A Simple Guide to Photographing Your Paintings by Jeanne Bessette

Because of my previous life as a photographer, I am often asked how to photograph your paintings. I can't stress enough how important good images of your work is. You spend endless hours creating beautiful paintings and if you follow a few simple steps, it will make all the difference in your presentation to the world. You will get into more shows and you will look like a professional.
But first I want to make a small list of things not to do.
1. Do not take pictures of your work lying down on the floor with your feet in the bottom of the image.
2. Do not ask your spouse to hold the painting for you so he or she can also be in the picture.
3. Do not frame the image so it will look nice in the picture.
4. Mostly, do not put the camera on a timer and step into the picture to create a self portrait unless of course you need an image of yourself.
These may sound like silly examples of what not to do but believe me they happen.

There are several reasons we need photographs of our work and each situation warrants a different approach. For today, I am going to address low resolution images for your website and email applications. This of course starts with a relatively good quality digital camera. You can use any point and shoot for this as long as it has at least 4 mega pixels. I find the lower quality cameras just don't cut the mustard. You will also need a computer and a way to upload your images. I use Picassa because it is quick and pretty idiot proof.
A good quality, sturdy tripod is a must. Do not underestimate the need for a tripod. It keeps your camera steady and allows you to perfectly align the painting in the viewfinder, which is essential.

Most digital cameras have more than one setting for resolution. I like to shoot my paintings in the higher resolution (1600X1200 or more) in case I decide to use an online postcard company or send my image off for advertising. You can always lower the resolution on the computer for your website and emails.

Now that you are more familiar with what you need, here are the steps that I use for actually photographing the image.

1. I shoot all my paintings outside on a sunny day. I shoot either midmorning or mid afternoon and put the sun at a 45 degree angle behind me. So in photographer's terms, I have a giant light box of warm light spilling onto my subject. If it is a cloudy day, you will get a blue cast on your painting and good luck getting the blue out later.
2. I have created a black velvet back drop. I have glued the black velvet to a large piece of plywood. (Black velvet is pure black and absorbs light.) And I hang my painting on a nail. Ultimately, I crop to the exact edges of the painting once I upload it. But if I have a square painting and I do not want to crop to the edges, the black background will fall away to the viewer and the painting will "pop."
3. I set up my camera on the tripod and make sure that the camera is exactly perpendicular to the painting and the height is exactly in the middle of the painting's height. Double check all edges to make sure you are square and fill the view finder as much as possible with the painting. Check for hot spots or glare from the sun and adjust the painting if necessary. It is better to photograph your paintings before the final coat of varnish to help with glare, but I have photographed all my paintings after varnish with success and adjustments.
4. Set your camera on point and shoot or if you feel savvy, set it on fstop 60. Shoot more than one image.
5. Upload your images to your computer. Keep good files of your work and don't forget to create backups often.
These simple steps will help elevate your photographs to a place that you can feel confident in shooting your own images.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at
See you in the studio!!!


Grrrrr by Valerie (Valry) Drake

Typically I am fairly good at technical stuff since my day job deals with technology. But recently a technical issue has really messed up one of my art pieces. I still haven't resolved the situation but let me tell you about it.

I have been doing a series of colored pencil abstracts for my product line on cafe press and, overall, they have been going very well. They take about 20 hours each but they are turning out close to the vision I have had. Well, at least they are getting closer. Anyway, I do the art piece and then scan it and do a little editing to get it ready for the product line on cafe press, including turning the background transparent, and then upload the art to their web site and position it on the gift items. It has not been an interesting project.

Recently I did a piece that I really like. It has one area that is very intricate and is layers of ivory, pale yellow, warm Indian yellow, and white. The piece also has bright honey-colored "drips". The colors are exactly what I was trying to achieve and the details are perfect. It is very unusual to have the finished piece end up being quite so close to the vision and I am very pleased with this piece.

Although it was challenging and time consuming to produce, the real problem started after it was finished. I took it to be scanned and when I got home and opened the file, all my beautiful rich golden ivory color was gone! It was gray and white! Bummer. So I took it back to be rescanned. Same result. I took it to a high-end reprographics shop and they had the same result. Evidently the wax in colored pencil creates a reflection in the scanner. Combined with the light color in this area it reflects enough light to create a "hot spot" which washes out all the color. One lesson learned: yellow is a difficult color for a scanner to handle accurately.

Okay. So I tried taking a photo of it. I'm losing a LOT of detail. Also, the background is supposed to be white and for some reason a photo is making it look sepia-tone. The darker background is almost impossible to convert to transparent which creates a new set of problems in utilizing this image for my cafe press product line. However, this is the best I've gotten so far. I have one more thing to try – taking the photo outside on a bright day and the weather has not been cooperating with that.

We live in a time when it is not enough to create the art we want. We also have to learn the technical skills to present our art. I am still working on that.


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