Here’s the best way I’ve found to photograph your own art.
First, start in a room where you can block out all daylight. Even if daylight isn’t shining directly on your painting, you’d be amazed at how much it bounces off of everything else in the room, which will contaminate your photo.
Second, hang your painting securely on the wall. Or attach it somehow. The main thing is not to lean it. You want the surface of your art to be parallel to the camera lens. If it’s leaning, your painting won’t look square.
Third, use a tripod. Do not try to hold the camera in your hands when taking the picture. A tripod makes it easier to line up your shot. If you don’t have a tripod, put your camera on a table.
Adjust the setup until your painting is centered in the viewfinder. Your camera lens should be up at the same height as the middle of your painting. If you have to tilt the camera up or down, your painting won’t look square. Keep your camera as far back as possible and zoom in (if you have a zoom lens) until the painting almost fills the frame. Zooming in creates less distortion than being up close with a wide angle lens.
To light your painting properly, you will need 2 light sources. I use an inexpensive pair of photo lights. Each consists of a very lightweight stand that can telescope up to about 8 feet with a light socket in an aluminum reflector on top.
For bulbs, I like to use GE Reveal. The color they give off is fairly true to life. They are frosted to minimize glare, and I get the brightest ones I can find at the home improvement store.
Placing the lights is probably the most critical and most difficult step. You want one light on the left side and one light on the right side. They should always be symmetrical to the center of the painting. Put the lights as far left and right as you can. They should be about the same height as the painting – maybe a little higher. You will have to experiment to see how far forward or back they need to be, but you can start with them back as far as the camera.
Here’s where a digital camera is incredibly useful. Turn off the flash, turn on auto-focus (if you have it) and take a test picture. Now review the picture. Most digital cameras let you “play back” the picture on the LCD screen. You are looking to see if there is much glare on the painting. If there is, move the lights closer or further and take another test picture. Repeat this until you have minimized the glare as much as possible.
If your camera lets you adjust the overall exposure – lighter or darker, try a few different settings until you find the best one.
To take the picture, use your camera’s self-timer. Most digital cameras have one. This reduces the vibration you make when you push the button – even if the camera is on a tripod.
It sometimes takes me 30 test shots before I get just the right lighting and camera settings, but the extra effort can make all the difference.
Next time I’ll tell you what to do with the picture you just took – and then some.