How to Photograph 2-Dimensional Art

In order to present their work to others, artists (with the exception of photographers) are required to take pictures of their art, including for their portfolios and websites. We see many submissions by artists who have photographed their artwork, but the end result simply does not translate into what the artist originally intended.

Too often, one of the most important parts of the process of showcasing their art, photographing their work, is neglected by artists. Since artists are required to submit work digitally for exhibitions, grants and presentations, good photography offers the first impression of your art and your professionalism. A good photograph of your art can mean the difference between getting into an exhibition, being accepted into a gallery or making an important sale. It is worth the time it takes to get this aspect of your art presentation done correctly.

Below are some tips and pointers that will help you improve your art presentations the next time you are photographing your 2-dimensional art. 

Lighting

  • When possible, photograph your art outside when it is cloudy or with an overcast sky. Indirect light will show your art better than any other light. Outdoor light is a “natural” light and will provide the best representation of your art. Just make sure that it is indirect light.
  • If photographing your art inside with artificial light, be sure to do so it a room with lots of windows and natural light. However, keep the artwork out of any direct sunlight coming through the windows.

Staging

  • When possible hang your artwork on a neutral colored wall rather than just propping it up. Artwork is easier to photograph when you don’t have to try to adjust for an angle when it is leaning against another surface. Match the angle of the camera so that the center of your lens is focused at the exact center of the art. Do not use a “wide angle” lens. If you have a zoom lens, then use that.
  • Use a tripod or any other device (boxes, table or ladder) to hold the camera steady and ensure a clear shot.
  • If at all possible, when shooting, do not have your art framed or with glass in the frame. It is very hard to get away from any reflections in the glass. If it is framed with glass or plastic make sure it is absolutely clean
  • If the framing is part of the overall artwork, be sure to include it and provide an explanation when you submit the artwork as to why the frame is included.
  • Also, if the art is frame-less this will help in post-production when you should crop the photograph so only the artwork can be seen.
  • Make sure the edges of your artwork are straight and parallel
  • One thing to look out for are any distortions of the art and make sure that the edges of your artwork are straight and parallel in the viewfinder. Match the edges of the art with the inside edges of the frame.

Camera Settings

  • Make sure that the flash is off the camera. If not, the flash will produce “hot spots” on your art and there is practically nothing that you will be able to do about this.
  • If your camera has different settings like DSLR then try different shutter speeds and ISO settings.
  • One of the main differences between a point and shoot camera and a digital SLR camera is that an SLR has a detachable lens. Digital SLR cameras also give you more control over manual settings such as exposure.
  • ISO is a camera setting that will brighten or darken a photo. As you increase your ISO number, your photos will grow progressively brighter. Therefore, ISO can help you capture images in darker environments, or be more flexible about your aperture and shutter speed settings.
  • Try to bracket the camera’s settings from high to low and you should be able to produce an image somewhere in the middle of the settings that match the depth and color of your art.
  • For a high quality image, it is recommended to set the ISO to a between 100-200.
  • Slower shutter speeds will help with your colors. Experiment with the exposures and shutter speeds if you are doing this for the first time.
  • Many cellphones today can take very high resolution images. If you use your phone to photograph your art, be sure you know how to use the settings and experiment with them before you try to photograph your work.
  • Take at least two to three pictures of each artwork so you have options to choose during the editing process.
  • If you have a photographer friend see if they can help you with this.

Post Production Editing

  • You will need photo editing software to crop the image, color correct or eliminate any distortions and lines that may not have been made exactly parallel. If you do not have an editing program, 2 good free programs are Gimp and Adobe Photoshop Express.
  • The first thing to do is crop your image to include only the artwork. If you have a frame around your artwork, also crop it out of the image.
  • Use the editing software to balance your colors and contrast to get it as close as possible to an accurate representation of your art. Many programs have “auto settings” that usually work, but you can manually color correct your images if needed.
  • Do not include time stamps or watermarks on images you submit to organizations. They will not be able to use them if you do.
  • When submitting images for online exhibitions, image resolution should be set at 72dpi. This will allow for quicker loading of images as well as protect the images from being able to be copied and reproduced by others. For printing a much higher resolution is necessary, a minimum of at least 300dpi.
  • Be sure to maintain your original color corrected image so you have a master file. Different organizations have different specifications so you need a master file to be able to resize according to their instructions.

Overall, an image of your art (with the exception of photography) will never be a perfect representation. However, with trial, error, and experimentation you should be able to create a photograph that is a very close to the original artwork. Remember, you are competing with other artists who are fretting over this aspect of presenting their art, as they know how important it is.

We hope this article helps you to take accurate photographs of your artwork and take your overall art presentation to a higher level.

Check back soon for a separate article for the best ways to photograph 3-Dimensional art.

You can also read more helpful articles on our blog.

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