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Getting the best images of your Artwork

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The forums here on FAA sooner or later get to image quality questions, since i have tried to share some general rules of photography with some truly creative painters, I thought i'd make a post here that can be referred to easily when anyone has a question. Following a few simple rule in photography can make a night and day difference in the results of the image, when photographing works of art and that starts with understanding your camera.

First off if you have a friend with a pro grade DSLR , it may be well worth your effort to work out a schedule to document your work.
(to see a comparison of Canon DSLR or Nikon DSLR cameras simply click on the name to be taking to my camera comparisons)

Starting with what you need:

Camera (see your manual for more information)
Tripod or something to set the camera on for a steady shot
Good lighting (Sun light will provide the most vibrant colors)
Steady support for your art, so that your camera will line up at a 90' angle straight up and centered

From here I'm going to detail what to do and if it turns to gibberish, check your cameras user manual, these are terms you should understand.

Place your artwork in steady light, no shadows and not to bright. If you do not have a good place to shoot outside, you can use the lighting you have available, but understand that this will shift the colors that the camera sees. If you have low wattage florescent light bulbs the color will shift blue (same as your flash, but less bright), regular incandescent light will be shifted to the yellow side. Regardless of your lighting source you will want to set the white balance to adjust for these differences.

The support you use for your art should not block even the slightest part of the work, unless you intend to crop this off later. Setting a painting next to the wall might seem the simplest, but if you have to lean it to get it to stay, you will be changing the perspective of the image, your target is to have the camera directly above or in front of your art at a 90' angle to avoid barrel distortion (more on that later).

Set your camera to the maximum resolution possible and lowest ISO if possible
Double check your white balance Auto can work, but custom is best.
Set the camera to self time mode (even your finger movement is enough to blur the shot sometimes)
Set the focus on your camera for the center of your work of art, it would be best to avoid zooming at all, but you want to make sure that the maximum amount of your image is in frame, everything that needs to be cropped later will come at the expense of larger print sizes. Absolutely NEVER use an extended or digital zoom, this will only cause your image to loose clarity.

Assuming your working with a tripod, once everything is all lined up, your ready to shoot, so snap one off. Now check your results, zooming in to the closest point your camera will let you see. If you like what you see it could be just that simple, keep in mind your computer will have much greater clarity than your cameras small LCD screen. To make sure you have the shot you need try taking a few versions of your work, one with flash maybe, but this will at times make portions of your image brighter than the rest...user mileage and media will vary. Imagine the bounce off shiny acrylic paint VS the flat tones of watercolors. I personally like to shoot over a few seconds vs shooting in 1 / 200 th of a second and that is why a good tripod is so important , it allows you to use as much time as you need to expose the image. Once you have taken a few shots, load your new images to your computer and view at 100% resolution.

If you like what you see, you can start your post processing. Photoshop is the most used editing software, so i will go forward using details for it. A work flow becomes important in order to provide the same quality each time and it helps manage your images as well. My personal work flow starts with importing the images to a raw folder that serves as my archive, these images are never changed, so that you always have your original available. I will review the images and copy the ones i want to upload to a working folder. Now that everything is in place what do we need to do in post?

First I like to adjust the color, so i know what i'm working with, but do so on a new layer on the image your working with. Click layer, duplicate layer and name it accordingly. I to test auto colors I like to click image, adjust, curves and then select auto. The results are not always what I need, but more times than not if the image is shot correctly the changes will be minor. If the Auto curves does not work, I'll move to adjusting the levels manually. on to perspective.

Barrel distortion is something caused when the round lens bends light to fit on the tiny CCD that captures your image and is most evident when shooting tall buildings, where you might see the building bend. IN photography it can be a cool effect, but for documenting your artwork it could be a disaster. To adjust for this, on your duplicate layer you can click edit / transform / distort. Once inside this menu you can now stretch the image as needed to adjust the perspective of your artwork. Now crop the image, so that only your artwork is left.

Once you have everything all squared up and in the color of your choosing, there is a lil paperwork you can take care of in the file info. Not all networks read the meta data in your image, but this is a powerful tool for your end which you might never have heard of before. Click file / file info and a window will pop up. This is the meta data of the image you where you can add copyright, keyword and many other details.

All set? wait a second, lets go back to the most important detail the clarity. I like to view every pixel of the image at a minimum of 200% so that i get a bad view and adjust or clone for anything that is obvious. Ok Lets SAVE AS to a new folder like ready or upload, so we know later the image is ready to roll. Each network allows for different file formats and there are two that offer the best clarity for archiving your corrected images, TIFF and PNG are the best in that respect, with no compression.

Now your all set :-) I hope that this was easy to follow and helps you get the best results with what you have available. If your interested in learning more about digital cameras I have already developed a site at where I detail higher grade cameras from trusted retailers, trying to provide the lowest prices i can find. Purchases from retailers on the site help me take the time to write articles like this.

Other threads here on the FAA forum include: