Most of us have had the experience of taking a photo of our painting, only to find out that it’s a distorted, too light/too dark, too blue, too red (insert your own adjective here) version of our beautiful painting. Then we go to Photoshop ( if we even know what kind of “animal” that is) to try and manipulate the image to make it look like the original. At the end of the session, we end up with an even worse image than we started with! How frustrating!
Well, Susan Abma and Jerry Goroski have some great tips on how to make the process of photographing your paintings (almost) painless!
Artists these days must do so many things – take photos of their work, post to Facebook , update their website, blog, etc. the list goes on and on…. all these activities leave limited time to actually create art. So how do we make sure we spend time painting, instead of manipulating technology? One way is to take better photos of our paintings. Here are some guidelines:
A good camera is an absolute must
What is a good camera? One with a glass lens. With cameras, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. A cheap camera has a plastic lens, which distorts the image. A camera with a glass lens will give you a detailed, sharp, intense image. Buy the best camera you can afford. As a general guideline, a camera costing at least $300-$400 will have a glass lens.
Never use an IPad or Iphone image for print
The resolution is not high enough, and you will get a grainy, distorted image every time
A longer lens, further back takes a sharper image than a 15mm lens close up. Get a zoom lens – at least a 15-85mm.
Lighting and setting up paintings
Using photo lamps indoors can change the colors of your painting dramatically. Susan and Jerry recommend taking your painting outdoors on an overcast day or in shade (but not deep shadow). Put an easel in a perfectly straight vertical position (measure to make sure it’s perfectly vertical). Put your camera on a tripod. Use of gray card (if one can be found) is recommended to calibrate the color. Another way to calibrate color is to place a piece of white foam core in front of the camera on a tripod exactly square to your image, and take a photo of that. Your camera will now have a guideline for white, and will adjust all the other colors accordingly.
Always take your painting out of the frame to avoid cast shadows. It does not matter what color you choose to put behind the easel. Again, make sure your painting on the easel is in a perfectly vertical position, you want to limit having to crop the image. Try to keep your camera at the same angle (vertically) as your painting. This will help in eliminating glare.
Back up your camera!. Shoot your photo from farther away, with a longer lens. That’s it!.
If your image quality is not where it should be, retake the photo, rather than trying to manipulate the image in Photoshop. Take as many shots as you can, so you have lots to choose from later on.
Manipulating images in Photoshop
If your image quality is bad, there is not much a printer can actually do with your image. Try to avoid extensive Photoshop manipulation at all costs, unless you are a Photoshop super-user (expert). All computer monitors are different, so the color you see on one, will not necessarily match the color on another monitor. If you have several computers, check the image on all of them. Manipulate the image in Photoshop by very small percentages, because small % changes alter the image dramatically. Overly manipulated shots usually come out very dark and muddy off the press.
When manipulating images in Photoshop, DO:
- Darken images
- Lighten images
- Sharpen images
- Manipulate color, unless you are a Photoshop expert. Just try to take a better photo!
- Adjust light/dark curves more than 2% either way. Adjusting by a higher percent will result in grainy images coming from the printing press.
- Adjust color in curves. If you need to adjust color, or light/dark by a large percentage, take another photo!
Photoshop is a very expensive program to buy. If you do not have Photoshop on your computer, a cheaper program will do just fine for the above manipulation of images. No need to invest in Photoshop. Save your money for a better camera!
Jpegs vs. TIFs
Most printing facilities require images in TIF format, rather than Jpegs. You can save your image as a TIF file in your computer, but the image needs to be a higher resolution – aim for a resolution of 300. When you change the resolution of your image in Photoshop, if resolution is increased 4 times, the other dimensions need to decrease 4 times. That is the way to obtain a crisp image. Normally, the image from your camera will be in a resolution of 72. Keep your original (unchanged) image file, because when you manipulate a file, it completely changes the image. Save the manipulated files under another name.
Final words of advice from Susan and Jerry – If you can at all afford to have your work professionally photographed, do it. Otherwise, spend more time learning how to take good photos, than learning how to manipulate Photoshop!
Thank you Susan and Jerry. I found this article to be very informative and helpful. I do try to photograph with outdoor light. I do very little manipulation with the image. I only lighten or darken a bit. Adjusting the color is always a challenge that I try not to deal with unless it is a subtle shift. If the color is really off, then I reshoot. I never ever use an automatic adjusting feature the result is always bad and off color. One thing that is very helpful when using any manipulation of the image is to place the painting directly next to thecomputer to compare to try to get a faithful reproduction of the painting. Do you have a recommendation for a camera? Thanks for posting.
Susan Abma says
There are so many good cameras that I wouldn’t feel comfortable making a recommendation, but it is best if you can afford it to get a camera that you can change lenses. I have a Nikon and love it, but there are many Canon lovers, etc. Just get the best you can within your budget and spend a little time learning as much as you can about it so you can use it to its fullest potential.
Nyla witmore says
Excellent…but I have a question…are you recommending that the white sheet used to calibrate the the “eye” of the camera ” be photographed simultaneously in the same “frame” of the view screen and then later cropped out? Or are you suggesting that if one photographs the white sheet of foam core that the camera “remembers” it for the next shot? email@example.com
Susan Abma says
I personally recommend that it be in the same frame (set a larger sheet of foam core behind the painting being photographed). I have also photographed against a white board if I didn’t have foam core available. The key is that it is a true white so that the camera compares the whites and lights in the image to that. Alternatively, if you are camera savvy, you can adjust your white balance in the camera, but this tip works really well regardless of how much you know your camera.
Nyla Witmore says
Thanks Susan…now I understand…putting the white foam core directly behind the painting may help.
Susan Abma says
You’re very welcome Nyla
Natasha Isenhour says
Right on time! Thank you! The shine on the texture of my canvas under dark backgrounds is giving me fits. Almost a “bloom” of blue haze when i shoot them outside. There is no blue there! Any further suggestions? Thank you again so much for the timely info.
Susan Abma says
Hi Natasha, the blue and shine usually results from a painting that is not sufficiently dry or is varnished before photographing. For most painters, it is best to take photographs or scan prior to varnishing. If that cannot be done, longer drying periods and then being extremely careful of the angle of the painting and that the camera is on a tripod when photographing is crucial. If it is possible, try tilting the painting on the easel slightly forward so that light is not hitting it directly ‘head-on’. This tip is useful also for photographing people who wear glasses. Get them to adjust their glasses slightly forward – it may feel funny to them, but a slight angle won’t make them look awkward and will keep that big light glare off the glasses. If none of those tips work, you may have to have the image professionally scanned so they can polarize and color-correct the image.
Page Holland says
What is the best “mode” for shooting to avoid the edges of the canvas from curving or distorting?
Susan Abma says
Hi Page, thanks for the question. The painting should be set on an easel and the camera on a tripod at exactly the same angle as the painting to avoid distortion. This may require some practice, but it will be worth it.
Linda Hugues says
Great article! Lots of good points!
I shoot all my art and my printer says I do a great job. My images are very close to square and then I crop in Photoshop. To start, I aim the camera square at the center of the canvas. Then I look in the viewfinder and make sure all the negative spaces around the canvas are true rectangles, not trapezoids. If not, adjust the angle of the camera a smidge until it’s as close as I can get it.
By the way, I’ve been using Photoshop Elements for years and it does everything I need. It’s only $50 on Amazon. I highly recommend it.
Susan Abma says
Wow – thanks Julia for writing this article on our presentation. You did a wonderful job of summing it up!
Jeremy Tugeau says
Wow..this is so helpful. Do you have any suggestion for lighting your painting for indoor shots? I usually shoot in the shade outside, but weather can be a problem. Thanks!
Susan Abma says
Hi Jeremy, Our president, Neil Patterson, recommends using 5000 Kelvin full spectrum lighting. It can be purchased at hardware stores. From what I have researched, the term FULL SPECTRUM LIGHTING has no agreed upon standard or definition in the lighting industry. Instead, products labeled or sold as FULL SPECTRUM LIGHTING need only meet the definitions established by the manufacturer of the lamps or the vendor selling the lamps. In determining what products are sold as full spectrum lighting two criteria are most often considered, the C.R.I. rating and the color temperature rating (measured in degrees Kelvin).C.R.I. stands for color rendering index. The color rendering index ranges from 1-100, with the higher numbers approaching the color replicating properties of full spectrum sunlight (sunlight having a C.R.I. rating of 100). Thus, the higher the C.R.I. the truer colors appear. From what I have found, it’s best to look for 5000 Kelvin and a CRI rating that is over 80.
Really helpful article! Thank you for all the good information. One question: Do you see the need to shoot images in “raw” format? I’ve heard that’s important, but that certainly increases the cost of a camera. Is it worth the expense?
Susan Abma says
Hello Kathleen. If you’re not shooting to be published in print, it’s probably not as necessary. If you are shooting the images to be published in print and especially if they are going to be printed quite large, RAW would be ideal. Ultimately, we all have to do what we can afford, so buy the best camera you can afford.
There’s really no need to buy the full-featured Photoshop for this kind of image adjustment. Photoshop Elements has the same functions for much less. What it doesn’t have (or didn’t the last time I checked) is a CMYK conversion, which could be required for images that will be used for things like magazine ads. I have also found that Aperture, my iMac image management app, also can handle most of my image adjustment needs these days, but I still use Photoshop when I really have to count on it being right.
“Reynard” is my Disquis nom de guerre. I’m OPA member Susan Fox.