No matter what medium you work in, keeping a photographic record of your art is essential in this digital age. Whether you plan on using the photographs in promotional brochures, in your portfolio books, on social media sites or on your own website, high quality photographs that truly depict your art are only slightly less important than the work itself.
One advantage modern artists have in taking photographs of their art is being able to use a digital camera. The technology allows you to instantly review the total effect of your shot, along with the focus, exposure and any glare or lighting issues rather than waiting days for pictures to be professionally developed.
Additional digital benefits include the ability to work on your photos immediately afterwards using specialized software such as Photoshop, combined with the ease of storing and backing up your photos. Properly stored digital images can literally last for centuries, which can be a huge plus when you gain international fame.
Don’t worry about spending a small fortune on a high-end digital camera for your photographs. The technology is so refined that self-focusing point-and-click cameras priced in the low- to mid-range produce very good results. It is worth investing in a tripod so there’s little to no chance of blurry photos, however.
Once you have a nice collection of photographs, they can be reproduced without any loss of quality by following these tips:
• An endless number of full-resolution digital copies will remain identical to the original photo as long as the copies are made using the original format.
• JPEGs lose quality nearly every time they’re copied or saved.
• Every analog copy of prints, negatives or color slides will be different from the original and each other. That difference will grow with every successive generation of copies until the image becomes completely unrecognizable from the original work of art.
• Forget film – it fades and the colors change according to humidity, temperature, storage conditions and time. Slides and prints can be easily made from digital images any time.
Everything Will Affect the Photos
The medium, shape, dimensions and texture of your artwork, the natural and unnatural light sources under which you’re taking the photos and even shooting near brightly colored objects can affect the final result.
Three dimensional and extremely large pieces are the hardest because the light and shadow will impact your work more than when you’re simply photographing two-dimensional pieces such as paintings or drawings. This doesn’t mean that taking great photos of complicated art is impossible, it merely takes a little creative light manipulation.
If your art does involve intricate colors, shapes or textures, direct sunlight may be the best light source. On the other hand, full shade or the light from an overcast sky is usually fine for photographing two-dimensional art.
The one type of light to avoid at all costs, under every possible condition is fluorescent light. These lights are especially dangerous to photographic prints as well as ink jet and offset (printing press) ink prints. Always try to avoid storing or exhibiting your art in rooms illuminated by fluorescent lights.
A Few Photography Tips
You really don’t have to run out and take photography classes in order to take some stunning photos of your art. If you get frustrated trying to find the right angle and light source, try to relax and enjoy the creative experience – you’re not the first artist to suffer from photo anxiety. Here are a few photography tips that may just ease some of that angst.
• When lining up your shots, make sure the camera lens is parallel with the artwork. If photographing flat or two-dimensional artwork, consider hanging it on a neutral-colored wall. If this isn’t possible due to your location, lean it as straight as possible against an immovable object, as the camera will still have to be parallel with the surface of the piece.
• Always check your angles to ensure your art isn’t projecting any shine, reflections or glare which will affect the photograph.
• You want to get the largest possible image you can, so position your camera close enough to the art so there’s literally no white or empty space around the image. This is easily accomplished by keeping the camera aimed directly at the center of the artwork.
• Make sure the camera’s flash is turned off, not set on auto. The glare and flash reflections will ruin even the finest shot. If more light is needed, add another light source.
• When uploading and editing the digital copies, remember to compare the photos on your computer screen with the real artwork in order to get the best results. Most image editing software comes with image enhancement tools to adjust exposure, levels, color and balance, which can make up for small errors in lighting or clarity. These programs are designed specifically for getting your images looking as close to the real thing as possible.
There are many people and places that need photographs of your art — your own archives, exhibition curators, publishers, art competitions and job opportunities — and all of them insist on digital images.
The beauty of digital is that you can learn to do almost everything yourself — if you have the camera, the software, the art and time to practice.