How To Photograph Your Artwork And Get Great Results

how to photograph your artwork

With all the advanced camera equipment around today you’d think taking high quality photographs of your paintings would be an easy thing to do, in fact it’s more difficult than it first appears. The quality of your final image is going to be somewhat dependant on the quality of your camera equipment. However, you do not need to spend lots of money on expensive camera equipment if you bear the following things in mind when taking your photographs:

1) You want the sharpest image possible, that your camera will allow.

2) You want the largest image file size possible, that your camera will allow.

3) You want to avoid any unwanted light reflection or colour reflection cast across the painting you are photographing.

The Camera

Panasonic lumix dmc LX5

Panasonic Lumix DMC LX5.

The camera I use for my artwork photography is a Sony Panasonic DMC-LX5, which is a high-end compact camera and costs about £400.

If you have a cheaper camera then this will mean it has cheaper hardware inside it, and as such it will generally take lower quality images, but don’t be put off too much if this is your situation. More important than the quality of your camera equipment is how you go about lighting your artwork for photography. I’ve tried many different cameras for photographing my paintings over the years, and my best results were always when I got the lighting just right.

1) Sharpest Image Possible

Natural light is best. Although indoor lighting seems nice and bright to our human eyes, to a ordinary camera’s sensor it’s hopeless. You can test this by taking a photograph indoors under artificial lighting in ‘auto mode’, and then looking at the shutter speed that photograph was taken in. Then take another photograph outside, even on a fairly dull day, and look again at the camera telemetry for shutter speed.

The shutter speed for the photograph taken outside will be much faster than that of the photograph taken inside. This matters A LOT if you’re holding your camera, because the faster the shutter speed the less impact shake will have on your image, the less shake, the sharper the resulting image.

The best way to find out which lighting condition works best for your camera, is to experiment. My Panasonic camera is highly sensitive, making taking photographs of my artwork outside unnecessary. In fact, sometimes outside is too bright even on an overcast day for good results. Your own camera might need different conditions, so try taking photos of your work:

A) Outside on a dull day.

B) Outside on a bright but overcast day.

C) Outside on a bright day.

D) Indoors in natural light.

E) Indoors under artificial light.

The worst kind of light for photographing paintings is usually under bright direct sunlight. When the sunlight is too harsh, it bounces back off of the whites in your painting, and will tend to overwhelm the camera sensor. You end up with washed out ( whited out ) areas in your photograph.

taking photographs of your artwork

Photographing paintings, with blank canvas being used to reflect more natural light back and down into the painting.

I photograph all of my paintings in the manner you can see in the photograph above. The French windows face south. I place my paintings on the floor in front of these French windows, and depending on the time of day, which of course governs where the direct sunlight will be falling, I move the paintings left or right to keep them OUT of the direct sunlight.

At the bottom of this photograph you can see I use a blank white canvas, propped up at an angle, to reflect more light back and down onto the painting.

I stand behind the propped-up reflector canvas, and shoot looking directly down on top of the painting.

Through trial and error, I know that if there is enough light in the room to take the photograph at least 1/250 of a second shutter speed, it will be a sharp, clear, reflection free, high quality image.

2) Largest File Size Possible

Fill your viewfinder with the painting you are photographing, and use a little bit of zoom if you need, to achieve this. Not doing this, is a common mistake a lot of people make when photographing their work.

Remember, the more of your image you have to crop-off ( because it isn’t actually painting, but carpet, or wall, or whatever else was around you painting when you took the photo ), the smaller your image file will be.

tiger bad crop

Badly filled view finder – lot of wasted mega pixels, just photographing what’s around the actual painting.

tiger good crop

Correctly filled view finder – I’ve used nearly all of the camera’s mega pixels here photographing ACTUAL painting. 

3) Avoid Reflections

Avoid reflections of any kind. It’s very easy to set your painting up perfectly, take a beautifully sharp photograph, and then when you look at your image on your computer you notice that there is a coloured reflection, or a light/dark stripe across your image. That is probably because there is a window, car, coloured wall, bucket.. e.t.c casting a reflection across your canvas and that you didn’t notice when you took the photograph. Look out for this, and relocate your painting, or the object causing the reflection.

As a case in point, take another look at the tiger painting in the photograph above. You’ll notice that there is a glare across the top half of the painting which was caused by my daylight lamp in my studio. I took these photographs solely to help explain my point about filling the camera’s viewfinder, but happily it also explains the reflection problem we can face when taking photographs of our work. The glare wasn’t strictly caused by a reflection off of another surface, but in fact direct light coming from a very directional source, but it’s the same principle, you don’t want it and needs to be avoided.

Once you have the best possible image you can get using the methods above, the next step is to edit your image in image editing software to add the final touches, such as sharpening, altering the contrast and colour balance e.t.c.. to match the original painting.

Be aware that you can only work in image editing software with what you already have, and that even the very best image editing software will not be able to fix a poor blurry badly lit initial image.

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, please share it.

Thanks ~ Chris

33 thoughts on “How To Photograph Your Artwork And Get Great Results”

  1. Interesting blog Chris. One problem I have is when photographing pencil work, particularly line-work in a sketch before applying paint. Resultant photographic image turns out grey, and trying to increase the contrast with photo editing software wipes out thinner and paler pencil lines.

    1. Hi Frank, that’s a common problem, I know scratch-board artists that have the same issues when photographing their work. One possible work-around is to scan your work, instead of photographing. This does require a good quality scanner, and if your work is bigger than the scanner bed, software to knit the sections of the image together. If you don’t have Photoshop, try GIMP, it’s free to download https://www.gimp.org/ ~ Chris

  2. You mentioned Telemetry in this post and checking it I dont know what this is or how to find it on my camera could you please explain. Great blog post by the way and I will certainly try your method out I have tried before with painting on the floor but as I am not very tall I cant always see it at the right angle so have to get a chair to stand on but I am not so agile these days.

    1. Hi Linda. I’m afraid every camera is a little different, and without knowing which camera you use I can’t tell you where to look, but if you google your particular model camera for that particular query you should be able to find out. Failing that, a sure fire way to find out what the shutter speed was for a particular photo is to download that photo to your computer, then look in that photographs ‘properties’, and in there it will tell you all of the detail.
      To find a images properties in Microsoft Windows xp, vista, 7, 8.. download that image off of your camera onto your computer, right-click on the image thumbnail, click ‘properties’ ( at the bottom of the box that pops up), click ‘details’, scroll down the list to ‘exposure time’. Chris

  3. Thanks very much for this advice, its really helpful. I’ve just bought a Fuji FinePix S1, upgrading from my old FinePix S1000 and it is a lot better, but I hadn’t thought of using the floor and a blank canvas. Will give it a go!

    1. Hi Liana, thank you. The Fugi finepix are good cameras, you should have some great results using it. If you find your painting goes a little out of square when you stand over it and shoot, as in.. the sides bow a bit, just use a little bit of zoom and move further away ( up ), that should correct it. Chris

  4. I’m very much an amateur when it comes to getting a decent photo of my work. Thanks so much for the tips 🙂

    1. Hi Esther, Thank you, I’m glad you found it helpful. Let me know how you get on if you try some of these techniques. Chris

    1. Hi Irene, You’re welcome, I’m glad you found it useful. The Sony Lumix DMC LX5 is a great little camera, if you need any tips on camera settings let me know. Chris

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