Photographing Your Art

Additional Resources:

Every artist needs to keep visual records of their work—Whether you plan on simply documenting your work, selling your art right away,  or creating your digital portfolio you should always have up-to-date images ready to share.

 If you are a beginner with little camera equipment and little or no experience with image editing, this tutorial outlines the basic set up steps to take great photos of your artwork, using natural outdoor light. If you have access to and know how to use the studio lighting then the basic setup will be similar but you will need additional instruction on how to properly set lighting and exposure. If you have some experience with Photoshop, refer instead to the steps outlined in the video above.

Use the Rule of Thirds

One of the first things you’ll learn in a photography or film class is the rule of thirds. Imagine having a tic-tac-toe board on your screen when you’re taking a picture. A well-composed photo or video should have the important pieces, or focal point, of the subject hit the crosses of one of the intersections in the rule of thirds grid.


Prevent Image Distortion

Find a wall, where you can hang up your work so that it stands perfectly upright/ vertical. (Magnets are very helpful to correctly hold in position drawings and other works on paper.) Large paintings may be difficult to do this because of their size but you goal is to have the camera parallel to the artwork. If you lean the artwork against a wall remember to tilt the camera slightly down to match the angle that the artwork is leaning—this will help minimize distortion of the original image. (called Keystoning or the Keystone effect. You don’t want this.)  Check to see that all the edges of your work are parallel with the edges of the viewfinder. You’ll want to especially avoid these types of photographs shown below known as “keystone ”:


Both of these keystone distortions come from the camera not being dead center to the artwork.

Take several pictures because it won’t always be as easy to tell on the viewfinder whether or not there’s any keystone distortion. Once your images are up on your computer, you’ll be able to see for sure which photo is best. (use of a small carpenters level is helpful to assure your artwork is level and plumb. If your camera or tripod has its own bubble level, use it to achieve the same results on the camera, otherwise the level can be used here as well.


Many people have trouble with their artwork looking like it swelled up. That’s an issue with the camera lens, but it’s easily fixable.


The solution is to use the “zoom” on your camera, and then back farther away from your art. This will create a more natural amount of depth to the photo and keep those edges from bulging outward.

Tripod Setup


Use a tripod with your camera to make sure that you’re taking perfectly steady shots. No tripod? Don’t sweat it, a box works just as well but may take a bit more time adjusting height and angles. (If you do not have access to an SLR camera and are using an iphone camera be sure to check out the tips from this page.)


copy stand

If you are photographing smaller flat art works such as sketchbook drawings, a good substitution of a tripod is to instead use a copy stand. In this set up you are attaching your camera to the stand and shooting straight down on the art. Adjust the focal distance by raising the camera with the copy stand adjustment handle.


adjustment handle

Yet another alternative is to invert the top tube of your tripod (the part that actually holds the camera) so that it holds the camera underneath and between the tripod legs and point the camera down on the artwork. (This may require taking the adjustable top tube completely out from the stand and reinserting it from the opposite end.)


inverted tripod setup


Ideal outdoor lighting is slightly overcast, not a bright sunny day. If it is extremely bright, however, find somewhere that gives a little shade.

If photographing indoors from a tripod or copy stand, use 2 controlled lighting sources where the lamps are positioned at 45 degrees on either side of the artwork, not directly in front. Do not use your camera’s flash. Soften the light by using umbrellas or other forms of deflecting or softening. You are trying to even out the light to avoid hot spots.

If you are using an SLR camera, set your camera’s white balance first using a white card. Set ISO setting at under 400 and Fstop around F5–F6  to begin. You can fine tune these settings from there depending on your specific lighting conditions and subject mater.

Once in position, use the camera’s timer to take the photo. (you can also use the volume control of your earbuds as a camera release on your iPhone to snap the picture). Your goal here is to minimize any camera shake, which in turn will result in less sharp images.

Be sure to have a neutral background. Black, White or Gray is ideal. No patterns, No bright colors. Be sure to fill the viewfinder of the camera as much as possible with your artwork. leave a little bit of background, but mostly crop in tightly on the work.

Image Editing

When you’ve uploaded the photos to your computer, bring them up in Photoshop or whichever photo-editing software you use. Although the next few steps will be based in Photoshop, you’ll be able to find something similar in any photo-editing program. (These steps outline the very basics of image editing. It is not intended to cover all the steps that might be necessary to to fully edit a digital photograph.)

Here’s a picture of a painting opened in Photoshop to crop and correct.


The first step here is to correct the contrast. Although it’s a fairly good photo already, it’s a little dull compared to the real painting.


In Photoshop, select “Image,” then “Adjustments,” then click on “Auto Contrast.”


That did the trick. Since it was such a sunny day the colors turned out great without needing any extra work.

Now it’s time to crop the artwork.


Select the “crop” tool from your tool bar and position it at one corner of the painting.


Click and drag the tool to create a box of dotted lines (dancing ants). Unclick at the opposite corner from where you started. If you lined up the edges in the viewfinder while you took the photo, then you shouldn’t have any problems at this point. If not, however, try “selecting all” from the main menu then Edit (again from the main menu) then “Transform”>>“Distort” to straighten out any keystone effect. Then crop.

You can see that everything outside the crop has been dimmed. You’ll want to zoom in to make sure that you’ve cropping EVERYTHING out but the artwork.


Then go back to the main menu and under “Image”>>“Adjustment”>>“Levels”. The black pointer on the right and left sides should be directly under where the histogram starts from either end. If the area directly above these pointers is not where the histogram “graph” starts then slide these pointers over until they are. The middle pointer adjusts the information corresponding to the mid range of value in the image. Moving this pointer slightly to the right or left of its present location can give you greater detail in the mid range.


Image Size


From the Image>>Image Size menu, set increments to pixels. Then take the largest dimension from either the width or height  (in the above example this number is the width, 5360 pixels) and divide it by your printer’s resolution dpi (in the above example this number is 300 dpi). The resulting number is the maximum size in inches that your image may be printed with full resolution. (In the above example 5360 pixels decided by 300 = 18 inches)

File Formats

Save your finished digital image as a TIFF or PSD so that you don’t lose any file quality if you wish to return for further refinement at a later time. Do as “Save A”s command to Save it again as a JPG if you’re planning on uploading it to the internet.

Images saved for printing purposes should normally be saved as CMYK colorspace 350 dpi Photoshop (PS),  TIFF or high quality PDF files.

By contrast, images save for the purpose of viewing on screen only (internet, smartphone, kiosk, etc) should be saved in RGB colorspace, 100 ppm JPEG, GIF or screen resolution PDF files.

The only exception to this is when printing to Epson inkjet printers. Epson prefers files to be saved in RGB, not the normal print CMYK colorspace.


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