Digital Photography Tutorial: Learning How to Photograph Artwork

Digital Photography Tutorial: Learning How to Photograph Artwork
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Photographing Artwork: Dealing with Composition and Lighting

If you’re an artist, or simply own pieces of art, then you probably want to photograph these works of art for your portfolio or website or even for insurance purposes. But, there’s more to photographing a piece of artwork than simply pressing the shutter button. You need to consider lighting, composition and especially the angle of the artwork. You can, however, easily learn how to photograph artwork even if you have never done it before.

Taking a Straight Photograph

First of all, you need to make sure that you are taking a straight photograph. This becomes especially tricky with artwork. You usually suffer the problem of one end looking bigger than the other. One way to counteract this problem is make sure that the image is flat. If you are working with a small piece of art, then you may be able to lay it on the floor and photograph it from above.

If you are working with a larger piece of art, then make sure that it is flat against a wall. Then, position the camera parallel to the artwork. Basically, you want it to seem as if the two items are on the same plane. Never use the LCD screen for taking pictures of artwork. It’s hard to tell if the two items are equal using the screen.

You can use a camera tripod if you are having trouble aligning the two objects. This way you can just adjust the tripod height until it is parallel with the artwork.


Next, you need to consider lighting. Flash tends to wash out your image, failing to show the vibrant colors of the painting, jewelry, etc. So, natural lighting actually works the best. If you can, set up your artwork outside and use the natural lighting of the sun.

If you are photographing images within a museum, then you won’t be able to take advantage of natural lighting. You probably still don’t want to use flash, but you can set up some exterior lighting like fill or photography lighting if the museum permits it. Just always get permission before you start taking your pictures.

Photographing Artwork with Glass

One other major problem that you may encounter is artwork in glass. If at all possible, avoid it by removing the artwork from the glass. If you can’t, then you need to disregard some of the previous rules. You will have to set up yourself so that you are at a 45 degree angle. You should also use a polarizing filter to deal with sun glare. Never use a flash with glass, or you’ll only get the glass reflection.

Photographing Artwork: Composition

Always fill the frame with the artwork, and try to avoid including any of your background. If you do want some background in the image, use a solid-colored background like black or blue so that the central focus is the artwork.

Trimming the Fat with Photo Editing Programs

Once you take your photographs, you can always touch up your images in post-production if they didn’t come out just right. For example, if your image does have a slight lean, you can simply cut out the border until it looks straight. You can also brighten or add contrast to your photographs using photo editing software.


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Faith Goble,