A Basic Guide to Photographing Artwork

by Helen McFadden

There are many reasons why you might want to photograph your artwork.

These include:

• to keep a record of your work and to track sales,

• to compile a Photobook of related work,

• to post to a website or to social media to advertise, share or ask for ideas,

• to submit an exhibition proposal or

• for a catalogue for an exhibition or event.

Many artists submitting work to exhibitions or competitions are asked to provide photographs of their work for preliminary judging, for a catalogue or for publicity purposes. It is possible, in post-processing, to correct some of the more common mistakes, such as distortions due to a bad camera angle or underexposure (the image is underexposed if it has greys where there should be whites). However other problems such as overexposure (the image is overexposed if details are missing from the highlights) or colour casts (where an image picks up colours from the light source or nearby objects) are harder or impossible to correct in post-processing. So it is worth the effort to get your photograph as good as it can be when you shoot it.

Here is a link to an excellent article that goes through a lot of the common pitfalls around photographing your work with your phone or tablet and how to address them. This article is well worth looking at even if you don’t plan to take photographs as it addresses some of the issues that go to how we view art.


Here are a couple of additional tips.

• Take your photographs before you mount your work in a frame or a matte. Glass produces reflections that are almost impossible to avoid or remove. Even a matte can add a colour cast to your photo and, unless the light is absolutely overhead, a matte will cast a shadow along at least one edge of the work.

• Add a reference black and a reference white. Put a piece of white paper and a piece of black paper behind or next to your work. It will then be a lot easier to adjust the exposure and colours of the art (if necessary) knowing what actual black and actual white look like. A neutral grey background will also work but may be harder to find (note neutral grey is a specific colour and adjustments won’t be as accurate if a different grey is used). Note that the background should be cropped out of the final image once any adjustments have been completed.

• Use a selfie ring. Selfie rings with tripods are marketed to people who create blogs about makeup. There are many to choose from on internet marketing sites and they are remarkably reasonably priced. Make sure that the ring-light can be set to daylight. For maximum convenience, ensure the angle of the ring light and phone mount can be adjusted so you can photograph work on a table, easel or wall. Note that the ring light doesn’t work too well if the surface of the work has a sheen (such as encaustic work). Natural daylight (see the Will Kemp Art School article referred to above for techniques) is likely to work better with shiny surfaces.

• The selfie ring works fine for art pieces up to about A4 in size. With larger work you will start to see fall-off of the light towards the corners of the piece. In this case experiment with four daylight balanced LED lamps – one at each corner of the work. This could be instead of or as well as the selfie ring. Experiment to see what works for you.

You may find it quite tricky to use the phone mount with the light, especially with a larger phone. Also, if you mount the phone below the ring light then it casts a visible shadow. I find it easiest to hand-hold the phone at the same level as the ring light and photograph through the hole, ensuring the camera back is parallel to the artwork.

If you would like some assistance with processing of existing photos of artwork or help with setting up for photography or to talk about photographing art, please get in touch.

Please send requests to canberraphotoconnect@gmail.com