Taking Pictures of your Artwork (Part 1 of 3)

Taking high quality images of your artwork is a skill worth learning and can save you between $35-$100 per image capture. Over the last few years, I’ve spent a lot on digital captures, and finally learning how to do it myself has already paid for itself and is saving me money. This first post is an overview of my process, along with notes.  My next post I will take pictures of my setup, and detail more notes on taking pictures and light placement. Lastly, I will detail out the post processing steps using one of my paintings. Hopefully this journey will help you on yours

Material list: Easel, Camera, tripod, lighting, computer, and photo processing program.

Optional items, WhiBal G7 Pocket Card, more lighting, lens and camera options, and backdrops

  1. First, the fun part, paint your masterpiece. I paint in both acrylics and oils and this process works for both mediums.
  2.  Next, cameras and photography are truly a professional endeavor. I am not a photographer, but a painting artist. My goal is to learn only what’s needed to get a great image to use for quality reproductions. How do I define that – when I print and compare the original to the print, I can’t tell the difference. Is it subjective, you bet. The camera I use is a Nikon D7000 (purchased used for $350). I started with the standard 35-70mm lens, but upgraded to Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G Lens (used $285 – I know ouch but for me I’ll explain in #6 why).  
  3. Camera goes on a tripod. Any Tripod will do, mine is Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT (used Craig’s list $50)
  4. Painting goes on the Easel, leveling the easel and camera will make life a bit easier down the road.
  5. Lighting, sigh, lighting. I spend so much time moving lighting around I could write a book, and still feel I have a lot to learn. I think if you get an ebay photo lighting kit, it will do just fine. Generally, the lighting should be at 15 deg angles to prevent glare. Don’t go nuts here, spend less than $100 (https://www.ebay.com/b/Photo-Studio-Lighting-Equipment/30078/bn_152377)
  6. Taking pictures. Ok. Here is what you’re shooting for - Clarity. I have the WhiBal G7 card (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/768395-REG/WhiBal_WB7_PC_G7_White_Balance_Pocket.html) taped to the easel. After taking the picture, you should be able to zoon in and clearly read the card. The camera White balance, and megapixels of the camera, are essentially useless in my opinion.  Rather if you take jpeg, or RAW images, in the photo process software when compared against your original can be corrected to match. I have used manual settings ISO100 or 150; Aperture 4.5 to 5.5;  shutter speed 1sec. My camera doesn’t go lower then those settings. I still had a lot of issues with clarity, when I would zoom in, the picture or the whitecard was still out of focus. I played with focal points, updated firmware, taking pictures with more/less light, flash, auto settings, bla bla bla, but what fixed the issue was switching out the lens – all images were real clear after that. Good news for me is my husband’s friend had some lens to let us use and the fixed lens was best. Not only for clearly but also for barrel distortion. So after borrowing a lens for a few months, we ended up buying one.    
  7. Post processing. Pixlr https://pixlr.com/ is free but it is complicated in my opinion. Also, the last time I tried, Pixlr limited on how big my image could get. PhotoShop is king, but ouch, $10 a month adds up quickly. For me, hands down, Affinity Photo is a great program. https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/photo/. This program is only $50 dollars (one-time buy) and does all the RAW and merging features I was looking for that was easy to learn. No I do not get any affiliate kick back. Here’s the process: (a) Import the RAW image, or panorama merge multiple photo’s (b) adjust: exposure, contrast/brightness, color, and curve (c) Straighten and Crop (d) adjust canvas size – resampling to exact ratio and 300 DPI.
  8. Once you have an image, you have to calibrate the process. What I mean by this is unless you spend big $ on a monitor, graphics card, you won’t know if the printed images look like your original. With my HP laptop that is 4+ yrs old, the screen brightness needs to get reduced down 4 settings. This way, when I am looking at the image in Affinity, it prints on paper and on canvas to same specs as the original painting I’m looking at. Do your experiments with a print shop on paper. The one here in Denver, didn’t charge me for this testing process.