Putting a lot of time and effort into photographing your work might seem like one of the less fun aspects of making art (unless you’re a photographer, of course), but it’s absolutely essential – and not just because well-photographed items will sell better. You’ll never regret having a high quality photographic portfolio of your pieces, especially after they get snapped up and go to live in their forever homes and those photos are all you have to remember them by. Sniffle.
We aren’t professional photographers, unfortunately, but we do have a few tips and a love of bulleted lists, so here goes:
- See the Light. Excellent lighting is probably the single most important element of a successful photograph. Shooting outdoors under slightly overcast skies is popular advice since that kind of natural light is difficult to reproduce indoors. Skies don’t always co-operate, however, so be prepared to get creative with lamps, preferably fitted with ‘natural daylight’ or ‘full spectrum’ bulbs. And help bounce that light around with a piece or two of strategically positioned white foam core. (Check the dollar store before paying extortionate prices at the office supply.)
- Declare a No Flash Zone. Who needs fancy light bulbs and foam core, you might think, when my camera has a flash. Isn’t that what flash is for – lighting things up? Yes, technically, but don’t use the flash when photographing your work because that blast of light is way too harsh and focused in one area. You need nice, gentle, evenly distributed light for best results. Think morning tea in a bright, cheery sunroom versus angry cop spotlighting a Maglite into your car at night.
- Think Inside the Box. If you produce relatively small, three dimensional pieces, you will probably be best served by photographing your work inside a light box. Essentially a rectangular frame with semi-transparent sides for diffuse light from all angles, light boxes are available for purchase or ask Professor Google how to make your own. (The simplest plan we’ve seen involves cutting out most of each side of a large cardboard box, taping sheets of white tissue paper over the holes, and draping white fabric or more tissue paper inside the interior.)
- Three Legs Are Better than Two. Meaning: if you have a tripod, use it. If you don’t have a tripod, rig up a table or a chair or some inanimate object to set your camera on because it will be steadier than you, guaranteed. The key to a clear, focused shot is a steady camera.
- Set the Timer. Try your best to figure out how to use the auto-timer or self-timer on your camera so you don’t risk jiggling it when you take the shot.
- Fill ‘er Up. The frame, that is. Try to avoid including too much wall or background around your piece because it’ll just have to be cropped out anyway. Your work is the important thing here so get as close as you need to. Setting up closer to the piece is a much better option than using the zoom.
- Bounce Off the Walls. Speaking of background, shooting your piece on a white wall, if possible, is generally acknowledged to be best. Firstly, a white wall won’t cast a coloured glow on the work. (Richly coloured walls in museums and galleries look awesome behind artwork, but that’s because our eyes can make the necessary adjustments; cameras can’t.) Secondly, when you’re touching up the photo in editing software later, those bits of white background will help you determine if the colour of your photo is off. If that white wall looks kind of pink, say, in the photo, then you know the whole thing has a pink cast that needs to be adjusted.
- Shoot It Naked. Your artwork, of course. Get your mind out of the gutter. If you plan to frame the piece, make sure you get some good shots first because trying to get a good photo through glass (or Plexiglas or whatever) is going to be really tricky. You are a handsome devil, no doubt, but we want to see your work in the photos, not your reflection.
- Be a Straight Shooter. For flat works like paintings, you’ll get best results by aiming the camera straight at the centre of the piece rather than from above or below or to the side, which will distort the image.
- Appreciate the Little Things. After getting great shots of the entire piece, move closer to capture some of the finer details, like amazing brushwork or incredible colours or tempting textures. Picture your potential customers leaning in for a closer look at certain intriguing areas, just like they would in person.
- Click Copiously. Seriously, take tons of shots. Experiment with camera settings. Figure out what all those dials mean. Keep tweaking your lighting set-up. Clear off that memory card and go nuts because you can always delete the losers.
- Adjust Accordingly. Using your favourite photo-editing software, open up the photos and assess your results. Do whatever it takes to make them the closest possible representation of your piece. This can be super frustrating because of the differences in device displays and monitor settings – what looks like fresh, leafy green on your computer can look like hideous, migraine vomit green on mine – but do your best with what you have. It’ll be fine.
- You Name It. When it’s time to save these beautiful photo files, don’t leave them with names straight out of the camera like DSC3597, whatever you do, because those mean nothing to anyone. It takes a little extra time, but label each photo worth keeping like this: yourfirstnamelastnametitleofpiece. No spaces or hyphens or anything. (If you have a variety of views of the same piece, you can add a number after the title or a description, like ‘top left corner’.) Doing this will not only bring sanity and order to your own files, but will ensure your name is attached to the photo of your work when it appears online.
- Get Help. Not into all this? No worries. We can’t be experts at everything. Perhaps you have a friend or neighbour or relation who is crazy about photography and would be willing to help, thereby building his or her own portfolio at the same time. Win-win. Or, if you have the budget, try hiring a professional photographer. The time and frustration a pro can save you might be well worth the expense.
Have a tip you think should be included here? Let us know.