Capture the Best Image of Your Painting

Do you sell your artwork? Have you given it away as a gift, or donated to a worthy cause?

Think about it for a minute — photos or digital images of that creative work are all that you’ll have left. I mean, once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can’t go back and photograph it after it’s sold, at least not very easily.

So don’t you think it’s worth capturing the best high-res images you can? While you can?

Methods to capture the best image of your artwork.

Why it’s important to get High-Res images

Before we get into the two options for capturing the best high-res images of your artwork, I first want to reiterate just how important it is. Now you may be reading this and thinking, I can save some money and do it myself — it’s not that important. But it is because you never know what you will decide to do down the road.

Put your best foot forward! Professional images of your artwork present both you and your creative work in the best light. And if you have a website, why would you put crappy pictures of your work on it?

In addition to documenting your work, having the high-res images gives you the freedom for whatever may lie ahead, things like:

  • putting up on your website
  • create Giclée fine art prints
  • print a catalog of your creative work
  • print postcards

Many painting organizations, including the National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society (NOAPS), print the exhibition catalog by pulling the image submitted with the entry through Juried Art Services. This makes it even more important to upload the best high-res image you can when submitting to an exhibition.

So why aren’t you getting images of your work? Maybe you’re like me and tend to find something to tweak right up to the last minute and then run out of time. If you need to take a quick photo and don’t have time to hire a professional, here is an article to help Quick Steps to Photograph your Art with a Cellphone — if it’s your only option!.

Maybe you aren’t sure what the best way to capture high-res images of your artwork? The good news is we are going to go over a few options.

Option 1 — Hire a Professional

If you’d rather spend your time creating and you can afford to hire a professional — do it!! Just like you know all about what you do, they know all about what they do! They know about proper lighting, f-stops, have the equipment, and so on. 🙂

In selecting a professional, ask other artists in your area for recommendations and look at examples of the photographer’s work. Is the artwork in focus, evenly lit, are there shadows across the artwork, is it over or under? Be critical. These aren’t the 100th picture of your friend’s new grandbaby you’re looking at. “Awe, that’s nice” is not allowed.

Once you’ve selected a photographer, talk about how you will be using the photos. High-quality giclée prints, exhibit catalog, promotional materials are all good examples. No one knows what the future holds, and often the High Res images are all we have after a painting has (cross your fingers) sold!

Oh, and ask to have a color calibration chart/guide included in the photos. Not sure what that is? I explain what it is and how to use it in the article Meet Your New Friend — the Color Calibration Chart.

  • ask for the raw files in addition to the traditional images provided. Some photographers automatically include these, while others do not.
  • ask for the largest file size their equipment will provide. Some photographers, as a courtesy, provide 300dpi and 72dpi versions.
  • ask for uncropped versions that include the Color Calibration Chart/Guide.

The bottom line, leave it to the professionals! With the cost of the equipment, their knowledge, and the fact that technology is always advancing, it’s more than worth it.

Option 2 — High-Res Scans

Scanning is by far the best option as far as image quality and clarity. Every inch of the painting will be in focus and under the same lighting conditions. Scanning original artwork is not always practical, especially if your work is large and has lots of thick paint, creating a very textured surface. Whenever possible, I have my paintings scanned. It’s just hard to beat the quality.

Although 300dpi is considered high-res — I have my paintings scanned at the highest dpi available, 1200dpi or higher. Why so high? The resolution depends on the scanner’s capabilities, and a higher resolution offers more flexibility down the road. For example, printing a banner or print larger than the original painting. Or printing a detail area without having it pixelate.

Don’t forget to include the Color Calibration Chart/Guide in the scan of your artwork.

And, remember — an image can always be reduced in size or resolution, but not the other way around. Read Answering the High/Low Res Question for more on that topic.

But what if my painting is larger?

The painting’s size isn’t a total deterrent to scanning because scanned portions of the artwork can be stitched together using Adobe® Photoshop® or a similar photo program.

Where would I have my painting scanned?

Many printers offer high-res scanning, and they often have large bed scanners. Also, look for a photo specialist or google search for “high res scanners in your area.” Unfortunately, these professionals have become harder to find as the industry has moved away from traditional film.

Option 3 — Do It Yourself

I understand the need to be fiscally conservative sometimes. I’ve been there a time or two myself. Okay, more than a time or two, if I’m honest.

As for taking your own photos, there is a wide variety of good information available on how to take photographs of your own artwork and the equipment needed. A simple google search will direct you to several great sources online.

You can also invest in a good scanner but be warned they are not cheap. However, I paint smaller pieces, and I am comfortable with Photoshop and technology, so this option works. I watched Epson’s Clearance Center for a good deal on a refurbished flatbed scanner and purchased it at a significant discount.

A little tip when selecting a scanner, it’s more than just the dpi listed in the description. For example, if the scanner’s resolution is listed as offering 2400 x 4800 dpi, the optical resolution is the lower number, 2400 dpi. The higher number is usually achieved through software-enhanced or interpolated resolution. Basically, the extra pixels are made up from the scanned information.

The second thing affecting the sharpness of a scanned image is the quality of the optics in the lens and the light source inside the scanner. So if you are going to scan your artwork, get the best flat-bed scanner you can afford.

If you haven’t picked up on it, I’m strongly recommending hiring a professional to photograph or scan your artwork. In the long run, if you add up the time, it takes to learn how, plus the cost of equipment and time to actually take the photos…it’s better to hire someone. And you get to go back to creating more new work!

This post is also featured on the National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society (NOAPS) Blog.


Other Helpful Resources:

– How Converting Images from RGB to CMYK Affects the Colors
Quick Steps to Photograph your Art with a Cellphone — if it’s your only option!

Meet Your New Friend — the Color Calibration Chart

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