In this guide, learn how to photograph artwork like a pro. Whether you are photographing artwork for prints, your portfolio or social media, it’s essential that the photographs you take represent the colours, textures and details of the artwork, so that the photo looks true to life.
Disclaimer: Fine Art Tutorials is a reader supported site. When you make purchases through links on this site, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Photographing artwork for prints and portfolios
Follow these steps to get a clean shot of your painting in high resolution. Optimise the lighting and setup, adjust your camera settings and get snapping.
Prop your artwork up vertically
The first step is to prop your artwork up vertically, using something like an easel, or even by hanging it on a wall. This will ensure that the artwork is stable and won’t move around when you’re trying to take a photo of it. You want to ensure that the artwork is vertical and aligned with the camera, so that it is not distorted in any way. Slight distortions in the angle and positioning of the artwork are easy to correct in Photoshop, however.
Set up the lighting for photographing artwork
Good lighting is essential for taking great photos of artwork. If you’re photographing a painting hung on a wall, try to take the photo in a room with natural light. Also, set up a couple of small studio lights with a diffusers to avoid harsh shadows.
Position two lights at a 45 degree angle from the artwork, facing towards the painting. Adjust the distance between the light and the artwork until you feel satisfied that the light is bright enough.
How to photograph paintings without glare
If you have a soft box, or piece of material to diffuse the light, this can reduce glare. By positioning the lights at an angle, you can reduce unwanted shadows and surface glare and ensure the light evenly covers the surface.
Stabilise and position the camera
Make sure the camera is stabilised on a tripod and that it is level with the artwork. Line up the camera so the painting is in the centre of the frame.
Configure camera settings
If you’re using a DSLR camera, set the lens to a wide aperture setting. This will ensure that as much light as possible is let in and that the photo is nicely focused.
Use a remote shutter release
If you have one, use a remote shutter release to avoid any camera shake. If you don’t have a remote shutter release, use the self-timer function on your camera.
Take multiple shots
When you’re happy with the position of the artwork and the lighting, take a few shots. It’s always better to have too many photos to choose from, than too few. By taking multiple shots, you can choose the best one later on.
Edit your photos
Once you’ve taken your photos, it’s time to edit them. Choose the photo that you think looks the best and load it into Photoshop.
If your artwork is not completely aligned with the centre, or the angle is slightly askew, you can use the Camera Raw Filter in Photoshop. Go to the filters menu and open Camera Raw Filter, then scroll down to the Geometry toolbar. Here you can select to draw guides on the image to correct the perspective.
When adjusting the brightness, contrast and colour temperature, refer back to the artwork. A good tip is to place the painting next to your computer so you can cross reference the colours and values of the piece and the digitised image. The aim is to achieve an accurate representation in the digital image, so that it looks true to life.
Use the marquee tool, or the crop tool to remove the background once you are happy with the photo. If your canvas is an unusual shape, like a circle or oval, you could use the circular marquee tool to isolate the artwork and remove the background.
How to edit your photos for print
To create your own art prints you will not only need to know how to photograph artwork, but also how to edit your images in Photoshop. Set up a new document, keeping the edited version of your raw image open from the previous step. In the presets dialogue box, ensure that your document is set to CMYK colour mode in Photoshop. Additionally, set the desired width and height of your print, if you want to set your document to inches or cms, you can specify this too. The resolution of a print image should be 300ppi. That way, your artwork will look crisp and high quality when printed.
Copy the edited version of your raw image over to the artboard in the new document and use the free transform tool to scale the image up or down to fit with your artboard.
Optionally, create a border for your print. Depending on the size of the paper you will be printing on, leave around an inch for the border.
Make sure to flatten the image, by going to layer>flatten before saving the photo as a TIFF file. With a TIFF file, you can save and edit the image without losing any quality.
The best supplies for photographing artwork
When it comes to taking photographs of your artwork, having the right supplies can make all the difference.
A digital camera that can take high resolution images in a raw file format is ideal for photographing artwork. Either mirrorless cameras, or DSLR cameras are a good options, as they offer great image quality, the ability to customise lenses and set aperture and shutter speed. We have a guide on the best cameras for photographing artwork, check it out if you’re in need of a camera.
A tripod will stabilise your camera and prevent any unwanted shake or blurriness in your photos.
If you’re photographing artwork in a studio setting, then good lighting is essential. You don’t want any harsh shadows or glare on the artwork. Studio lights will help to create even, consistent lighting.
When choosing studio lighting, look at the CRI (colour rendering index); you want to make sure that this number is 85+. This means that the light will illuminate a broad spectrum of colours, allowing you to photograph the subtleties in artwork. Another value to look at is the CCT or colour temperature. Daylight balanced photographic film standard has a measurement of 5500k, so choose a lamp with a bulb around that mark. Lamps advertised as ‘daylight lamps’ should be suitable.
Check out our art studio lighting guide for more recommendations on how to setup and install lighting for painting.
Photo editing software
As well as a camera, you will need some photo editing software to make sure that the photos of your artwork display all the subtleties, textures and colours of the artwork.
Aside from making sure the images look their best, photo editing software is used to create images with the correct settings. For example, a document for web should be in RGB colour mode, with a resolution of no less than 72ppi. Save the image as a png file as opposed to a jpg file to ensure that none of the quality is lost through compression. Look up the optimum pixel ratios for social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook, so that it is the correct size and quality to share to your followers.
We recommend using Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom Classic CC. They are industry standard programmes that offer a wide range of features and tools for editing photos.
How to set up a photography backdrop
If you plan to photograph artwork in a studio setting, then you may need to set up a photography backdrop. This can be a white or black sheet hung up on a wall, or alternatively you could buy a roll of photographic backdrop paper. This isn’t necessary, however, if you choose to edit the background out of the image in Photoshop.
Hang the backdrop material so that it is taut and there are no creases. If you’re using more than one piece of material, make sure to overlap the pieces so that there are no gaps.
Use tape or clamps to secure the backdrop material in place. Make sure that the area behind the backdrop is clear, as you don’t want any unwanted items in your photo.
How to photograph artwork with a phone
To photograph artwork for your portfolio or website, it’s a good idea to have one photo of the artwork on its own, without a background. This is so that potential customers can see the painting in its best light without any clutter or distractions.
For the other images you capture, think about creating some in situ photos so that potential collectors can envision how your art will look in their homes. Style your painting on the wall, so that buyers can gauge the size and how it will fit into their own space. If you’re presenting a smaller artwork, you could try showing it in a painting frame, or even as part of a gallery wall set up. By framing and hanging a painting yourself, you can give the potential buyers styling tips, that might inspire them to recreate the look on their own wall. Plus, by hanging and photographing artwork from different angles, you can emphasise the colours and textures of the painting in natural light settings. This creates a sense of immersion for the buyer and makes them feel as if they have viewed the piece up close.
Another great option when showing photos of your artwork online is sharing aspects of the production process. Showcase your painting on the easel, or take a video of some of the steps that went into creating the artwork. Demonstrate the value of the artwork by giving collectors an insight into the time, effort and skill spent on the creation of the painting.
Should you photograph artwork with a phone?
Photographing artwork on a phone is fine if the image is intended for publishing on a website, or on social media. However, if you want to send the image to a printer, consider photographing the artwork with a digital camera.
The reason for this is that phones store images in lossy formats, most commonly jpegs and HEICs. This means that the photo is compressed and loses some of its quality. Digital cameras store photo files in a raw format, meaning that they can be converted to any other format without losing any of the quality. Artists save files in TIFF formats for print.
Is it better to scan or photograph artwork?
Smaller artworks that are flat and have a matte surface finish can be scanned. Scanning is a great option for illustrations, drawings, gouache paintings and works on paper.
For works that are especially large, textured or varnished, photographing the artwork is the preferable option. This is because larger artworks will not fit on the scanner and will have to be scanned in sections, which can be awkward for large works. For textured, three dimensional and varnished works, photographers will need to adjust light settings in a studio environment to ensure that there is no unwanted glare and shadows on the painting.
Once you’ve taken your photos, you can use photo editing software to make any final adjustments. And that’s it! You’re now ready to share your beautiful artwork with the world.
Photographing your artwork doesn’t have to be difficult. By following the tips in this guide, you’ll be able to take amazing photos that show off all the details and colours of your work. And with the right photo editing software, you can make sure that each image is perfect before sharing it with your followers.
If you found this guide helpful, then be sure to share it on social media with the links below. Happy snapping!
If you’ve found anything on this site especially useful, you can make a donation to me through PayPal. I take a lot of time to research and write each topic, making sure each tutorial is as detailed as possible and I make all my content freely available. Any small donation (even the price of a cup of coffee!) can help me to cover the running costs of the site. Any help from my readers is much appreciated :).
Follow the link in the button below to support this site.