How to Photograph Art for Non Photographers – Best Tested Tips

How to photograph art

Every time I took photographs of my art they looked horrible, I couldn’t find a how to guide that was easy to understand as I am not a photographer, so I wrote my own How To Photograph Art for Non Photographers guide. The first thing you should know is that a phone camera is great for shooting casual photos but not so great for taking photos of art. To achieve the best results, you need a camera with a proper lens such as a 50mm or 80-100mm lens on a DSLR, manual film camera or mirrorless digital camera. The best way to photograph art is to place the artwork against a neutral wall, hang the artwork level to your camera. Shoot in an area with sufficient indirect, natural light or set up a lighting kit. Generally, the camera’s ISO is set to 100, and the aperture is set between f-8 and f-11. Edit your photos for a more professional finish – I use Adobe Lightroom and GIMP – both are free. 

Perfecting the skill of digitalizing a masterpiece is as essential as creating the piece itself. Many artists photograph their work for the production of prints or to showcase their work online. If you are a new to photography, you may wish to explore a little more on how to photograph art, especially if you have little experience with taking photos of art. 

Capturing the essence of your artwork may seem daunting. Mastering art photography requires a deeper understanding of various camera settings, lighting techniques, and editing software. 

Key Tips for How to Photograph Art

The first step to ensuring you capture high-quality images is to hang your artwork against a neutral wall.

This minimizes distractions from the piece you are shooting, such as the flooring, shadows, and contrasting wall colors. Furthermore, hanging the artwork centered to your camera’s lens avoids image distortion created by shooting at an angle.

Should you not have access to professional lighting equipment, you will likely shoot in natural light.

However, minimizing shadows while shooting indoors is difficult, as there are often multiple light sources of varying intensity, such as windows and skylights. Indirect, natural light is preferred. 

Shooting outdoors in overcast weather will best capture your piece. 

Waiting for a cloudy day may not suit your deadline. You can create a ‘do-it-yourself’ dupe for a professional lighting kit with a white sheet and an indoor light. 

Hanging the sheet between your light source and the artwork will help to diffuse the lighting. Evenly distributing light avoids creating shadows.

Your camera’s aperture and ISO settings are responsible for capturing the light in your space, thus creating a crisp, bright image.

The ISO is the camera’s light-gathering ability, which creates sharpness. The aperture is how much light is let through the lens for brightness. The higher the ISO number the more grainy the photo and this makes your art look more grainy.

Generally, the camera’s ISO is set to 100, and the aperture is set between f-8 and f-11.

Editing eliminates any inconsistencies in the image. Correcting color, contrast, and sharpness are just a few examples of adjustments that will enhance the artwork. This is especially important when producing prints.

Camera ISO settings are either found on the top dials or via the digital menu
Camera ISO settings are either found on the top dials or via the digital menu

What Should You Consider When Photographing Art for Prints?

Print production is essential for artists. It allows for a broader audience to view the work without the near-impossible task of recreating pieces. 

Creating prints requires a high-quality image of the artwork. The process of taking a photograph of art for print follows the basic steps mentioned above, with a few extra details that ensure a crisp image. 

  • Using a tripod and the self-timer setting on your camera will enhance the clarity of your image by reducing the movement created by pressing the camera button. 
  • Including a neutral grey card adjacent to the artwork is incredibly useful. This aids in neutralizing light and enhancing color during the editing process, as your software uses the neutral grey card in the image as a color reference

The tips above are ideal for digital cameras. While a smartphone could capture a clear image of the artwork for online showcasing, creating prints requires a digital camera to produce higher-quality images.

How to photograph art

Is it Better to Scan or Photograph Artwork?

If you still don’t think you can master how to photograph art, you can take an alternate route. Some artists prefer to digitalize their work by using a scanner instead of photographing their art. 

The only issue is that this is ideal for two-dimensional, smaller pieces of art. There are several comparisons between these two methods.

The Pros of Scanning Artwork

Higher resolution images No need for a lighting setup Reduces the need for bulky camera equipment Home printer scanners can yield high-quality images 

The Cons of Scanning Artwork

Large paintings need to be scanned in sections and stitched together while editing The artwork must be removed from the frame Requires white balance performance 

If you want to see which Scanner you should buy, I have a comprehensive scanner buying guide right here.

The Pros of Photographing Artwork

It works well for large pieces

The Cons of Photographing Artwork

Requires appropriate camera equipment (tripod, camera, sharp lens, and lighting) May not be able to capture at as high a resolution you need Requires adequate photography skill.

Which Beginner Cameras Work Best for Photographing Art?

While you are learning to photograph art, it is best to start with beginner cameras with basic functions. This makes navigating your camera much less daunting.

A popular option is an electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens camera, known as an EVIL camera. 

Cameras with an electronic viewfinder as a feature have a miniature electronic screen on the back of the camera where the captured image is displayed. This assists in aiming the camera at the scene that you are shooting.

The lens needed depends on how much of the scene you are shooting, and the focal length number expresses this. 

The smaller the number, the wider the angle of the lens and the more significant the portion of the scene captured. EVIL cameras are convenient since they have the option of changing the lens. 

Benefits of an EVIL camera in art photography

  • DSLR Sensor size: newer models have the same sensor as a professional DSLR camera. The sensor detects and conveys information to create the image. The larger the camera’s sensor, the less noisy and crisper the image, which is essential for art photography.
  • Additional features: EVIL cameras share features with professional DSLR cameras, such as RAW image creation, manual exposure options, burst mode, and high-ISO settings. As you grow in skill, you can explore these features to produce better images of your art.
  • Lightweight: While they are bulkier than a phone camera, EVIL cameras are more lightweight than typical professional cameras. This makes transporting your equipment around much more manageable, particularly when you need to move to different spaces for better lighting. 

Wrap up

Art photography requires you to grasp and ultimately master the factors that produce high-quality images. The essential elements include avoiding image distortion, adequately lighting the artwork, changing your ISO and aperture settingsto complement the available lighting, and making final edits for a professional finish. 

Producing high-quality images is important when photographing artwork for print production. Using a tripod, including a neutral grey card in the picture, and removing the art’s glaze helps to achieve crisp images. 

Depending on the dimensions of the artwork you are shooting, you may opt to scan the work instead of photographing it. This is particularly useful when creating prints.

An electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens camera is ideal for beginner art photographers who wish to perfect the basics without feeling overwhelmed by camera features and ultimately ‘grow’ into their camera.

I hope you found How to Photograph Art a useful guide, explained in a simple manner that is easy to follow. If so, feel free to share this post on socials with your artist friends who may also be struggling with taking reasonable photos of their artworks.

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