When we share our art, the quality of the photographs is just as important, if not more so, than the quality of your art. Hi, my name is Carrie and today on Artist Strong we’re going to talk about how to take strong photographs of your art.

The first thing you need to think about is the kind of camera to use.

Your smartphone does actually have a decent quality camera. In fact, they’re better quality than the old handheld digital cameras that a lot of us used. If all you have is a smartphone, that’s totally fine. You can even make pretty high quality prints up to the size of eight by ten. However, if you want to have larger quality high resolution photographs for larger prints, you’re going to need something like a digital SLR.

I use a Canon EOS 550D. That’s the camera I’ve had for probably five years now. I find that it takes great quality shots of my art. But again: you only need super high resolution images if you’re going to enlarge your photographs to be large-scale prints of your art. If you’re taking high quality photographs for posterity, to record your art, or to keep track of things then you don’t necessarily need it to be super high resolution (or a large digital image file) for you to keep. Your smartphone could keep record and show quality images of your art.

An additional note: when I use my DSLR, I actually set my camera to RAW file images because RAW has a little bit more depth of color that it can capture than a JPEG file. However, you could just set it to a high resolution JPEG file on your camera as well and that will get you quality images of your art.

If you’re sharing your art on social media then it’s better to use low resolution images (72 dpi) because there is the off chance someone could try to make a print of your art without your permission, and we don’t want that.

Let’s talk about lighting now.

Lighting is really important when you take photographs of your art. There’s a couple of things I want you to know. The best light is actually indirect sunlight. You don’t really want heavy shade, but you don’t want to be out in the brightest sun where it can cause a glare or reflect off your art. It can actually wash out your colors, so you don’t want direct sunlight on your art.

In fact, a cloud day is often the perfect day to take photographs of your art. Now I hear some of you going, “But Carrie, I live in a cold environment.” I do too now and I still plan to go outside and take photos of my art. We can figure it out. We can bundle up. There’s a Scandinavian saying that says, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only being poorly dressed for the weather you’re in.” Unless it’s raining every single day, I think you can get yourself out there for a half an hour of taking photographs of your art. If you’re set up and prepared, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

Once you are set up, it’s important to consider a couple things.

One is you need to be taking a square image of your art.

I’m going to put up my paper as an example here. You want your images to be square on, right, like this. You don’t want it to be tilted like this. This is not square photograph of your work, right, because then obviously this does not look like it is the square or rectangular canvas.

I’m going to grab one that I have right here. Here’s a work in progress that I have. You can already see when I hold it against the camera here, it changes. You know it’s square, but it doesn’t look square. You really want to do your best to try to keep it square on the lens and in the image that you see, because that’s going to help you crop it and get a quality digital image.

The other thing is you shouldn’t photograph your artwork when there is glass covering it.

Glass is going to distort your image, so if you can, remove any artwork from a frame that you have not yet photographed, photograph it without the frame and use that digital image.

If you wanted to have a photograph of your artwork framed and there is glass over it, photograph the frame and then “cut” your image out online on your computer and paste it into the frame; it will create a better quality viewing experience.

Step three is processing those images once you take them.

There’s a couple things I want you to be thinking about. You can use a program like Photoshop. Adobe Cloud has a 30 day free trial for programs like that so you could get your feet a little wet I guess and see if you like it, if you want to use it. There are also free programs that you can use.

You can use something called Gimp, G-I-M-P. It’s open-sourced software that is similar to Photoshop to help you crop and edit the image resolution of your art. You could always use something like canva.com as well, which is also free to use. There’s all kinds of online resources you could use. If you have a general photo editing program on your computer, that works too.

Now, let’s talk about the different things you can do. I’m actually going to switch to my computer to do a little screen share with you, to walk you through some of the editing steps so that you see what I’m talking about.

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[In this mini demo I’m going to show you how to square up and crop your image, save it for high and low resolution prints and let you see how you can fiddle with color matching. I’m using the tool Gimp from gimp.org. I’ll make sure that’s linked below this video so that you can use a free tool to help you edit your art images should you not want to invest in something like Photoshop.

I’ve drag and dropped a photograph of one of my artworks into Gimp and you can already see that it’s not oriented quite correctly. The first thing I want to do is see if I did a good job taking a square photograph. When I say that, I mean is it face forward and head on and totally even? It looks pretty close. I think we’ll find that when I crop this out, that there’s still some of the background showing with the image, so we might want to fiddle a little bit with that.

I’ve used the select option and I selected around the image. I’m now going to go to select and invert. Then I am going to edit and cut, and that’s going to remove all of the background we don’t want to show with our art. When we photograph the work for inventory or for prints and things like that, you don’t want distracting backgrounds.

The backgrounds can be very distracting when you share it on social media as well, unless you’re very conscious about the background you put it in. We can see some of the wood grain here, some of the wooden paper on this bottom left side and even on the bottom here. This isn’t a perfectly square photograph, but it’s pretty good. I could probably get away with it. But I’m going to show you what to do to make your image more square.

You can select the perspective tool, which I just selected. Then you click on your screen and it’s going to give you a chance to move things around. You’ll see a grid show up and it’ll help you. You can grab a corner and slowly move it to see if you can get the shape and adjustment that you want. With mine, I don’t have to move it very far to make sure things are really even. I’m going to move it a little bit to the right, and a little bit to the left, see if that works. I think I’ve got it lined up so I’m going to hit transform, and let’s see what I get.

Gimp’s taking a minute to process. Okay. Now what I’ll do is I’ll take my select tool and square tool and see if I can remove the excess bits. It looks like I was a little too close to that edge. I’m trying to delete a little bit of that bottom edge, but I’m making it a little too close. We’ll see, now that I’m shifting things, I don’t like that. Somehow I moved some of the black background on top of the painting, which you can see. You can easily select undo and move the floating selection.

I just hit undo so that things can go back to normal. You can see I had to hit undo twice, but now I’m seeing that edge again. I’m going to click to try to make sure I’m catching the right pieces that I want to. Instead of using the square I could also use this, it’s a hand-drawn tool, and so then you can line things how you want, if you needed to select an area.

I’m going to undo that because I don’t want to use that, I’d rather use the square. Try that one more time, select and then … well actually we just want to cut this part out, we don’t need to invert that. There we go. That crops the bottom, so you can then select and wipe away any of that excess overlap that you don’t want to see so that it’s just your artwork. I’ve got one little more section to do here and then cut it.

Okay, now I’m actually going to go to image and I’m going to select fit canvas to selection. Oops, I lied, let’s go back there. The first thing I need to do is actually select the whole image. Now I’m going to select it and place a square around the whole artwork, and just the artwork, try my best to line it up. There we go. Then I’m going to say fit canvas to selection. Technically, if you wanted to crop everything, you could just do that, select your image as close as you can after you make it square and it’ll get rid of the whole background for you.

Now I need to obviously rotate mine, so I’m going to transform and rotate 90 degrees clockwise. Then I want to make sure my resolution is appropriate, so we’re going to go to image and we are going to go to print size. If I want this image to be a high resolution image, then my X and Y resolution should be 350 or higher. You’ll see it both goes up and then I can just hit okay and it’ll process the image for me to make it high res, and then you want to save as and make note of your image with the high res.

If you want it to be low res, then keep it at 70 or 72. That’s plenty quality for website and it’s too small for people to make large prints from that work. You can also have it low res.

The last thing I want to show you is how you can fiddle with your colors. If you don’t feel like the colors are quite right for you, you can actually play with them a little bit. You could go to something like color balance. You’ll see here, it gives you different ranges to adjust so you can arrange your shadows, your midtones or your highlights separately.

What you can do is you can slowly move things up or down and see if you notice any color changes. It does give you a preview option so you can see if you think the colors look right or wrong, and you’ll see if you really exaggerate it obviously things get really wonky. Usually you don’t need a really big shift as I’m showing you here. Thankfully, you can hit reset at any point in time too.

You could do the color balance, and the other place you might try is you could try your brightness and contrast. Perhaps the light wasn’t quite right so you need to brighten things up a little bit or increase your contrast and make sure your darks are really dark. You can fiddle with these settings and see what you get.

I increased my contrast so my whites are really white now and my darks are really dark. I think that’s a little too exaggerated, it’s not true to the color of the original artwork, but if you’ve taken your image outside in indirect sunlight, you shouldn’t have to fiddle too much with your colors. Obviously, once you do that you want to save it and then share it. Now I’ll go back to my other screen now for you.]

In summary guys, you need to think about the camera that you’re choosing to use, the lighting and of course how you’re processing those images when you’re done. If you really take a little extra time to take care of these steps and be mindful of them as you photograph your art, the presentation you share of your work online or with other people is going to be of higher quality.

Think about this, right: we spend so much time and effort on our art. If we’re haphazard or lazy about the photographing, what does that say about how we value our work? What does that communicate to people around us? I want you guys to show off the best that you’ve got and that involves taking time to take quality photographs.

Be Creatively Courageous: What are your best tips for taking quality photographs of your art? Do you have a special strategy that’s really helped you always capture your image or get that great color capture that you’re looking for? Please share it in the comments below.

If you think someone else can benefit from this video, share it as well. Thanks guys for watching and I’ll see you next week. Bye.