by Josephine Zentner
At various points in your artistic career, you will find yourself in need of digital photographs of your artwork. From uploading work to your website or Instagram, to entering an art competition like Jackson’s Painting Prize, digital copies always come in useful. This guide takes you through the process, from how to photograph your artwork on a budget to getting the right file size and resolution.
Preparing to Create Digital Photographs of Your Artwork
Big SLR cameras are great quality but not always necessary – you can take a good enough picture on a phone, as long as you’re aware of the aspects below.
It’s important to be directly square-on to the artwork. If you have a tripod, use it to get directly above or in front of the work.
If you don’t have a tripod, it can be hard to keep a phone straight and still when photographing from above, so one tip is to find a chair, and gently rest your artwork on it at an angle. Make sure it is secure and won’t slip off the chair onto the floor. From here, you can position yourself square-on while standing or crouching.
If you are using an iPhone, you can turn on the ‘grid’ feature to guide you:
Settings > Camera > Grid should be toggled on
Don’t photograph your work in direct sunlight; you’re looking for diffused natural light. There should be no dappled light or sunbeams across your work.
For optimal lighting, take photographs of your artwork outside on a bright but cloudy day. Artificial light has fall-off, which means that it halves in power with every doubling of distance. This makes it hard to get even lighting across your work and the image can appear brighter on one side. Natural light, on the other hand, has no fall-off outdoors.
If you’re unable to get outside, find a spot indoors with good natural light. Being too close to the window can increase the fall-off due to the brightness of the closest end. If this is the case, try moving away from the window and place your artwork facing, or 90 degrees to it.
If you do notice brighter light on one side than the other, get a piece of white card and hold it at right angles to your artwork on the shadowy side to reflect some of the light back onto it. If your artwork is large, you can try asking a friend to hold up a white sheet in the same way.
Inevitably, high-gloss artworks will catch the light somewhat, so experiment with turning the surface to try to minimise reflections before taking any photos.
How to Take Photographs of Your Artwork
Rest your arms against the sides of your body (or something else) to keep the phone / camera still while you’re taking the picture. Keep it steady, even after pressing the shutter – don’t pull the camera away as soon as you’ve pressed the button, as even with a short exposure you can still accidentally blur it. The better the lighting, the less likely it is to blur.
In between shots, keep looking with your eyes rather than through the camera – you will spot flaws in lighting / angle / etc that you wouldn’t see through the lens.
Look closely at the picture you’ve taken – check you’ve got even lighting with no shadows. This is even more critical with high-gloss paintings – look for reflections.
When you’re happy with the image you’ve taken in terms of composition, it’s time to prepare the file.
Preparing a Digital File of Your Artworks
Optimising your artwork for digital use or to be viewed online (social media or art competitions) is essential to make sure that it remains as true to life as possible.
1. Software for Digital Photographs
Using editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom would be ideal. However if you don’t have access to these, there are also photo editing options on a smartphone which can allow you to do things such as crop, rotate and adjust the contrast, brightness and saturation of an image. The main goal of photo editing is to get the image as visually close to the real artwork as possible, as if you were viewing it on a gallery wall.
2. Resolution / File Size
Web images generally need a lower resolution than if you were to send them to print, as images with a really high resolution end up loading really slowly and taking up a lot of space.
You’ll also need to make sure that the size of your image is not too large or small so that it doesn’t become pixelated and shows your artwork in the best possible light. Ideally you’ll want to save your image at the highest quality setting, without it being a huge image. Jackson’s Painting Prize has a maximum upload limit of 3MB for images, which is roughly 1182 x 887 pixels with an aspect ratio 4:3.
3. Digital File Types (JPGs / PNGs)
Images are best saved as either JPGs or PNGs as most website hosting platforms or competition software will accept either of these file types. Try to avoid saving as TIFFs or HEIC (which is what photos sometimes save as on Apple devices) as you’ll find that these are not fully optimised for web use.
4. Colour Profiles (RGB / CMYK)
In terms of colour space/profiles, for the web you’ll want to save your image as an RGB. CMYK is generally used for printing, whereas RGB is best for digital images that will be displayed on a screen. You can convert your image from CMYK to RGB fairly easily when editing your photo in Photoshop.