Jonathan Wagner
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How to Photograph 2D Artwork

A tutorial completed during an internship with Mobilize Art—an e-commerce site intended to sell original and limited edition art created by artists and designers. A version of this will be published on Mobilize Art for those artists and designers, so they can accurately portray their artwork. Mobilize Art is currently in a “sneak preview” phase as of December 2015. 

 

How to Photograph 2D Artwork
By Jonathan Wagner, 2013 for Mobilize Art
Revised Dec. 2015

Representing your art well through photographs is vital. This is particularly true on Mobilize Art since buyers won’t be able to see the physical piece before making a purchase. The photographs you take must catch the eye of potential buyers and display the quality of your work.

We’ve scoured the interwebs and talked with professionals in order to bring you some tips and best practices when it comes to photographing 2D artwork. The process can be very simple and painless. The end goal is to have an impressive photo of your artwork that is also an accurate representation of the original. This photograph should successfully sell the original.

You will need:

  • Your artwork
  • Sunlight
  • White wall, sheet, or backdrop to lean your artwork against
  • Camera
  • Tripod or something that works as one
  • Memory card or another way to transfer the photo to your computer
  • Basic photo-editing software for cropping

 

Artwork & Placement

You need to be able to photograph the piece while it’s flat. If you have canvas that’s on a stretcher, you can simply photograph the artwork while it’s on the stretcher. If not, here are some tips for setting up your artwork.                             

For the following options, you can use a white sheet as a backdrop to hide a colored or textured wall. Make sure the sheet is clean and wrinkle-free before use. This is something that is easy to store and can come in handy when photographing both 2D and 3D artwork.

A few options for setting up your artwork are:

o   If you’re an on-ground student, most schools have boards or walls that art can be pinned to. Push some T-Pins into the wall at an angle and let your artwork rest safely between the T-Pins and the wall. Make sure not to puncture or damage the artwork in any way. T-Pins can be found at most local art stores.

o   Another option is to use artist’s tape. Artist’s tape is similar to masking tape, but without as much adhesive. Masking tape can become artist’s tape simply by repeatedly pressing it against a surface to remove some of the stickiness. Fold the tape over itself (the result will be similar to a double-sided tape) and place it on the back four corners of the artwork. This will allow you to place the art on a wall to photograph. Artist’s tape can be removed carefully without damaging the artwork or the wall. That said, certain types of paper might react differently to the adhesive. You may want to test the tape on a scrap piece of the same paper-type before deciding if this method is best for you.

o   If the artwork is on paper, not mounted, and you have a spare frame lying around, you can put it in a frame without the glass in order to make it lie flat. Leaving the glass off allows for an unhampered view of the piece.

o   Scanning could be an option if the artwork is small enough or if you have access to a scanner that is big enough. Clean the scanner off with window cleaner, and make sure to lay the piece flat on the scanner. Scan the piece in at 300dpi in order to get a high-quality image.

Whichever method you use, make sure that you don’t damage the artwork. Be sure to keep the corners of your piece from curling in the photograph. Curling in the corners doesn’t look professional and will hurt the quality of the representation and your ability to sell the artwork on Mobilize Art.

 

Lighting

When photographing your artwork, you’ll want to use as much sunlight as possible. And avoid using a flash if possible—artificial lighting can cause the artwork to look washed out. It’s important that the photograph of the artwork the buyer views online is as close as possible to the original piece in terms of what colors the eye will see when viewing the piece in person.

 

Camera & Tripod

You don’t need a fancy digital camera for this, although it's great if you have one. A simple point and shoot camera will work fine. Many cameras on the market today will work.

We’re not suggesting a particular number of megapixels, because that alone doesn’t make a camera take high-quality photos. While you can get amazing photographs from many smartphones, a standard digital camera or something more advanced is a better bet. However, if you feel confident in the quality of your smartphone’s camera, give it a shot—see how it comes out and then decide.

If you don’t have access to a tripod, a flat surface at the same level as your artwork will also work.

Some universities and colleges allow students to rent photography and other studio equipment. It could be worth looking into. And asking a friend or fellow student for a favor can go a long way!

After you have the equipment, it’s time to set up the shot. Set your camera up far enough away so that you get the entire piece in the shot, but not much of the surrounding area. For the straight-on shot, you’ll want the camera lens to be level with the mid-point of the piece. You can always zoom in later for close-ups of certain sections of the piece.

 

Photographing

Now, we get to the fun part! It’s just a simple click of a button, assuming your camera has auto-focus. It’s always best to take multiple shots so that you have options to choose from later. 

For the primary image, you want a photograph of the entire piece of art, but feel free to take some close-ups too. Close-ups can help potential buyers see the brush strokes and any other details like the quality of finish of the work. We strongly recommend that you upload multiple images for this reason.

 

Editing & Uploading

A detailed guide on editing and uploading photographs can be found here.

These are some of the highlights:

Once you’ve transferred the photo to your computer, open it in a program that will allow you to crop the image. Most computers have a preinstalled program such as iPhoto on a Mac or Windows Photo Gallery on a PC.

Open the photo in the editing program and select the cropping tool. Crop the image so only your art, none of the background, is in the photograph. It’s okay if a little bit of the edge gets cut off in some places. However, if you notice large sections of the artwork are cut off, this is most likely because the piece wasn’t as straight as it should have been in relation to the camera. You’ll want to reshoot and get a more level, straight-on shot.

Be careful not to edit the image beyond cropping. Remember, the image needs to be an accurate representation of the original.

Change the longest side to the dimension that you want, and then let the shorter side adjust automatically. We recommend that the image size should be at least 980 X 650 pixels. At least one of the sides should meet this requirement. That means that the image can either be landscape or portrait.

Next, save your file as one of the following formats: jpeg, png, or tiff.
The image size should not be smaller than 980 x 650 (height x width) pixels or larger than 8MB.

Find more tips on editing your image here!
Now you’re ready to upload the image(s) to Mobilize Art!

If you’re not sure if you have the photography experience to do your art justice, ask a friend or professor who does if he or she would teach you. Learning how to photograph an accurate representation of your artwork is an invaluable skill in your profession.

 

Extras

You can also upload a URL to a video of your artwork hosted on sites such as Vimeo or YouTube. This is especially handy for 3D artwork, but if you think it would be useful for your 2D piece, buyers on Mobilize Art would love to see it.

Remember, the images of your artwork that you upload represent you as an artist, so make sure they are of the quality that you want to be known for.

Please use the comment section below to share other helpful hints with the Mobilize Art community.