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How to capture photos of your artworks

 

To print your unique artwork, we will require a digital file (a photo).
This article is to assist you to this yourself or to decide if you prefer to send the artwork to us to be digitalized.

Things you need to consider:

Why do you want to produce copies of your artwork?

Typically, an artist wants to make copies of their artworks because they want to sell prints. But this could be not the sole reason:

  • Images for your own archive
  • Deliver samples for an exhibition.
  • Send images for a catalogue.
  • Release images for promotion/media.
  • Send images to you social media, and more.

It is important to know why we need the images as the technical needs are distinct. It is easy to take photos for your own archive, but it is significantly complicated to do it for excellent quality limited edition prints.
Naturally, if we achieve the quality typically required for limited edition prints, we can use these files for everything else.

Are you capable to undertake some modest investments in order to get the ideal images?

Let’s be honest, nowadays you probably have all you need to take the photos. The only problem is precisely to know what kind of photos you can take with the equipment you already have.
With a mobile phone you can take images for your own archive, send samples for an exhibition, social media and standard prints.
If you have a “point-and-shot”, depending on the model, you can on top get the photos for promotion, catalogue and, maybe, media.
For high quality limited edition you will need a DSLR or higher.

Lights, the key of this job:

It does not matter why you want the images of your artwork, the photos should be taken properly. Therefore, the light needs to be perfect.
If you want to make some investment in order to improve your images, do it here first.
You can always take great images with the proper light, but even if you utilize the most capable camera the images will look awful if the light is wrong.
But do not be afraid, you can get the lightning equipment you need from almost nothing.
To get the right light you can buy things or be creative.

Standing out your images from the crowd:

Yes, this is the word: “Stand.”
You require stands: you will need stands for your artwork, for the lights, and for the camera.
For your artwork you most likely have one already, if not any easel from eBay will work, you can buy them from £10.- or less.For the light, it will depend on how you are going to do it, therefore let’s talk about this later.
As for the camera, any camera tripod will do the job as long as it is strong enough to hold the camera properly and steady. Sometimes you have a tripod, but your camera is excessively heavy for it and it will not stay still. But do not worry, tripods are not expensive for this job, you do not need a tripod to take with you into a field job. In addition, you can look for one in second-hands/charity shops, eBay and more.
If you are going to use your phone, you will need an adaptor, again, they are inexpensive. (From £2.-)

Choosing the right camera:

As I mentioned, you can use your phone. But phones have some very important limitations.
Don’t’ be fooled about megapixels.
The number of megapixels is related with the size of your final image and the size of the print you can do after. But “bigger” does not means “better.”And more megapixels either.
Think about this, a professional camera, like the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, got 30 Megapixels; the phone Huawei Mate 40 Pro, 50 Megapixels + 12MP + 20MP, or the iPhone 12 Pro Max 12MP + 12MP + 12MP. Yes, a professional camera has fewer pixels than a phone. But why?
To make it easy, the sensor is the key. A bigger sensor will allow you to capture the halftones much better. And this is very important when you want to get the full range of colours and halftones for an artwork.
Phones cannot have a big sensor, and this is why they try to compensate the problem by adding more pixels (and sometimes, more cameras). But even if they are ok for taking pictures (and great pictures too) your need is a little bit more technical and phones cannot fully compensate the “halftone issue.”Anyway, you can use you phone as long as you understand the limitations.
Depending on the camera, for this job you may get better photos of your artwork from a “point-and-shot” camera than form a phone.
But, at the end, think why you want to

What about the megapixels?

They are important only if you want to make big prints (but not quite so in this case).
This is a standard relation between the pixels and the size you can print:

This chart is mainly about photography. You can use it as reference but, if we are talking about printing artworks…

The size of your artwork (and the size of the print)

Yes, this is something that many artists get wrong, very wrong.
The size of the final print it is also related with the original size of your artwork.
If you think you can take a high-quality photo of a 8”x 10” (20.32 x 25.4 cm) artworks and print it on a 20”x30” (50.8 x 76.2 cm) you are wrong. Even if the digital file is technically correct (Let’s say, 40 Megapixels.) , the final print will look bad.
When you take a photo of you artwork you are getting all the colours and details (the good ones and the bad ones). Now, get a magnifier glass and look at you original artwork: can you see all the “bad details”? Yes, they are going to be seen like that in your print.
Basically, you cannot make a print of your artwork bigger than the original.
Did you decide which camera are you going to use? Do not forget the tripod!

Looking for the proper light

As we mentioned before, getting the right light is the key.

There are many sources of light you can use. What we need to get is an even result. We need to avoid areas with more light than others.
The easy and cheapest way you can get that is by remembering when you were a kid and used to build tents with two chairs and a bed sheet.
Yes, building a tent with a white bed sheet outside, taking advantage of the natural light, it is the best solution.

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

If your artworks are not too big, you can get a pop-up photo tent (soft photo box cubes). They are not expensive (From around £20.-) and foldable.


If working outdoors is not an option for you then we will need to get some lights.
Please avoid taking photos by using one source of light, like a one window, door, etc. It may look OK on your computer, but if you pay attention you will notice the difference of light between the area close to the window and the other.
For this job, what in photography is called “continuous lights” is the best. Flashes or “Speedlight” are not a good option as you need to see the results before taking the photo. As “continuous lights” are always on, you will be able to see the results and move the lights if it is necessary before taking the photo.
There are many options as continuous lights, I found very practical and affordable the LED lights also used as video-lights. You can get a kit/set of two with the tripods/stands from around £40.-.


The cheaper are not dimmable, but you can compensate this just by adjusting the distance between the artwork and the light.
These lights will be used on each side of your artwork, but sometimes you may need a light perpendicular/in front to it. A ring-light, also LED are handy and not expensive either (From around £16.-)


As you can see, even if you need to buy the lighting kits, your investment will be around £100.- which is not expensive if you are going to use it regularly.

One last thing to consider: the colour.

As an artist, you choose the colour by mixing paints or any other technique and the result is based on what you want for your artwork. And you will like that, that selection of colours and shades will look the same in your file and or your print.
Well, this is complicated as the way the image is shown on each of the places is totally different. This article is not about colour theory, so we are going to mention just the facts.
When you see a colour in a paper, the colours are based in the 3 basic primary colours (red, yellow and blue) if they are “painted” or Cyan, Magenta, yellow and black if they are printed (offset system or similar). You know that when you need to get inks for your printer. It is called Subtractive Colour System.
In a computer, the colours are the same than in a TV and they are formed by the combination of light instead inks. The Additive Colour System has also 3 primary colour and they are Red Green and Blue. By adding all colours together we get white, and no colour at all, black.
It also the same in digital photos: Therefore, you are converting the colour system forward and back (original artwork/Subtractive to photo-computer/Additive and print again/Subtractive).
Moreover, when you make a colour for your artwork, you do not work with a “formula” that can be followed and repeated exactly at the end of the process.
Also, you know that one colour can be seen differently by different persons. An “orange” can be more red or yellow up to the viewer.
The solution is to have some “sample”, a standard “pattern”, we can follow from the beginning to the end. We cannot follow your “orange”, but we can follow the red in the sample.
If you are concerned about the colour of your final print then you need to consider adding a pattern on the side of your artwork. Do not worry; after we match the colour, the pattern is deleted, cropped form the artwork.
You can get a pattern to add to your photos by buying it from eBay or other shops from £25.- (Grey White Balance Colour Card) or you can order one form us from £5.-.


You just need to add this card to one of the sides of your artwork when you take the photo. This will help the printer company to match the colours of your artwork as they will have a known colour to match.
But matching colours require a calibrated system. So let’s do this simple, unless you are going to sell high quality limited edition prints, just do the best you can and follow all the steps to get a good quality photo. Just be aware that the colour of your artwork will not look the same in your display (and even will not look the same in your friend’s display). If you want to fix that we will talk about this in another article.

Shall we take the photo?

We got everything now: The camera, the tripod, the tent, the lights and the stand.

Setting up the job:

Our first aim will be to make the artwork to cover 80% of the photo. Why not the 100%? Because there is always a margin of error between the actual photo and what you can see through the visor.
If you are going to add a colour card, remember to include it on the image.


Now we need to adjust the position of the artwork. By adjusting the easel and the camera tripod we need to have the artwork perpendicular and centred to the camera. We do not want any perspective distortion.

Lights: we need the light to be even on the artwork surface. No dark or lighter areas.

Unless you are going to use the “tent outdoors technique”, you can start with the traditional “V” distribution but be aware that it is a starting point. You may need to play around with the positions of the lights and sometimes with the high.
Your artwork should be un-framed to avoid reflections from the glass. If it is an oil paint, acrylics or similar, you will have a hard job avoiding reflections. You can try by not pointing the lights directly to the paint. The reflections are related to the texture of the paint, therefore there is no “magic formula” to avoid the problem in all your artworks. You will need to adjust the lights each time for each artwork. Sometimes you just need to do the best you can.
Once the camera is ready and the artwork is in the right position we are going to take the photo.

The settings of the camera.

Again, the idea is for an artist to take the photos of his/her own artwork trying to avoid complicated techniques.
We are going to use the automatic setup. Simple.
But there is a problem about this “setup.”Up to the lights and the artwork, it may take time, for the camera, to get the image (shooting speed).
This is why the stands and tripods are important, to avoid any movement. If you have, a remote shutter it will be better as you will not touch the camera. But if you do not have one you can always use the timer or self-timer (usually used to take selfies or group photos where you want to be there too)

Camera setup options:

1.- Easy for camera and mobiles phones: FULL AUTOMATIC / P-MODE /  AUTO
Some cameras have a “Touch” display, same af the mobile phones. If this is your case, touch the screen into the artwork area to be sure the camera/phone is focusing in there.

2.- Improving the images. If your camera or phone can work with others setting (sometimes you can download an app to your phone to access the “Manual” mode) then I will recommend trying this settings:
ISO: 50, 100 or 200 (It will improve the details, but it will increase the soothing speed, be sure your camera and the artwork is on a stand.) Camera modes: A (Aperture Priority) / Aperture Priority Mode (Av) (you will have the control of the aperture, and the camera will setup the speed.) By setting a higher NUMBER of the aperture ( f/8; f/11 or f/16) you will be able to control de “depth of field”, meaning it will be easier to catch everything “in focus”, giving you a shaper image. On the bad side, it will need more light/more time to take the photo. Stands are absolutly necessary and a remote shutter or playing with the timer to avoid touching the camera.
Note: Improving the sharpness of the image by shooting on apertures like f/11 or f/16 will depend on the quality of the lens. Sometimes is safer to use a “medium” f/stop such as F/5.6. However, you can try.

If you can, adjust the way your camera will save the images. On “point-and-shots” and mobile phones, as they will usually save as JPG, please setup as no compression or high quality JPG.

Conclusions:

If you follow the instructions, you will get very good images. In this article I am trying to avoid all unnecessary technical information. If I mention something “tech” I did it in a very simple way, trying to avoid any complication.
If you look for more “in-depth” information, just follow us and/or visit the site often as I will be adding more info in the future.