How To Photograph Your Paintings For Prints / Your Website

Today’s blog post is about how to photograph your paintings the right way, so that it can shine in your online portfolio, your Instagram page or give you a great template for print making.

As some of you might know, I’m a photographer and I know that I have better equipment than most people. But there are certain things you can do to make sure you get the best out of your photographs. Even with a smartphone you can at least get great looking photographs for your online portfolio. They might not be good enough to make prints from, but it’s good to get you started.

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Set up your painting on a neutral background. Gray card is optional.
Photograph is straight out of my camera and will be transformed into a beautiful print.

This tutorial is best for smaller work that you can photograph on the ground. Most people photograph paintings on the wall, but I always prefer that I can control the light a bit more when I’m able to move the painting around. Bigger paintings should definitely be photographed on the wall, with a tripod, which is even easier for getting steady images. You can still use my guide if you do it that way, just adjust the steps a little bit.

For this step you’ll need a white or middle gray background – a big sheet of paper or in my case just another blank canvas. Better go with a white as your gray might have a color cast and may not be a neutral gray. You can also use a gray card next to your image which helps you balance your colors in post processing later.

Make sure your painting is evenly lit! If you use light-reflective colors make sure that they don’t get a mirrored effect unless you want it that way (for example my Payne’s Grey is usually more reflective than other colors and so can look much too light in a photograph). Really try to look at the light that hits your painting, your eyes usually don’t notice shadows very well. Look if your background has the same brightness from top to bottom.

Also important are avoiding color casts from the sides (furniture, your wall color, trees in front of your windows, etc.) or from yourself. Stand on the shadowy side and try to cast no shadow on your painting when taking the photograph. Wear neutral clothing so that the color from yourself doesn’t transfer to the reflected light on your painting. Try to take the photograph so that your camera hovers over the middle of your painting, so that the perspective is as good as possible. (Edges of the painting should be parallel to your image edges in the end).

An overcast day, that is still very bright is best. Midday light works very well if the sun isn’t shining. Take your image as a RAW file if possible. If you don’t use a good camera make sure your settings are at least the highest resolution/quality possible for your device.

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After you have taken your photograph you should try to look at it at full resolution (zoomed in) to see if it is really sharp. So, it has to be in focus & it also has to be taken with a steady hand – no motion blur. Motion blur happens when you take photographs in too dark a room or if you have shaky hands.

The color correction process is a bit too detailed to talk about in this tutorial and depends very much on how good your camera is and what software you use. Most important is your white balance setting, so you need to change your colors with the help of the gray card or your neutral background. If you don’t know how to do that just google your editing program of choice + ’set white balance‘.

I also change certain colors of my image. Because I use neon colors in nearly all of my paintings my camera – even though a professional full frame DSLR – has problems with showing for example neon pink color the way it looks in reality. I have to push settings around in the color, saturation & luminosity tabs until I think that the photograph looks most like the original painting. This step is optional for you perfectionists out there 😉

Other important settings to look for: Contrast or Curves, to bring back the punch of your colors and don’t let the photograph look mushy. Exposure, Highlights or Brightness, I want my images to pop so I make sure that the white spots are really white and look amazing.

The rest is in the fine details and again, depends on your editing program. But white balance, contrast & exposure are in my opinion the most important for a lively looking photograph.

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When I’m done with all my color correcting I use some guide lines to see if my edges are perfectly straight. Here in this example I did a very good job photographing and need only some minor touch ups (Because I’m one of the perfectionists!).

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I select the image, and use Transform (Cmnd+T if you’re using Photoshop) in the setting Skew.

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I then drag the image edges around until all the sides of the painting align to my guidelines.

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Now I can crop my image inside the painting’s edges so that I have a flawless photograph for printing. In this case I photographed a square canvas. With the skew transform and because of the perspective it could be that the image isn’t a perfect square anymore. If you still want a perfect square you can usually set the crop settings to 1×1 before you crop your painting and it will make sure that every side is the same length.

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Lastly, after I made my crop I look how the image looks like on a white background, because sometimes you can see irregularities from you canvas edges you don’t want to show on your prints. You can only really notice those if your finished image sits on a white background (the way it would show up on paper). So, test it out.

If everything looks good, voilá! You are ready. If you worked with Camera RAW, save as TIFF. If you photographed in JPG make sure it’s the highest quality JPG your program allows you to save.

Franziska Schwade - Daily Painting 151115 "Bananas" Acrylics on stretched canvas 30x30 cm / 11.8x11.8 inch

Franziska Schwade – Daily Painting 151115 „Bananas“
Acrylics on stretched canvas
30×30 cm / 11.8×11.8 inch
available for 185 € + shipping

If you have any more questions, just ask 🙂 I hope it was helpful!
See you soon, Franzi