Photographing Artwork

Photographing artwork can be easy or difficult depending on your expectations. If you just want a photo of your artwork and you don’t care if the color is accurate, then taking a photo is easy. Just lay your artwork on a flat surface or place it against something upright and take a photo with your smartphone camera. Those photos often are pretty good. But not always. The photo on the right was taken a couple of years ago in my kitchen under incandescent lights. I didn’t have a digital camera so I used the camera in my phone. The sky color was in the ballpark, but the snow was very yellow even after I pulled it into Adobe Elements and tweaked the color balance to get a whiter white. Anytime I have to manipulate the image to get better color balance, the easy factor (using a smartphone) is significantly reduced. Still, it was the best I could do at the time given what I knew about this topic.

If you want a photo that accurately represents the colors in the original artwork, then photographing artwork can be more challenging. There is a learning curve that includes knowing how different kinds of light can affect color. The color we see depends on the mix of light frequencies that reach our eyes and the frequencies that the object absorbs. Incandescent light is warmer, florescent light is bluer and cold. Things photographed outside in daylight will look different than what is photographed in artificial light.

The middle and left photos were taken after I bought my Canon Rebel T5. I took the middle photo about a year ago, before I knew about white balance. The sky was too blue when I compare it to the original art and the snow was too blue, so again, I adjusted the color balance in Adobe Photoshop Elements. It was closer, but not quite right.

The photo on the left was taken today with my Canon DSLR in my living room where a lot of natural light comes in through north, south, and east-facing windows. The color isn’t perfect, but it’s very, very close, and that will make a difference to anyone who might want to buy it from my online gallery.

When I photograph artwork, I place a piece of gray-colored foam-core board on the floor and lay the art on top of the foam-core. It’s best to be away from windows so no direct light falls on the objects. I set up in the center of the room so the light is even across the artwork and there’s no glare. Then, I take the photos from above, with my camera pointed straight down. A photographer showed me how to do this and it works great.

Before I took the photos, though, I adjusted the white balance in my camera. I have to adjust the white balance every time I photograph my artwork, because the ambient light is always different, depending on the time of day and amount of sunlight. Today, it’s snowing, so the ambient light was a little flat.

Because I don’t photograph my art every week, or even every month, I tend to forget the steps I need to follow to adjust the white balance. Then, I have to find a video (again!) on YouTube that shows me how. I’ve watched quite a few videos, and some are definitely easier to follow and learn from than others.

Bottom line: If you photograph your own artwork and you want your photos to be accurate representations of your work, then take the time to learn how to adjust your camera’s white balance. Use this link to How to Set the Color (white balance) on Your Camera to see one of better videos I’ve watched. All cameras are different, but they’re also alike to a large extent. If this video doesn’t help you, then look for one that is specifically for your camera.

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