Friday, October 17, 2008

Taking quality photos of your artwork

Over the years I've learned to get fairly good photos of my artwork with my digital camera, mostly by using computer software to adjust things. But 'fairly good' does not equal professional quality and I finally found the perfect setup to photograph my sculpture, thanks to the Strobist blog site. 

It's a box photo studio. I've used cut out cardboard boxes before to set up still life, but never thought to take it one step further and add paper filters to diffuse the light (a large enough box would also work for paintings...the light you get is fabulous). What I like is the seamless effect of white or black's like the object is floating and there's nothing to detract from the subject. It took me about 1/2 hour to make, I used part of an old roll of tracing paper to diffuse the light and it was hard to get it to lay flat for taping, so your box could probably be done quicker. I also used plain old white newspaper for the white background and a paper portfolio partition for the removable black background (it's stiff enough to hold in place without taping yet still will curve from the bottom up the back). 

If you use a lamp then make sure you set your camera for that light source. I just used daylight and even though it was a cloudy day I got some great shots. 

Some tips on taking the actual photo...

always make sure that you have a straight horizon line...I just go by the base and make sure it's level.

Use your macro setting (I have a little button with a flower on it for macro). It will give you wonderfully sharp closeups.

If you don't use a tripod then rest your elbows on a table or chair back, and hold your breath when you take the photo. And take 2 or 3 photos of each position, just in case you do get a little shake in one.

If you are photographing 3 dimensional work then slowly turn the piece and take photos at all angles and make sure you put the camera at the level you are looking at the piece...I've found that sometimes I'm looking from above but take it at eye level and it looks totally different. So experiment with what looks best. 

Sometimes a digital camera will exaggerate reds and blues especially. That's when a photo editor comes in handy. You can desaturate the color a little or lean it cooler or warmer. But it's best not to have to adjust anything, most especially if you are entering it in a competition. These days your photo information can be transferred with the photo (on my website a person can pull up the info and find out exactly what was changed). 

One last observation...I belong to a site that uses very small thumbnails to show artist work. Some pieces look just terrible in the thumbnail but are exquisite in full size (around 400 mp). The trouble is that people don't always go to see your work if the first impression doesn't impress. So some tips to avoid that...

3D pieces

Use a contrasting background and leave some space around the object, but not so much that it's lost. Take some closeups of parts of the piece and chose one of those as a lead in photo to the rest of your work. Make deep undercuts so that natural shadows are formed to make the details easily seen. Don't allow shadows thrown by the object to detract from the piece (that's where the box comes in can control shadow and have none or cover a side to throw the light where you want).

Paintings, drawings, etc.

Contrast. Yep, strong contrast is your greatest ally, not just for photos, but in real life. Impact is what first draws people to a painting. Pay attention to want some strong darks worked in with some strong lights, especially in graphite work. Emphasize your focal areas. Pay attention to your negative shapes. 

I'm certainly no photography expert, but I hope some of this is helpful to you.