that you have your camera set at its highest resolution so that you capture as large of a file as possible. All things being equal, the greater the resolution, the larger the print you can make. Also make sure that you are recording the image data at the camera's best quality setting. Cameras allow a choice of higher image compression to save card space, but it will degrade your image. Use your camera's best JPEG setting.

Keep the Noise Down - Digital cameras have a setting called ISO that determines the sensitivity of the sensor to light. In lower light when you use automatic settings on your camera, it is programmed to use a higher ISO setting to help keep shutter speeds up and minimize blurriness due to camera movement. Unfortunately, higher ISO settings come at the expense of greater digital noise (speckles of incorrect color or value). Since your camera will be on a tripod, you aren't worried about camera motion. Manually select an ISO of 100 or as close to that as your camera allows.
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Get in the Right Light - The easiest lighting for photographing artwork is also the cheapest: outdoors in an evenly shaded area. The north side of a building (assuming you're in the northern hemisphere) is a good choice. Wherever you set up, avoid harsh direct light and make sure that the painting is evenly lit. Since weather and time of day can make this option difficult at times, consider a lighting setup if you will be photographing your work often. The diagram below shows how to set lights at a 45 degree angle to the artwork to minimize glare and unwanted reflections. Turn off other lights and close curtains to minimize reflections from other light sources. If your painting does not have a matte finish, the use of a polarizing filter on your camera lens and polarizing gels on the lights will allow you to dial out unwanted glare.
A Bit About Resolution - We are frequently asked how large of a print we can make from a camera that records a given number of megapixels. The frustrating answer is "it depends". As a general rule, if an image is sharp and doesn't have much digital noise or glare in it, we can make a good print at 150 pixels per inch. This chart will give you an idea of how large we would generally recommend printing based on megapixel ratings:

6 megapixels = 2000 x 3008 pixels = 13.3" x 20"
10 megapixels = 2592 x 3872 pixels =17.3" x 25.8"
12 megapixels = 2848 x 4288 pixels = 19" x 28.6"

If you need a larger print, we can push the resolution farther, but you may not be satisfied with the sharpness of the image. We'd recommend getting a proof. It is also possible to take multiple images of sections of your photo and stitch them together in Photoshop. If you would like information on this process, please contact us via e-mail.

A Word About Color
- Since we won't have access to your painting for color correction, we can't guarantee color accuracy when printing from your file. We do offer to mail you a color chart that you can place along side your painting when you take the picture. Using this color chart, we can adjust colors so that the chart matches ours here in our studio, helping us to get as accurate of a representation as possible absent having your original to work from. If you would like us to mail you this chart free of charge, e-mail us and provide your mailing address.
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To download a PDF of these instructions, please click this link: How to Photograph Your Artwork.