Photographing Paintings | Keeping a Record of Your Work

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Two digital cameras, photographers gray card, and QPcard 101 reference card

Photographing finished paintings can be one of the most frustrating aspects of painting, but still one of the most necessary. These photographic records are invaluable when reminiscing about past accomplishments, a necessity for entering most juried exhibitions, and a prerequisite for publication. Since most artists either sell or gift their works, it’s paramount to keep a high quality photographic record for future reference.

Create a Routine for Photographing Paintings: Artists spend most of their time in an intuitive state and have to break out of that mind-set when it comes to accurately positioning artwork to a camera,  illuminating the artwork evenly, fiddling with a camera’s settings, and processing the images into usable files. Since this is such an arduous chore, most put it off until a need arises and then hurriedly attempt to produce a usable photographic file. To avoid finding yourself in this stressful position, it is best to create a routine for photographing your paintings.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Learn as much as you can about your camera. Most digital cameras are being offered with an array of settings that can produce high quality files worthy of publication. Every major brand offers digital camera manuals as PDF file downloads on their web sites. Look under the support section. Familiarize yourself with camera settings in the sections on: Image Quality (JPEG, TIFF, RAW); Preset Image/Picture Types (Natural, Vivid, Neutral, Landscape, Portrait, and the like); White Balance (the color temperature of the light source); Time Delayed Exposure (the ability to push the shutter button and have it release after a designated amount of time). All of these will prove invaluable in producing an accurate representation of your artwork.
  • Set your camera for the best image quality. When you get ready to use your camera for photographing your paintings, set the image quality to the highest setting; while large files can always be downsized for website publication or online digital exhibition entries, small files cannot be expanded to meet the requirements of most publication.
  • Shoot RAW. If your camera is capable of shooting RAW image files, do so, even if you are not comfortable with them. It is to be noted that RAW image files require a separate processing before being usable. These files are also very large and can take up considerable storage space. It will take some education on your part to work with these files. If you are not comfortable working with RAW, the standard JPEG file type will suffice for most needs as long as minimal auto in-camera adjustments are being made. The best of both worlds, RAW and JPEG simultaneously, are being offered on many camera models. This setting will produce two image files, one as RAW and the other as JPEG. This allows you to set aside the RAW file for future use and to have a JPEG for most common everyday uses. Having a saved RAW file, even if you are incapable of working with it, can be a treasure to a high level art department that needs a painting image for professional purposes.
  • Label your files. Make sure you label these stored files systematically so you can find them in the future.

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Editor’s Note: Visit the Pastel Journal Blog to read about the newly created Maggie Price Award of Excellence for Emerging Artists and how you can pay tribute to the beloved artist, teacher and Pastel Journal co-founder and founding editor.

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