Taking a good photograph of your artwork is a crucial step in the process of displaying and selling your art online. Online viewers will only be able to judge you as an artist by the digital images they see—so you will always need high-quality photos of your art in order to sell your work online and be taken seriously.
The wrong way to photograph your art:
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Walk up to your art hanging on a wall. Bring the camera to your eye. Take a snapshot.
A better way to photograph your art:
An SLR or “prosumer” camera is the best choice for taking photos of your art, but a point-and-shoot camera will work too. What’s most important is knowing how to use the camera. Have your camera manual handy as you go through the following steps:
1. Choose the highest megapixel setting
If you only need online display images, your camera can be set to lower megapixels. To sell digital images as prints, however, you’ll need to produce the largest, best-quality images possible. When in doubt, always use the highest megapixel setting on your camera.
2. Turn off flash
Don’t use your on-camera flash! It will create a glare on your artwork. Check your manual if necessary to see how to turn it off.
3. Set the ISO to 100 and the aperture to at least F/8
Also, make sure that your camera is set on “aperture priority.”
4. Choose a fast shutter speed
Slow shutter speed can cause blurriness or other problems in your photo. See your camera manual for more shutter speed details.
5. White balance the camera
Set the white balance for the light you’re using, to prevent your photos from looking blue (if you’re outside) or yellowish-orange (if you’re inside).
6. Clean the lens
Follow the directions in your manual so you don’t accidentally scratch it. No shirttails, please!
7. Select a location
Choose a location where the light is soft and will be even across the entire image. Avoid harsh, direct sunlight; look for light shade or an overcast day. Outside in shade is the best.
8. Place your art upright
Prop your artwork against a white, gray or black backdrop. Cardboard covered by a white sheet or blanket will do. The art should be leaning nearly vertical, but make sure it won’t slip or move when you walk away from it.
9. Use a tripod
Yes, I said tripod. Dig it out of the closet. It’s virtually impossible to get quality photographs of artwork without one.
10. Center your image
With your camera on the tripod, position the camera in the absolute center of the image. Look from the side, and make sure the art and camera planes are equal to each other. Make sure art and camera are both level. (Use a small level if you have one.) Set up your composition to leave a bit of the backdrop in the image—you’ll crop it out later.
11. Take a few photos
Don’t jostle the tripod. It’s also best to use the delayed setting, so you can press the button and be done touching the camera by the time the photo is taken.
12. Remove the camera from the tripod
Take your camera, but leave your artwork in place, and be careful not to move the tripod—you’ll probably need to come back and take more photos.
13. Check your photos on the computer
Download your first set of images to your computer and open them in an image editor. Pick the best one, magnify it to 100% and look for problems, such as:
Insufficient details. Make sure there is good detail in both the light and dark areas of the image. Look for spots that are completely white when they shouldn’t be—this is bad. (Remember, no flash.)
Blurriness. If your image is blurry, refocus your camera on your artwork and increase your shutter speed. You may also need to pick a location with more light.
Dust spots. A dirty camera lens will create dust spots on your photos. Either clean the lens, or remove the dust spots digitally in your image editor.
Distortion. Make sure the image isn’t distorted or tilted. If your image editor has ruler lines available, use those to check that your vertical and horizontal lines are level.
If you have any of these issues, adjust your setup, take another shot and inspect it on the computer. Repeat as needed.
Note: Color differences shouldn’t be too big of a concern. Monitors vary widely in their color and brightness, so don’t worry if the screen version looks different than the actual image. If the camera’s white balance was set correctly, the actual digital photograph should be correct.
Once everything looks good in the digital image, that’s your final photo.
15. Crop and edit your final image
Open the photo in your image editor and crop off the backdrop border. Save it as a tiff, or as a jpg with maximum quality, and then upload your image to the web.
If you’re selling digital prints of your artwork, I’d also suggest ordering a test print to check your final product. Good luck!