Posterity

If you make real things that are flat, drawings and paintings and the like, at some point you will need to take a picture.

I love that I can take in process snapshots of a painting with my phone. If you have a steady hand, you can probably take a pretty good photo for your Instagram with just a phone. But if you want to make prints or have a nice portfolio online, you’ll need something more.

Lighting

Sunlight is the best lighting for your artwork. Sunlight is pure white. Sunlight is even and flat. For the moment at least, sunlight is free.

An overcast day is perfect, but bright sunlight is fine too. In direct sunlight, just avoid late afternoon or early morning so you avoid exaggerated paint texture shadows. Try to position your camera and art in such a way that direct sunlight is at a 45º angle from your art. (This works with expensive electric lamps too)

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See those terrible yellow photos on the top row? Taken under interior lights - compact fluorescent bulbs. The ones below? Bright white sunlight. Much more accurate.

See those terrible yellow photos on the top row? Taken under interior lights - compact fluorescent bulbs. The ones below? Bright white sunlight. Much more accurate.

Equipment

Obviously, you will need a camera to photograph your work. But more importantly you will want a tripod. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it only needs to have a standard tripod mount, allow you to point the camera down at the ground, and not fall over too easily. Without a tripod, you will never get a clear, squared, clean photo.

If your camera is your phone, you will need a widget to stick your phone on a tripod. I have an older Glif from Studio Neat. There are probably millions of these kinds of things on Amazon. If you have a DSLR or a nice point and shoot, it will probably have a standard tripod mount - the threaded hole on the bottom of the camera which accepts the screw head on the tripod.

Buy a cheap black bed sheet from Target, Amazon, or Walmart. I’ve had mine for years. The black sheet can be stapled to a wall, thrown on the floor, or draped over a table. In a pinch it can be used for beach picnics. A black sheet is the backdrop for your art work. It isolates your work. The black background makes it easy to adjust color and brightness.

Method

Set up outside, away from shadows. Attach your camera to your tripod. Point the camera straight down as best a possible and lock it in place.

Lay your black bed sheet on the ground or a table. Place the tripod over it. Place your artwork between the tripod legs. Adjust the height of the tripod if possible. It’s better to move the camera closer to the art than to zoom.

If your camera has a “grid” feature, turn it on. It will help you to align your art.

Fill as much of the frame with your artwork as you can. Make sure that the art is square within the frame. Take several shots. What looks square to you might be a little askew. The camera may wiggle.

Apple Photos is surprisingly good for making color corrections and adjustments.

Apple Photos is surprisingly good for making color corrections and adjustments.

If you are using your phone as your camera, you can make adjustments right on the phone. Crop out the black backdrop. Adjust the brightness. Increase the contrast to show more texture, but don’t go overboard.

Share with the world.

Michael Barrett

Tacoma, WA 98402