Photographing Artwork.

No big fancy studio to photograph your artwork? Don’t worry, if you can follow a few simple guidelines you should be able to accurately reproduce your work both digitally and in print.

Before you even start to photograph your artwork, is your computer screen calibrated to display accurate colours? This is so important if you are going to print your work. I use a datacolour Spyder 4 and a SpyderChekr 48 in my colour workflow from camera to monitor. If you don’t calibrate your hardware then it’s likely that your colours won’t be true to the original. In addition to the colour workflow, you need to ensure the exposure of the artwork is correct. You can use the in-camera exposure meter or an app on your phone. A light meter would be the best option and it will save you time later when editing the resulting photos.

When setting up your environment there are a few things to consider. What’s the room ambient light like? Is it evening or daytime? Is the room you’re using dark or light? Do you have direct sunlight or is the light entering the room from outside indirect and shaded? All this changes the colour temperature of the light falling on your artwork. Some camera’s cope well with setting the colour temperature, some don’t. In any event, if you are aware of this you can adjust the colour temperature in post via lightroom or photoshop etc. If you’re on a budget, use a sheet of white paper. Take an extra shot of the paper in the same lighting setup as your artwork and then adjust the white balance with a colour picker in your editing software and check the RGB values. Just make sure it’s white paper and not off white or cream.

For some the biggest problem faced when photographing your artwork is which camera to use. If you plan to print your artwork from your photos, use the best camera you can. I advise against using a smartphone for printing and I’ll explain why later.

So, you have some space cleared to photograph your artwork. You’re aware you’ll need to adjust the colour and light temperature. Do you have a window to one side of your artwork? What about the normal lighting in the room? Unless you can overpower the room light with studio flash units, or blackout all the room light, then you have to understand how the light falling on your artwork will vary. Using a light meter you can check this by taking readings at the corners and middle of the artwork. You can see in the timelapse I took readings to see how balanced the light was. I had closed the blinds and moved the lightbox’s closer or further away from the work until the light was balanced. You must try to make sure the alignment of your artwork and the lights are as parallel as possible. Keep a check on how the light reflects off your artwork too. In the case of graphite drawings, the material is reflective so changing the angle of the lights reduces the chance of the graphite looking reflective too. A polarising filter will help reduce reflections as well. The easiest way to reduce glare is to stand behind the camera and have someone move the lights for you and watch how the light falls on your artwork.

Now you have the lights set up and the camera in position and set with the correct exposure. My first task is to take a photo of the grey card and set the white balance on my camera to manual. I then take a photo of the SpyderChekr 48 set to all the colour squares showing. After taking these two photos to ensure my colour workflow I take a few bracketed photos for reference. You can see in the timelapse I changed the camera position and height too. I did this and took two extra photos. One of the top half of the artwork and a second photo of the bottom half of the artwork. By doing this I can seamlessly join the photos which will enable me to make bigger prints without loss of resolution. More on this later.

Next I edit the photos using Adobe Lightroom and with a couple of clicks it is possible to compensate for my camera make and lens distortion. I have my workflow set to auto apply the corrections on import. It’s worth noting Lightroom even has presets available for iPhones. Once the camera/lens distortion is corrected the photo can be levelled. Again, one click can sort any slight alignment issues. Overlying the photo with a grid will confirm the photo is level horizontally and vertically. Next, I can apply the colour correction which in this case isn’t pronounced as the artwork is a graphite drawing and had a very limited pallet.

Once I’m happy with these settings I export the photo into Adobe Photoshop and remove the taped edges using the content-aware fill feature. It is possible here to use the colour sampler tool in photoshop and double-check the RGB values across the artwork. If you don’t have a great lighting setup you can use adjustment layers with a gradient layer mask applied to compensate for one side/top of the artwork being under/overexposed slightly. A top tip is to desaturate the artwork and use a bigger sample size to average the RGB value. You can see I’ve made a very small change to the values immediately around the skull. On the original artwork, the values are slightly darker to the eye. Lightroom and Photoshop are linked so once the adjustments are finished and saved in photoshop the updated photo automatically displays in Lightroom. Comparing the original and digital version it is apparent the graphite appears slightly darker in the original so adjustments are made to the black and shadow tones until I’m happy. Keep an eye on the histogram throughout to ensure you don’t clip any of your colours (under/overexpose).

So, now you have a finished photograph of your artwork what size can it be printed? The artwork is usually supplied to printers at 300dpi which is a function of the printer or Dots per Inch. Pixels per Inch refers to how many dots make up an inch on your device screen. As a rule of thumb, the two are interchangeable and will give you a guide as to how big you can print your artwork. In the example, you can see my skull artwork is 3648px x 5472px. The default resolution is set to 240ppi. To get the sizes shown in the example just divide the photo pixel widths by the PPI. In this case, 3648 divided by 240 equals 15.2 inches wide. The height is 5472 divided by 240 equals 22.8 inches. When supplying artwork to the printer I’d change the PPI to 300 which will print at? I’ll let you do the math. Obviously, you can print as big as you want, it just means the dots used to make up your prints are bigger. This is one of the reasons why I wouldn’t use a smartphone to photograph my artwork for print. The quality isn’t quite there yet when comparing against a decent DSLR camera. Maybe I’ll do a side by side test at a later date. 

I’ll be taking this file to the printers soon for a proof. I’ll update with a side by side as soon as I can.