As an artist, making digital files of your own artwork has many benefits. You get to keep your creations on file long after the originals are sold, you can reproduce selected originals over and over again and prints can be sold less expensively than your original art works.
Sometimes the copies look more interesting that the originals. The textures bounce, the detail is highlighted under light and the overall print is smooth and ready to frame. Using your favourite editing tool, you can then add contrast to the colour, change the colour or make black and white reproductions. The creativity is endless.
For the near perfect reproduction, you do require an artwork scanner from a professional photo lab. However, after many years of professionally photographing original artwork for artists using lights, professional cameras and technical aspects, I’ve discovered that if you follow these tips, you will be rewarded with a digital file that will be sufficient when reproducing your art work to print and frame. An artist should also have quality digital files of all their art work at hand for showcasing your art to galleries, exhibitions, competitions, social media or selling as a less expensive option as a print only to your clients.
Tip 1: Photograph your artwork outside, on a bright, overcast day without shadow.
It’s important to get even light over the entire artwork and look out for those hidden shadows. They will come up grey on your file.
Outside on a bright, overcast day is perfect. Inside with even filtered natural light through a window can be ideal. Daylight halogen lighting can also work if it’s evenly spread over your artwork.
The easiest artwork to reproduce is that with thick colour backgrounds and minimal white. For example, oils, acrylics, texta and heavy pastel. The more paint and texture the work has, the easier it is to copy. This is due to ‘white balance” or the way light works with colour.
White is both the chief and the enemy of reproduction work. The amount of white in your artwork determines the colour balance as white is both reflected and absorbed from the colours around it. If you have lots of white background and warm colours in your art, expect the white to be slightly yellow. If you have cool colours, the white background can be slightly blue.
Tip 2: Get your camera straight on to the artwork
It’s important to get your artwork straight. The easiest way to do this is by investing in an easel and a spirit level. You can also raise the artwork up a little with a block of timber, so you don’t lose the bottom of the art against the ledge of the easel.
Now here’s where it starts getting tricky. Step back from your artwork so that the art is taking up almost the full frame of your camera.
I like to leave a background space, so the edge of the image is defined for later cropping. This is helpful if you need a little bonus for straightening the image.
Keep your artwork dead centre in the camera window. Your camera needs to be parallel and totally centred to your artwork.
Sometimes I come in a little closer and take mini compositions of my artwork. These are a bonus if textured and they make super little prints.
Make smaller compositions to create different prints - check for focus.
Tip 3: Keep your camera 100% steady. -Invest in a tripod.
Now we are at the most critical aspect of taking the photo. This will make or break your digital image as we need a focused, sharp image.
Using an SLR camera is best for high resolution files – photograph in raw OR high Tiff mode. Smartphones can work if they are 8MB or more.
Invest in a tripod and use the time release on your camera. I use 10 seconds shutter time delay on my Canon EOS 500camera.
Don’t be tempted to hold your camera because you will get camera shake.
Tip 4: Play with your camera settings.
Use a standard lens and don’t use any flash. Use auto focus.
Set your files size to RAW or high Tiff to get as much information into the file as possible.
I suggest that if you are a novice, start with the automatic setting on your camera. I always do this anyway to get a starting point for other settings. You may be happy with the shots you get from the auto setting and with a good smartphone, this may be all you need.
If you want to have a go at a few more settings, flick your camera setting to AV. (Aperture priority or letting the light in) As a starting point use ISO: 100 – 200: Aperture: f8 (middle range), self-timer ON and Flash OFF.
Then decrease, or increase your aperture setting bit by bit, taking photos as you go.
If you check in the screen after each shot, you can see how much light you are letting in.
Use the digital play back on your camera and check your image at 200% to ensure the entire image is in focus.
Decrease the light for a more textured look and increase the light for a smoother, brighter look. It’s best to photo edit with a slightly darker image that with an overexposed one.
Tip 5. Take lots of shots then choose to edit
When you’ve taken lots of shots, compare them and somewhere in there, you will get the BEST photo. A little bit of photoshop should do the trick to get the file ready to print. You can have fun altering the colour, textures and composition to create whole new prints from the original creation.
Create a new range of reproduction prints from the one, original creation.
It’s important to realise that a copy of your artwork is exactly that: A copy. You now understand that the exactness of the reproduction depends on different aspects that will need practice to master. It’s important to be open minded and not too precious about your own creations. Accept that the reproduction may not be perfect, especially when it comes to colour match.
Colour match can only be achieved if you have good photo editing skills and the exact colour to match for reference.
If you are 90% happy with the reproduction, be satisfied. The print will look perfectly fine if you are not comparing it directly to the original artwork.
Bringing you the joy of art
How to Photograph your Art © Jen Hutchison 2020