We’ve consulted a slew of our click-happy friends to put together this guide for ensuring the best quality photos of your artwork.
Use Legs. We highly recommend you purchase a tripod for photographing your artwork. A tripod ensures that your camera is steady which guarantees you the highest quality picture.
Use A Tripod. Seriously, we cannot stress this enough so we put it in twice.
Avoid Digital Noise. Set the ISO on your camera to the lowest setting. By default, most cameras set the ISO to Auto which lets the camera fluctuate depending on the amount of available light. Lower ISO produces a higher quality photograph because it produces pictures with less digital noise. For the photo-heads reading this, this is equivalent to ASA film speed where ASA 25 or 100 speed film is higher quality than ASA 400 speed film because higher ASA films have more grain. Digital noise is equivalent to grain. For the non-photo-nerds, just remember: The less ISO = the higher quality picture.
Pixel-ate. Set your camera to capture the most pixels it’s capable of. This won't be an option if you shoot in TIF or RAW setting because those settings will always give you the most pixels available. BUT, (there’s always a but!) if you shoot JPEG, you'll need to check your pixilation. Additionally, you’ll want to check your compression (how the camera compresses your photo after you take it). In short, always choose the setting that gives you the highest quality photo with the least amount of compression. If you don't have enough room on your memory card, purchase a larger capacity card. Memory is cheap (well the digital kind is!) and you shouldn't let it dictate the quality of the images you produce.
Zoom-Out. Never use the digital zoom. All consumer digital cameras have an extended digital zoom range. If you can't get close enough with the built in optical zoom, move your tripod. The digital zoom interpolates in camera and is not as good as cropping (and enlarging) in an editing program like Photoshop or Elements. You should try and keep the optical zoom in the mid-range when photographing your art because there will be less distortion caused by lens aberrations.
Fill the Frame (well in this one life situation anyway). Fill the frame as much as possible with your art so you end up using more of the available pixels. This will give you potentially a higher quality image. If your work is horizontal, position the camera horizontally. If your work is vertical, position the camera vertically (duh!). Use the most amount of image area you can in the long pixel dimensions. Bonus TheStarvingArtist.com Tip: If you're using a 6 or more megapixel camera, leave some room around your work so it can be cropped in a visually pleasing way.
You Are Not a Paparazzo. Do not use flash. As tempting as it is, trust us, shooting artwork with the built in flash is ugly because it creates hot spot reflections on your work. Better to shoot without the flash and use window light to illuminate the art or shoot outdoors under a white canopy/bed-sheet/curtain for even illumination.
The Great White Balance.Warning! You are now treading in expert territory. If at all possible, set your white balance to match your light source. This will insure that the whites in your work, or background, show up as white in your digital files, which will let all the other colors fall into line. To complicate your brain more, most cameras allow you to set a custom white balance so mixed lighting can be used accurately. Auto white balance should only be used in situations where matching colors from image to image isn't necessary. You can now apprentice for Annie Leibovitz!
Color Clues. Most digital cameras create files in the sRGB color space. This is good. More advanced digital cameras also may give you the option of the Adobe 1998 RGB color space. Either is OK for capture as long as you convert your digital file to the sRGB color space before creating your JPEG image.
A JPEG is not a JPEG. The image quality of a JPEG that a digital camera captures is almost indistinguishable from a TIF. You can shoot JPEG and end up with excellent digital images. That's why you should always shoot at the highest quality with the least amount of compression. Yes, we are repeating ourselves (good for you for noticing!) but it's important to realize that the JPEG you wind up with after editing, if done correctly, will be a compressed JPEG and have little relation to the JPEG originally captured in the camera.
SUPER IMPORTANT TIP! This is one of the most important facts on this page. When you first open your images in an editing program like Photoshop or Elements, go to File>Save As and specify either a TIF or a PSD, which is a Photoshop file. Those are uncompressed image formats. A JPEG is a compressed image format which loses something with each modification. NEVER work on an original JPEG out of camera. It's your negative and you need to archive it. Working on a JPEG causes the image to degrade and if you save over the original, you've lost it forever. Always work on an image in an uncompressed format so any changes you make improve the image, not degrade it. If you have any questions, this is where you can e-mail or pick up the phone and talk to us, the super Starving Artist team…we’ll save you from doing any irreparable damage to your digital images.
Process Make Perfect. Every photograph, either captured on film or digitally, can be improved in post processing (don’t believe us? Look at any ad campaign featuring mannequin-perfect models). This is really the reason there are programs like Photoshop. It's not to just resize our images, but also to improve how they appear to others. After all, you want your image to accurately reflect how your art looks.
See the Light. For artists who want to do their own photography, daylight florescent bulbs are an easy light source to work with but the lighting still needs to be diffused or softened. We tested the Cloud Dome, Lowel Ego and the EZCube (seriously, we did.) and found them all adequate depending on the size and type of items you need to photograph.
Big Ticket Pieces. For items too large to photograph with the above lighting items, we suggest setting up a 10x10 white canopy/bed-sheet/curtain outside on an overcast or cloudy day. Connect three of the white walls and lay the fourth wall on the ground to reflect or bounce the light back up to give you more even exposure over the artwork. Consider using one of the suggested backgroundsclipped to the back wall. If you have highly reflective work, you can hang black fabric on the open side just in front of where you set up the tripod and cut a hole for the camera lens.