111 – Photographing your work
Laura0:01 Hey Nikki, do you photograph your artwork when it’s finished? And I don’t mean just snapping a quickie for Instagram. I mean good quality photos that you can use in your portfolio.
Nikki0:11 Laura, I’m old enough that I remember when you had to shoot your work on slide film, rip ’em out of the cheap cardboard slide frames, use silver tape to crop down your image and pop them into plastic slide frames.
Laura0:25 Wow, Nikki, you are old. Anyway, we know that it can be overwhelming to think of all that can be involved in photographing your work. So today, we’re going to do a deep dive into this topic and give you our best tips on how to create professional images of your artwork. Hi, this is Laura Lee Griffin.
Nikki0:51 And this is Nikki May with the Startist Society, inspiring you to stop getting in your own way and start building an art biz and life that you love.
Laura1:00 We are artists who believe strongly in the power of community, accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination that keep you stuck.
Nikki1:13 Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours. Okay, first things first, let’s talk about the various purposes for photographing your art.
Laura1:26 Okay, we already mentioned the first and most obvious one – your portfolio. This could be in the form of a printed book. But these days, it’s most likely online on your own website and social media. But there are lots of other reasons you’ll want to have good photos handy for your art.
Laura, I actually remember having to go from gallery to gallery with one of those big black portfolios with printed photos of my art. Yep, you win the dinosaur contest today, Nikki.
Nikki1:47 Very funny, Laura, I win that one every day. So whether you’re a fine artist selling your work on your own website, or through galleries, or an illustrator or surface designer trying to get commissions or licensing, or even putting your art on print on demand products, you will need high quality photos or in some cases, scans, of your work.
Laura2:17 Now, do you need fancy high end equipment to get really good photos? Or can you use things that we already have? I know there are so many options, right? There’s DSLR cameras, mirrorless cameras, high end compact cameras. But smartphone cameras are so good today, can we just get away with using our phones? And what else do we need? Do we need tripods special lenses?
Nikki2:43 Well, like almost everything, it depends. It depends on the size, the medium and level of detail of your art, the purpose of the photos, your budget, your skills. There’s a lot to think about. So let’s break it down and talk through each choice.
Laura2:58 Okay, first things first, what are you going to do with these photos? If the photos are only for your website and social media, you don’t need super high resolution images, almost any camera you buy these days would be sufficient. An entry level DSLR, a good quality, compact point and shoot, or even your smartphone camera is probably good enough to get images that look great online.
Nikki3:22 But even if you don’t have plans now to do anything more with your photos, you never know if you might want to make an art print down the line. And if you sold the original, you’ll be happy if you’ve taken a better photo. So for these you might want to consider a camera capable of really high resolution, at least 300 DPI for smaller images, and possibly even higher for detailed or really large prints.
Laura3:43 But Nikki in all honesty, if you’re only making fairly small prints, you can probably even get by with just a phone for that.
Nikki3:50 Yeah, in general, I agree. But for some of my really small, very detailed ink drawings that have super fine, crisp lines, even my brand new fancy iPhone doesn’t give me the results I want. So sometimes you can scan your work instead of photographing it, but we’ll get into that a bit later.
Laura4:08 Okay, so you should also consider your budget. If you are just getting started and your main goal is simply to get a portfolio online and have images to share on social media, make things easy on yourself and use what you already have. You’re probably carrying a really great camera in your pocket right now.
Nikki4:24 Or listening to this podcast on it.
Nikki4:28 Just know that you have options in all different price ranges from free – your phone to a budget friendly entry level DSLR or an expensive, high end professional camera that I really wouldn’t recommend you invest in if you’re just getting started.
Laura4:44 Yeah, and in all honesty, if you, for example, work with super large paintings that require high end equipment and lenses to capture them for reproduction, it may be best to just hire somebody who already owns all that fancy equipment to take the photos for you.
Nikki4:59 That’s really a great option. If you’re not confident with your skills or you don’t have the equipment, just know that, that can also get really pricey. I actually just had a professional photographer contact me and ask if I wanted photos of my airport commission. And he said his price was normally $500 per photo, but he had a special rate for artists of only $300 each. Yeah, if I was going to have photos of the space printed in a book or magazine, that might be totally worth it. But for just for my own website, and social media, it’s probably overkill.
Laura5:31 Definitely overkill.
Nikki5:32 Yeah. And I took photos of the space myself on my phone that looked pretty great on my website. There’s so much more you can do these days with your smartphone, as long as it’s one of the newer models. A lot of them will let you use manual settings either before or after you shoot the photo. And there’s so many apps that you can use to improve your photos. In fact, Laura, I think we should consider an episode all about phone apps that can help you in your art biz. What do you think?
Laura5:58 Oh, totally, it’s a great idea. So we won’t go into a lot of detail about specific apps now. But so just know that there are so many, and we’ll definitely cover those in a future episode to share the ones that we like the best. So let’s talk a minute about preparing your work for photography. However you photograph or scan it, you want to make sure that the piece is as clean as possible without damaging it. And I can’t tell you how many times, Nikki, I’ve taken a photo of a painting that had a piece of dog hair on it that I had to end up photoshopping out later.
Nikki6:32 Same. And speaking of dog hair, and other schmutz. Whether you’re using a camera or your phone to take photos, clean your lens. We leave lots of fingerprints on them. Use a microfiber cloth you might already have handy for your glasses to remove any fingerprints, dust or smudges.
Laura6:51 Or your t-shirt, Nikki.
Nikki6:53 My t-shirt that’s covered in dog and cat hair?
Laura6:56 Okay, you need a special microfiber cloth then for your aid. So the next step is to prepare the environment so that you can take the best possible photos. And you want to use a neutral background to avoid distraction so that you can focus on the artwork. Remove any distracting objects, cords, things like that. And of course, it’s a lot easier now because you can do this in Photoshop or even some phone apps after the fact rather than having to capture it in the initial shoot.
Nikki7:29 Okay, so let’s talk about lighting and any equipment you need for that. There are so many things you can buy like reflectors, diffusers, soft boxes, light boxes, lamps, do we really need all that stuff?
Laura7:41 Okay, I’ll admit that I own a few of these things. I have LED lights on tripods, which I mostly use for video filming on my online classes. Plus, I own a light box that I used to use to take pictures of my greeting cards at night when that was the the only free time that I had to take photos.
Nikki8:01 Of course you have all that stuff, Laura, but there are a lot of things you can do without any special equipment. For lighting natural light is always best. I was always taught to either take photos in the shade outside on a sunny day. Or if you take them inside, you can use a white sheet, regular poster board or foam core to reflect the light coming in a window onto your art. Professionals often use artificial lights for more consistent control and color accuracy, but wherever it comes from, you want to make sure that you have soft diffused light versus harsh spotlights, which can result in hotspots and shadows.
Laura8:39 Yeah, my fave thing to do now is to place my art next to my studio window on my desk and it provides a lovely diffused light; I can pop a piece of foam core on the other side to bounce light back onto the surface of my work. And definitely I avoid any time of day that might have direct sunlight flowing through. And I don’t take photos outside when it’s noon and the sun is beating down. It’s just gonna wash out the colors and it casts super harsh shadows everywhere.
Nikki9:08 And you really don’t want to drip sweat right onto your artwork.
Laura9:11 Yeah, that’s no good. So if you’re taking photos at night, because that is your only option, you don’t want to take them with tungsten or yellow light or you’ll end up having to do a lot of Photoshop work later to fix the temperature of the light. Now this is where even just a cheap clamp from Home Depot and a daylight bulb in it with a laundry dryer sheet taped over it could give you some very nice diffuse lighting.
Nikki9:38 Wait, Laura, with all the fancy professional lighting you have, you’re going cheap on the filters and using a dryer sheet.
Laura9:44 Well, I’ve used fancy and non fancy options so I’m just giving everyone some options. But I do want to admit that I’ve spent a small fortune on some gorgeous backdrops from a company called Replica Surfaces. They basically have these roughly two by two foot panels with gorgeous backdrops from various types of wood, leather, stone, fake wall backgrounds to I don’t know, you name it. It is very, very cool. And they even have a tripod to hold the panels, like one on the bottom and one on the on the side that has wheels on it so that you can move everything around just to catch the right light.
Nikki10:25 Admit it, Laura, you bought the tripod to hold the panels?
Laura10:29 Oh, yeah. You already knew the answer to that, Nikki.
Nikki10:33 I did.
Laura10:35 But one of the things I did a couple of years ago was to take some brief 10 second videos of my hand painted ornaments. This was for Christmas time, where I twirled them around in a circle for my website and for social media. And the very best backdrop ended up being a white piece of trifold foam core from CVS that probably cost me $6. So you don’t have to get fancy.
Nikki11:01 So, another issue you might have to deal with is reflective surfaces like glass or varnished paintings, and textured materials, like sculptures or mixed media. Again, just make sure that you’re using soft diffused light, and that will help a lot.
Laura11:16 Yeah, glass objects are super tricky. And if you have a watercolor painting, for example, that you plan to frame under glass, take the photo without the glass in it first, you will thank yourself later for it right.
Nikki11:29 Other things that you can use to help you get the sharpest quality images are tripods and remote shutter releases. These ensure that your camera or your phone won’t shake when you press down to take the photo. There’s a million different types of small bluetooth shutter release buttons that link up to your phone and probably cost 10 or 15 bucks.
Laura11:50 Yeah, and holding your phone or camera steady really is critical to avoid blur. And I do own a tripod for my DSLR camera. But I don’t really use that camera anymore because it’s like 10 years old, and I think it’s got really horrible resolution. My phone actually has better resolution now, believe it or not. So I ended up buying some really cheap holders from Amazon that you can screw on to the top of your tripod and those hold both my camera and my iPad on them so I can use the same tripod for those.
Nikki12:22 And if you don’t have a tripod, you can always use something else to rest your camera on or brace your hands or arms against something to prevent movement.
Laura12:32 But I’ll admit Nikki the one tripod I really use now is my Canvas lamp, which is basically a lamp and a tripod in one. You can angle it any which way which enables you to both shoot photo and video aimed down on your surface. Or you can use it to angle it towards your face or any other surface that you want to shoot.
Nikki12:53 Yeah, I love my Canvas mini but it’s not really a tripod. Laura, my Canvas lamp doesn’t have three feet, does yours?
Laura13:01 Okay, okay, Miss Literal? No, it is a unipod, not a tripod, Geek.
Nikki13:08 I wear that label proudly.
Laura13:12 All right, so is it time to take pictures yet, Nikki?
Nikki13:16 Yeah, we’ve been talking for quite a while without even getting into actually snapping a photo. And we’ve got some tips for that too.
Laura13:24 Okay, so we mentioned there are all kinds of photo apps that can be used. But there are likely a few things built into your phone’s basic camera app itself that can help you take better pictures. So Nikki and I both use iPhones. So that is what we’re familiar with. But I know all the latest smartphones have pretty much the same functionality.
Nikki13:45 One of the most important things to think about is how you frame your image. It’ll be different for two dimensional things like drawings and paintings versus 3D objects like sculptures, jewelry, or even print on demand products.
Laura13:58 So let’s start with 2D art. You will want to have a head on view of your art to avoid distortion. And although these days, this is also something you can fix pretty easily in Photoshop or even apps on your phone, it’s still best to start with the least amount of distortion as possible. So phones usually have a grid that you can pop up on the screen to help ensure that you’re aligned with the center and that the sides and tops of your piece or even both vertically and horizontally.
Nikki14:28 Because you really don’t want a trapezoid unless your original canvas was shaped that way.
Laura14:33 Right. And I personally know very few canvases that are shaped like a trapezoid.
Nikki14:38 I know somebody.
Laura14:38 So if you’re also photographing downward at your surface, you can also ensure your phone is horizontally level using a tool in your camera app. So on the iPhone, this looks like two little crosshairs that are in the center of your image when you’re sort of aligning it and trying to get the right shot. So one will be white and one will be yellow. And when you get those two aligned, then it means you are perfectly parallel to the surface that you’re shooting on. And that’s the ideal thing that you want to have.
Nikki15:12 And in portrait mode, there’s a brand new cool feature that isn’t turned on by default, but you can turn it on and it’s a white line that is basically a level it’s broken up into little short pieces. And when they all line up to one perfect straight line, then you know, that it’s completely straight. And it was hard to find where to turn on that feature, so I’ll put a link to add in the show notes.
Laura15:37 Okay, next, you want to ensure that your camera lens is in focus, you can usually do this by tapping on the area of your frame or on the screen that you want to be in focus, which will often just auto adjust the lighting as well.
Nikki15:52 When you tap the focus, you’ll also see a little slider that lets you adjust the light exposure. So that can help if it’s a bit too dark or too bright.
Laura16:00 Right, you can slide it up to make it brighter, I think and slide it down to make it darker, which is cool. A lot of people don’t realize that exists. Also, I suggest before you even get started bumping up your brightness on your phone to the brightest level. So most phones now have screens that auto adjust to the lighting that you’re in, and it may not be set at the brightest level, which can be really deceptive when you’re setting up the exposure for your pictures. ,
Nikki16:27 Laura, my old eyes need the brightest level, I am always at full brightness.
Laura16:33 Well, you’re just a shining star Nikki, so. I do not recommend using portrait mode for pictures of 2D work though especially if you plan to use it for prints. The jist of portrait mode is that it will blur out your background and really just leave your beautiful face, for example. But if you’re using portrait mode to photograph art, it can sometimes blur out the edges where you don’t want them to actually be blurred.
Nikki16:59 I would agree portrait mode is best for, other than actual portraits, taking photos of 3D work. So basically what portrait mode does is it controls the depth of field, which is when parts of your image are in focus, the parts closest to you are in focus and the back is blurred out. It also gives you different light modes like natural and studio light and some dramatic stage light and even black and white versions. But for artwork, I’d stick to the natural light because you’re trying to really represent the work as accurately as possible, not be dramatic with it. Another cool thing with portrait mode is that you can control where it focuses and what’s blurred out, after you take the photo with a little slider that pops up when you edit, it can really help if you focus on the wrong thing or forget to choose a focus area at all.
Laura17:50 And where I think this is really cool is something like, let’s say you’re a potter, and you make really beautiful mugs. Using that depth of field and blurring out some of the background and showing just like an element on the mug that’s like really detailed to show the beautiful glaze or something like that. I think it works really well for something like that.
Nikki18:10 It’s also great for taking your Instagrammable food shots.
Laura18:17 And there’s that. It’s all very fancy, Nikki.
Nikki18:21 Right. All right, Laura. So how do you deal with large work versus smaller work?
Laura18:27 Well, for setting up large pieces, you want to make sure that it’s in a room with plenty of space around it so you can make sure it’s evenly lit that it has no shadows or reflections. And another thing to think about is that if your piece is very large, to capture the whole thing, you’ll have to be pretty far back from it, so you might lose some of that detail. So you want to also take some close ups so people can see the details clearly.
Nikki18:52 For smaller flat drawings and paintings there are several reasons you might consider using a scanner instead of a camera. First is that scanners can typically provide high resolution images with really even, consistent lighting and that way you can capture fine details, colors and textures more accurately, sometimes then with a standard photograph. And for small work, scanning can also be a lot easier than setting up a photoshoot. You don’t have to have a lot of equipment, the right lighting and an advanced degree in photography, you’re just going to have a more consistent controlled environment with no lens distortion, uneven lighting or perspective errors. ,
Laura19:30 Yeah, it’s really perfect for for print work on smaller pieces.
Nikki19:34 Yeah, I use it all the time for my drawings.
Laura19:37 So Nikki going back to the size thing I actually like using a scanner to basically double or triple the final size of my piece for reproduction purposes. So let’s just say I have an eight by eight inch painting, because I’ve been doing a lot of those recently, and I want to make prints of it. If I want those prints just to be eight by eight I could have just scanned it in at 300 dpi and been done, right, it would be fine. But if I actually want to blow those up into say, a 16 by 16 inch canvas for giclee prints, I would have to scan in my eight by eight piece at 600 dpi so that when I blow it up, it would be 300 at that size. Or let’s just say I wanted to have a 32 by 32 inch piece that was a reproduction, I could scan it in at 1200 dpi, if my scanner was fancy enough, and then that would give me 300 DPI at that huge size.
Nikki20:33 Okay, Laura, let’s not see who can make the biggest prints, it’s not all about size. We’ve each had several great scanners that we’ve used and liked, so we’ll link to a couple in the show notes.
Laura20:43 As with your camera to get the best quality scan, you first want to make sure that both the scanner glass and the artwork are free from dust, fingerprints, and pet hair. Why is Gus giving me a funny look right now?
Nikki20:57 He wants you to brush his hair. As for scanner settings, you can adjust color settings for accuracy. And definitely use the scanners preview feature to adjust the placement and cropping, so you avoid unnecessary rescans. And this is important: when you save the scan, make sure you save it in a format that doesn’t compress or lower the quality. You want to save it as a tiff with no compression as opposed to JPEG or PNG.
Laura21:27 And you know what, I think I’ve always done that wrong, because I’m not sure I’ve always used TIFFs Nikki, I think I’ve used JPEGs a lot, which is an issue. And
Nikki21:35 I mean, it’s not the end of the world if you use a JPEG but just know that each time you save it…
Laura21:40 …it degrades.
Nikki21:41 You’re losing quality. So if you’re only doing it once, it’s not that big a deal, but you might as well, since you have the option, you might as well save it in a lossless version. So you can also have it open right into Photoshop after you scan it. And that way when you save it out of Photoshop, you can make sure that you save it as a TIFF or a PSD and not a JPEG or PNG.
Laura22:03 Now if your artwork is too big for the scanner bed, you can scan it in sections, and then stitch those together digitally. And I took a big painting that I had done on watercolor paper once and I stitched it together to make my Christmas card that year.
Nikki22:20 Awesome. And you’ve all heard me talk about my 365 Day Accordion project where I have like 12 sketchbooks that make up one enormous drawing. And I use this process for that. And it took about 87,000 scans.
Laura22:34 But Nikki, what do you do with a stitch scan that is like 80 feet long, I’m just very confused.
Nikki22:40 I have absolutely no idea but it’s scanned, baby! So here are a few tips for getting good scans of work that’s too large for your scanner. First, make sure there’s an overlap for each scan. That makes it much easier to align and stitch the pieces together. Keep the artwork and scanner orientation as consistent as possible for each scan to make it easier to align the individual files and that the color and lighting are also consistent.
Laura23:11 And Photoshop has some features specifically for stitching images together. So they have one called Photo Merge, which automatically aligns and blends the edges of the scans. It doesn’t do a perfect job, so after the initial auto stitching, you’ll want to check for misalignment and use some manual editing tools just to correct any issues that you might see. But it does a pretty decent job.
Nikki23:33 It’s important to realize that also some textured or three dimensional artworks probably won’t scan well. So you should use photography for those.
Laura23:41 Okay, Nikki, so we have our images, now what?
Nikki23:44 All right, so for post processing and editing, we’re not going to go into a huge amount of detail that could be an entire book or course. But you can use Photoshop, apps or builtiin options in your phone or even scanning software to do some basic editing techniques such as cropping, color correction, white balance and adjusting brightness and contrast.
Laura24:07 But don’t add it so much that your artwork doesn’t look like what it is in person. You may have unhappy customers if they’re purchasing your artwork because of the color palette that they see online, for example, and find out that it doesn’t look the same at all in person.
Nikki24:22 Right. Unless the photography itself is your art, keep the fancy stuff in the painting, not the photo of it.
Laura24:30 And we’ll talk more about apps in another episode, but one pretty popular one to use is Lightroom. And you can even save or purchase presets of settings, which once you tailor to your environment can allow you to have really quick shortcuts to modify your photos quickly and professionally.
Nikki24:47 Yeah, so we’ve kind of talked about this a bit, but there are different requirements and recommendations depending on the use of these photos. For example, if they’re going on your portfolio on your website, you don’t need the 1200 DPI TIFF you save from your scan or the 300 DPI photo. You want to use Photoshop or other photo processing tools, or apps to resize your images for the size of your website and export them as JPEGs or PNGs. Aside from slowing down your website with huge images, you don’t want to make it easy for people to save an image that’s high enough resolution to print because not everyone out there is ethical. You want to make sure that the image is large enough to show it well, but not so large that it can be reproduced.
Laura25:29 Yeah, Nikki, we’re all a little bit scared of having our art stolen and used in a way to produce products or something without licensing deals and things like that. So it is definitely good to save lower quality or lower DPI to put on your website. I think I normally use around 1000 pixels wide.
Nikki25:48 Yeah, me too.
Laura25:49 Yeah. But one of the things I have to remember is that I sometimes throw images from my phone directly on social media, because I’m really excited to share the project. It’s just sitting there my camera roll, especially if I just finish something and I find the Instagram usually compresses those images to make them lower quality. But I found sometimes that Facebook does not. So I have to be really careful about that. Because I’ll put like a big huge photo will show up and if somebody clicks on it, they can download basically a high resolution photo of that piece of artwork.
Nikki26:20 Yeah, that’s something you want to keep in mind for sure. Another thing to consider is the color space of your image, whether it’s for print or to be seen online only. RGB is for online images and CMYK is for printing. If you view images saved as CMYK online, the colors may appear duller.
Laura26:38 Okay, so RGB I know stands for red, green, blue, because those are the colors from the light on your screen. Right? And CMYK stands for cyan, C, magenta M, yellow Y and black. K. Why does the K stand for black? Inquiring minds want to know?
Nikki27:02 I know it doesn’t seem to make any sense, right? But it’s actually just to avoid confusion since blue and black both start with B. Cyan is basically blue. And they whoever they are decided that K was best for Black.
Laura27:16 Okay, we digress. But that’s always been confusing to me. And well for printing, not only should it be CMYK, but just a reminder in general that that photo should be 300 dots per inch.
Nikki27:28 Right. And just as an aside, I know some people are confused by seeing DPI in some places, and PPI in others, okay. In Photoshop, it’ll be written as pixel or ppi, pixel per inch, which is the digital equivalent of dpi, which is for printing. So it’s a one to one equivalent.
Laura27:47 So it’s basically the same thing.
Nikki27:49 Yeah, it’s exactly the same thing. Just one’s a printing term, and one is a digital term.
Laura27:53 Okay, Nikki, so before we wrap up this episode, I want to talk a little bit about the future of photography. Just like any art, I don’t think that the need for original photography will ever completely go away, but AI is something that will certainly change the landscape of how we photograph our art. We already see apps that have mock up rooms, I think there’s one called Art Room or something where you can upload your art in it can present it beautifully in some mystery person’s fancy bedroom, living room, dining room space.
Nikki28:24 That’s mystery robot.
Laura28:27 The mystery robot person’s space, but AI is already showing up in places like Photoshop.
Nikki28:34 And that’s another episode that would be super fun to do.
Laura28:37 Well, basically, I don’t think we need to be investing in super fancy camera equipment when AI has so much functionality to replace, and create brand new backgrounds for your photos. Heck, that’s showing up in half of the apps on my phone right now as well.
Laura28:53 So what are our key takeaways today Nikki?
Nikki28:57 Photos are important. Use your phone.
Laura29:00 The wise words of Nikki May everyone? Well, don’t forget to use natural lighting, clean that lens before snapping your first shots and ensure that your artwork is in focus. And go back to the beginning of this episode and listen for all of our extra tips and tricks.
Nikki29:19 Now it’s your turn. Do you have any special tips and tricks related to photography or questions that we didn’t cover in this episode? Share them in the Startist Society Facebook group.
Laura29:28 For links to all the resources we mentioned and to read today Startist Society shownotes go to startistsociety.com/photographingyourwork.
Nikki29:38 If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, we’d love for you to leave us a five star rating and review. Reviews help us reach more Startist like you and keep us inspired to create new episodes.
Laura29:47 Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
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