How To Take Great Photos Of Your Artwork

Entering an art contest or submitting a portfolio? Then you need to know how to take great photos of your artwork. Follow our expert tips for presenting your art in the best possible way.

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Your works are high quality, so photographs of them should be, too. Whether you’re preparing an entry for a fine art competition, putting together a portfolio to impress gallery directors, agents, or dealers, or gathering images you want to use in publicizing your work, you need to know how to take great photos of your artwork.

If the photo is too small or out of focus, or if there are problems with color, lighting or shadows, then you are not showing a true representation of your work. Your piece will appear poorly constructed, the colors will be misrepresented – you may as well be showing a picture of somebody else’s artwork.

Remember, this will often be the first sample of your work that people will see, and if the images aren’t good enough, it will more than likely be the last.

Useful Article: How To Create A Professional Portfolio

example of poor lighting
Poor lighting can result in dark images. (Keep reading to see a perfect photo)

In many ways, the best approach is simply to enlist the services of a professional photographer. Of course, not everyone has the budget or resources to hire a professional photographer. If you aim to take the photographs yourself, be sure to review the following tips and pointers to make sure that your final products are as true-to-life as possible.

Getting Ready to Photograph your Artwork

Buy or Borrow a Good Digital Camera.

  • Make sure your camera is fully charged and don’t forget the memory card.
  • Your camera should have a few basic settings:
    • Ability to select ISO (always use the lowest ISO setting. The higher the ISO number the grainier the image. Some recommend a setting of 200 ISO)
    • Good Auto Focus
    • Ability to adjust white balance – The type of light you’re shooting in may produce white light with slightly different color tints. The white balance setting make white objects appear white in your images.
    • The auto balance setting is the simplest option

Buy or Borrow a Tripod

  • A tripod is essential to taking a good in focus photograph of your artwork
  • A tripod is the ideal way for you to make sure that your camera is aligned to your artwork
  • Using a tripod allows for zero camera movement which in turn will result in the sharpest image possible

Setting the Scene to Photograph your Artwork

Positioning

  • Pay attention to the way you’re positioning your artwork.
  • Avoid shadows and messy framing, by making sure that the piece is level against the wall.
  • Whenever possible, you should fill the frame with your work, trying not to show any background.
  • When your artwork is non-rectangular or 3-D keep the background simple without distractions.
  • Frame the piece against a neutral color – white is the perfect background. Colorful backgrounds can alter the color of your piece by reflecting onto it.

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Example of photograph of your artwork - bad angle
Pay attention to the way you position your work

Lighting
Lighting is extremely important when taking a high quality photograph of your artwork. It can have an enormous impact on almost all aspects of the resulting image.

  • Use bright, indirect natural lighting.
  • Natural light fluorescent bulbs can also be a good choice,
  • Avoid deep shadows and dappling effects.
  • Position the lights and the artwork carefully before taking the photo.
    • Make sure there are no shadows concealing parts of the piece, and that there are no problems with high contrast, which will give you an image with very dark or very light patches that will detract from the impression of the work itself.
  • Soften the glare and intensity by diffusing the light source.
    • For example: by bouncing it off a white surface such as paper.
  • Avoid direct sunlight; aside from the fact that it’s probably not good for your artwork, direct sunlight can create what are known as ‘hot spots’ on reflective surfaces.
  • Do not use a Flash – Flash can also create a reflective “Hot Spot”. It is extremely difficult to predict the full impact of using a flash, and you don’t want to risk highlighting the wrong areas of your images.
  • Avoid mixing light sources, as different style bulbs give off different colors.
  • If the work you are photographing is behind glass, it is best to take out of the glass. If you can’t you will need to angle the light and camera to minimize reflection and glare.
  • You can purchase professional lighting sets at most online retailers, which include light stands and umbrellas to reflect and soften the light.
example of a photo out of focus
An out of focus photo does not show a true representation of your work

Setting Up Your Camera to Photograph Your Artwork

  • Be sure to clean your lens. Having a speck of dust on the glass can mess with your camera’s automatic focus in the most annoying of ways.
  • The tripod should be set so that the camera is the same height as the center of your artwork.
  • If your work needs to be on a slant to stand up against the wall – tilt your camera to match the angle.
  • Set the zoom lens so that there is minimal distortion (For two-dimensional art wide angles distort the images).
    • Position the camera at some distance from the object, and then zoom in as necessary. This might not sound obvious, but it will give you far greater control over the images you can take, and will help you maintain your own perspective.
    • You can try different levels of zoom for different shots. However, note that when your camera switches over from optical zoom to digital zoom, you may be risking the sharpness and overall quality of the image.
  • Set the ISO to  the lowest setting
  • Using the RAW setting of your camera. You can read more about the different options here, but essentially RAW will mean that you have all of the information saved, in as high a quality as possible. From there, you can work with the images and re-size them or make other changes, if necessary.
Reflection, Oil on Canvas by Lucy O'Donovan
Reflection by Lucy O’Donovan – Good photo – closest to representing the actual work

Photographing your Artwork

  • Make sure the camera is firmly attached to the tripod.
    • It doesn’t matter how steady your hand is, or how nicely the photos from your mobile phone come out, you need to ensure that the camera stays particularly steady if you want to get a really good photo of your work.
  • Use the timer so that the shot is taken shortly after you’ve pressed the button, so that you won’t accidentally cause the camera to shake. 
  • The best way to ensure consistency throughout your portfolio is to take the photographs of each piece in the same photo-shoot. It may be tempting to snap your pics the minute each piece is complete, but when you aren’t taking each photo under the same conditions, you’ll find a noticeable inconsistency throughout. Similar exposure, contrast, lighting, and color correction means there’s less to distract the person leafing through your portfolio, so that they can concentrate on the works themselves.
  • Take lots of shots – and choose the best
    • With digital photography, you can take many images without adding to the expense or even the difficulty of the session. It’s a good idea to take a lot of photographs, so that you can choose the best ones later. You might have thought you got the perfect shot, but it could turn out to be overexposed, or perhaps a movement somehow ruined the image at just the wrong time. Don’t trust the preview on your camera’s screen – this preview is often too small to show some of the most important details.

Useful Article: 6 Things You Can Do To Promote Your Art

Lucy O'Donovan at Agora Gallery
Visitors at Lucy O’Donovan’s opening reception

Label Your Photographs

Make things easy for yourself; label each image clearly, consistently and with full detail while you still know all these things without having to think about it. Title, medium, dimensions and year are all pieces of information you’re likely to need attached to these images at some point, so if you include them in the image title or description now, you’ll save yourself time and effort later.

 

Looking to enhance your career and build a presence in New York? Submit your portfolio to us and get the opportunity to present your work to a broad range of national and international art collectors and buyers. Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.

A big thank you to Lucy O’Donovan for letting us use her artwork!

This post is also available in: Spanish

23 comments

  • Thanks for this great article about taking good photos of work.

  • I am what might be explained as an retired artist so not profession by any means. As I only have a I phone camera can good results of my art still be of a standard fit for entry?

    • Dear Jan,

      That really depends on the kind of phone you have. Most smart phones these days have great cameras, and the pictures should be of a good resolution.

      Hope this helps!

    • Jan,

      The most important component to any photograph is light. The word “photograph” quite literally means “drawing with light”. It’s amazing the quality of photos you can create when you have a good amount (and good quality) of light on your subject. If you’re using a camera phone, I’d suggest looking into some fluorescent video lights with what are called “high CRI bulbs” (CRI stands for Colour Rendering Index). I’d say that with good enough light, you might be amazed with the quality your smart phone can turn out.

      Cheers,
      Eric

  • Thank you for a great article!
    I am submitting a 2-D piece of art for the first time and they are requiring two photos for the entry. The first, I understand should be frame-filled. I am uncertain of what to do with the 2nd one. Should I do a closeup shot or something more like a staged one? Any additional information would be most helpful. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Penny,

      You can either do another full-frame shot, it is more likely that they asked for two pictures because they want to make sure they get a high-quality shot. However, if your first image is high-resolution already, you can go for a nice close-up shot.

  • What is the minimum pixel camera that you would recommend for capturing images of artwork .”…

    • Hello Dure Sabih!

      We recommend using a camera that is over 7.2 mega pixels. For more information, please visit this webpage.

  • that was most informative thankyou l have always wanted to enter competition but am not competant on the computer.

  • Hi there!
    Could you tell me the cost of participation?

    Best Regards,
    Sasha

  • Hi there!

    A good article and I’m an artist using photography as the main medium for my creations.

    I was just wondering for the pictures to submit to the competition if you need just the picture of the artwork image or does it require a picture of the full image and its frame aswell?

    Regards,

    David

  • I have professional photos of my work, can I send them in via post mail? for your up and coming 2016 art competition.

  • Great tips. We have to take photos all the time. I heard some galleries accept short videos of works, or require them. Do you know?

    • Good question! At Agora Gallery, we don’t require videos of artworks. Other galleries might, however, so it would be a good idea to contact them directly to find out.

  • Thank you for making it so very straight forward. I have been spending much on photography when I believe I can do it myself. My husband and I have cameras, tripods but it always seemed so complicated. We will definitely be trying this ourselves to see how we compare. Your site is very informative and I was just googling this evening.

    Thanks

    • We’re glad we could help, Tonee, and we’d love to see how the photographs turn out.

      Stay tuned for more advice articles, every other Tuesday!

  • Dear Sir/Madam,
    Thank you for your information,
    But I am only an artist not an professional photographer ,
    Best Regards,
    Alex Nemirovsky

    • Hi Alex, So glad that you stopped by. You artwork is excellent as we saw at your exhibition at Agora Gallery.

      With the ease of digital cameras and the tips in this article, even someone without any experience can take great photos of their work. We suggest if you can’t hire a professional photographer, you should experiment taking your own photos. Most important to remember is to keep the camera steady, position your artwork inline with the camera and make sure to have plenty of natural light/lighting. Let us know how it works for you.

  • Hi team
    I have tried in the past to reply but never succeed until now .
    I thoroughly enjoyed looking at your website and reading about how to take perfect photos of your artwork
    Cheers Isabel McIvor
    (IsabelMcIvor-Kimber is my artist name )

    • Thank you! We appreciate your feedback. Join our mailing list to receive regular event, news and advice updates. If you have any questions we would be happy to help.

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