Photographing Your Paintings

If you want to sell your paintings, enter them into shows, present them to galleries, make printed copies of them, or display them anywhere online, you need to be able to take good photographs of them.  If you are a serious painter, you need seriously good images of your work.  This has become much more significant with the internet being such an important element in art market in recent years.

I have gotten proficient at photographing my paintings after years of learning and practice so I will share some tips here that may be helpful.  All that ‘practice’ means I do have some not so good photographs of some of my paintings that I can show to help demonstrate the less than desirable outcomes.  Doing an internet search for:  “how to photograph paintings”, and perhaps adding the word ‘tutorial’ in the title, is a good idea.

The ideal method is to have a proper photography set up with appropriate lighting and the painting sitting perfectly square to the stationary camera’s optics.  I have always thought of setting up a permanent photography space with all the right equipment, but, so many years later, I am still doing it the way I always have.

  1.  Get a good camera.  The digital technology has made good cameras quite affordable.  Simple computer photo software makes it easy to crop and adjust exposure as well.
  2. I find the best and most natural looking results can be achieved by photographing your paintings outdoors, in the shade, on a sunny day.
  3. The painting must be as straight as possible, vertically.
  4. The painting must be square to the camera lens to avoid parallax.  Once I am happy with the camera settings, I take multiple photos of the painting to make sure I get one that is straight.
  5. The painting must be oriented so that there is no reflected light on the surface.
  6. Always photograph your paintings BEFORE you varnish them.

Here are examples of the same painting photographed outdoors under 3 different natural light conditions:

Cloudy day. This is too dark and boosting the colors digitally in editing would look unnatural.

 

Taken on a sunny day with light shinning directly on the surface. This looks good and it is how it would look in a well lit setting with proper lights, like on a gallery wall.

 

Photographed on a sunny day, in the shade. This provides the most consistent results and it is a good example of how the painting will look in most settings.

 

This painting was not oriented in the correct direction to prevent the raking, or reflected light, from over-exposing the left side of the image and creating the glare.

 

This is a cropped section of a painting where you can see the glare washing out the dark passages especially.

 

The photograph of this painting suffers from both reflected light, the top area mostly, and parallax, where the image is not square with the painting.

 

This is the most challenging type of painting to photograph; it is quite dark, and has lots of texture which means that the raised edges are more likely to pick up raking or reflected light.

 

You can clearly see in this blown up section how the texture picks up the light.