How to Photograph Your 2-D Art

Written by Marlo Miyashiro

You’ve spent hours, days, weeks—perhaps even months—on your latest masterpiece, and now it’s ready for its close-up. We’re here with tips to help you take high-quality photographs of your 2-D artwork in preparation for digital production. Before we begin, we want to emphasize that it’s always best and worth the expense to work with a professional photographer to capture images of your work for fine art prints and other applications. However, if hiring a pro is out of reach or you want to learn a new skill, we encourage you to give these tips a try.

Choose Your Background

The ideal background is a flat-white or neutral color wall with minimal texture. If you don’t have a naked wall, designate an area that you can clear of furniture and other items that might reflect unwanted colors into your photos.

Set Up Your Artwork

The best way to set up your artwork is to hang it on the wall at eye level or vertically on an easel. This will allow you to take accurate distance measurements from the floor to the center of your piece and match that distance to your camera lens in order to make your photo as distortion-free as possible. If you can’t hang art from a wall, you can prop your work up against the wall, taking note of the angle of the face of your piece so you can match that as well.

Choose a Camera

While you don’t necessarily need an expensive camera, photos of your artwork are definitely worth the expense of purchasing an entry-level DSLR camera that can shoot in RAW format to allow higher resolution images and the most flexibility in editing your photos later.

Use a Tripod

It is essential that you mount your camera to a sturdy tripod that can securely hold the weight of your camera to minimize blurring due to camera shake when pressing the shutter button.

Use Your Self-Timer or a Remote Shutter Release

Set up your camera’s self-timer for a two-second delay or use a remote shutter release. Either method will help to minimize camera movement and give you sharper photos.

Set Up Your Lights

While natural light is the most affordable choice for lighting, if you plan to regularly take photos of your artwork for use online or reproduction, you’ll want to invest in a pair of professional lights to make it easier to control the quality of your images and allow you to take photos at night or during inclement weather. For the best results, choose either umbrella lights (for larger pieces) or soft-box lights (for smaller pieces). A quick search online for “professional lighting kit” would be a great place to start.

Set up your lights at a 45-degree angle to start. If you have a lot of glare coming into your camera, experiment with moving your lights farther away and at a larger angle to eliminate any glare.

Fill the Frame

Move your camera so that your piece is filling the frame with enough of a border to allow for adjustments to correct any distortions created by the lens or camera placement.

Adjust White Balance Settings

White balance is the setting that essentially tells your camera what you want it to translate as absolute white in each photo you take. Adjusting this setting gives you the best possible color as a starting point when you download your images to your computer and start fine-tuning them for print or production. Follow the directions in your user’s manual to learn how to properly adjust and set a custom white balance reading and use a color checker card or gray card to get the most accurate reading possible.

Take Your Photos and Edit As Needed

In fact, take many photos! In the best of all possible outcomes, you’ll download your photos to your computer and find that all you need to do is crop the image and save to the file type required for your project. However, in most cases, you’ll need to adjust the brightness, contrast, and possibly sharpness and color to improve your image for reproduction. Doing these adjustments in a RAW format editor will give you the most control over each area of improvement.

Practice and Patience Required

Like anything worth learning, it’s important to practice as much as you can. Take notes of your setting adjustments, and exercise some gentle patience with yourself while you work through the process of learning this new and valuable skill. It is a lot of work and can be frustrating at times, but it will all be worth it when you see your work on products like the ones available on Minted!

Marlo Miyashiro is an artist, teacher, mentor, and arts business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. She teaches arts business workshops and small object photography classes and helps emerging artists start, run, and grow their creative businesses at Creative Arts Consulting. She recently opened a brick and mortar store called The Handmade Showroom in Downtown Seattle, where she curates an exclusive collection of work by artists and makers from all over the Pacific Northwest area of the U.S. Connect with Marlo M. on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest @imakecutestuff.

“Pug Life” original artwork (acrylic on canvas) by Mallory Milke of MayhemHere Art. Find more of her work and information on custom paintings on her website MayhemHere.

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Published March 22, 2016 • Want to join the Minted Artist Community? Submit to a Challenge here.

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