Photographing Artwork

Getting Started

Photographs of artworks are primarily used for catalogues, press releases, web sites, magazines and newspaper stories. All these media use digital reproduction techniques so using digital cameras to capture the image in the first place makes the most sense. Digital images have several other advantages:

What Digital Camera To Use?

Most artwork is reproduced in print with a maximum size equivalent to a singe magazine page. This is roughly equivalent to A4 size or 8.5" x11". An 8-15 megapixel camera with a good lens will cover this requirement. A 16-40 megapixel camera will offer more detail for larger size reproductions and will be better for artworks that have fine detail.

Most consumer cameras these days are about 12+ megapixels so the choice of camera boils down to whether you want the ability to change lenses with DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras) or have a fixed lens on a point-and-shoot or prosumer camera. DSLRs have several advantages in that even though most are sold with a standard zoom lens, higher grade lenses can be purchased that will improve the quality and detail in an image.

A sturdy tripod is a good additional accessory to eliminate camera shake. It also helps in composing and framing as well as lining up the verticals and keeping the camera perpendicular to the artwork.

Getting Started


1. Probably the easiest and most reliable is open shade. Make sure the light is even all around and if possible hang your artwork on a white wall perpendicular to your camera. A white cloth spread on the floor below the painting will help even the lighting at the bottom of the painting.

2. Indoors consider using a couple of powerful tungsten lights (the type sold cheaply in hardware shops) positioned on either side of the painting and pointed at a white ceiling. This will give an even lighting but its important to have a light floor or to use a white cloth or paper under the painting to even out the reflected light.

3. For paintings with lots of texture point the lights from 45 degree angles on either side of the painting but angle the light away from the painting to avoid reflections.

4. Include a Kodak Color Separation guide (Q13) available for around $65 (from Foto Riesel in Sydney Tel: 02 9299-6745). This guide will help printers accurately reproduce the colours in the artwork. If a colour guide is not available make sure a pure white wall or even a white piece of paper is included so that a neutral colour can be determined when processing the digital images in Photoshop.

Camera Preparation

1. Make sure the camera is perpendicular to the artwork.
2. Use a normal to slight telephoto lens. Wide angle lenses tend to distort paintings and make it difficult to get everything perpendicular.
3. Use a relatively slow ASA sensitivity speed such as 100 ASA or maximum 200 ASA. This will insure that you don’t get any digital ‘noise’ in the photo.
4. Set your camera to the highest quality setting.
5. Make sure the camera is very still when taking the photo to help to eliminate shake. You can either use a cable release or better still, set the self timer so that the camera shutter trips by itself.
6. Take several frames and vary your exposure slightly by over and underexposing to get the best results.

Processing Digital Files

If you use Photoshop or another image processing software you can add information about the artwork to the digital file that travels with it no matter where it is sent or how many copies are made. You can also correct colour, crop and straighten edges.

1. File Information: You can add your name, the title of your artwork, size, date it was produced, medium and any copyright information, directly to a file and it will stay with the file and copies you make so that you don’t have to add this information each time a digital photograph of artwork gets sent out to someone. This information is called EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format) info and can be accessed in Photoshop under File>File Info. You can add information to the file in the ‘Description’ box and for artwork this should include (in this order): a) the name of the artist, b) title of the artwork, c) year artwork was produced, d) medium, e) size of the artwork in cm with height first followed by width and finally f) any attribution info to ownership or collections.

2. Colour Calibration: In order to judge the correct colour on you computer monitor you will need to have your monitor “calibrated”. This is basically a piece of software connected to a small probe that looks at the colours on your screen and calibrates these colours to match a universal standard. All monitors drift in colour, especially as they get older and without colour calibration you have no idea if you are actually changing the colour of your artwork to make it better or in actual fact making it worse. One way to verify this is to look at a digital image on two different computer monitors and note the difference in colour. Only colour calibrated monitors will display the colours consistently correctly. This calibration needs to be done once every month or two so you can either pay someone to do it for you or buy an inexpensive colour calibrator like the Pantone Huey for less than $200.

3. Colour Correction: A very fast way to get accurate colour from your digital camera file is to open Photoshop>Image>Adjustments>Curves and use the second of the three eye droppers (Set Grey point) to click on the neutral grey patch on the Kodak Color Separation guide (Q13) in your image. If you didn’t use the color guide select a piece of white wall or white piece of paper in the image to click on. All the correct colours should then snap into place. After that, it should just be a matter of adjusting brightness and contrast to match the original artwork.


Its very time consuming to do photographs of artwork and once artworks leave your studio you probably won’t have another chance to record them. Without proper attention to archiving digital files, digital images can easily be lost. Hard drives will crash. Its not a matter of “if” but “when” this will happen so be prepared and back up all your photos to DVDs or a second hard drive and keep a set of images in another location to guard against fire or theft. CDs will deteriorate over time too so don’t rely on them solely for backups.