Below are the solutions to the most common problems that I see artists encountering when photographing their own artwork. Being able to take accurate photos of your artwork is very important. It’s the photographs of your paintings that are what makes the first impression on collectors, jurors, and art lovers.
As an artist, you should strive to improve your photography skills. Photography is intertwined with being an artist. The improvements that you make with your photography skills should have a direct impact upon your art and your career.
You may take reference photos of your subjects and work from them. Higher quality reference photos can lead to higher quality paintings. At the very least, you have to take photographs of your paintings so you can submit them to shows, share them online, make prints, or apply for grants and scholarships.
It doesn’t matter how good your art is if the photographs of it are of poor quality. Judges aren’t going to select your work if the photography is amateurish.
I know what it’s like to spend numerous hours working on a painting and then end up feeling disappointed with the photograph of it. The colors might not look right, it’s too dark, or it’s blurry etc.
The first time I photographed my artwork was in the late 1980’s. I made many mistakes and the results were subpar. This was before the advent of digital photography so every mistake I made hit me in the pocketbook. Through the years I have made many mistakes and learned from them. I made the transition to digital photography in the early 2000’s and never looked back. Today, I’m still learning and making improvements to my workflow.
While Photography may seem technical, most of these solutions are quite simple when you understand the basic concepts behind them. Once you understand the basics it will serve you for the rest of your career.
You can read this article from start to finish or use the table of contents to jump to the section that interests you.
It will be helpful to find the manual for your camera and become familiar with the basic functions. If you can’t find the printed manual that came with your camera, search for it online. The manufactures usually have PDFs versions of the manuals available online for free. I prefer the PDF over the printed manual because I can quickly search for the topics I’m interested in.
Why Are the Photos of My Paintings Blurry?
If your photos are blurry there a number of issues that could be the problem. Always check for the simplest explanations first. The list below are the the possible causes of blurry photos.
• Check to see if the lens is dirty
• The camera is on manual focus
• You moved the camera when you took the picture
Take a few test shots in variety of conditions and look at them on your computer. Are they all blurry? If so, it could be a dirty lens that’s causing the blurriness.
A dirty lens can cause blurry photos. Some photographers apply a thin layer of Vaseline to the filter on the front of the lens to create a soft focus effect. A build up of dirt and debris on the lens can have the same effect on your photos.
If there’s dirt and debris on the lens, the photos will have a soft appearance. If the lens looks dirty, then you’ll need to clean it. Be sure to carefully follow the directions in the manual so you don’t damage the lens.
Another cause of soft or blurry looking images is condensation on the lens. If you store your camera in a cold location and then bring it into the a warm and humid environment, the lens may fog up. If this is the case, then you’ll be able to see the condensation on the lens. The best way to solve this problem is to wait it out. The camera will eventually warm up to room temperature and the condensation will evaporate.
Out of Focus
Did you set the camera to manual focus and forget to turn the autofocus back on?
When you take a photograph, the camera gives you feedback when it’s in focus. In fact, some cameras won’t take a picture unless it detects some part of the image is in focus. So, it’s unlikely that the autofocus mechanism is malfunctioning. The autofocus feature on modern cameras is typically very accurate.
Unfortunately, if the autofocus is malfunctioning the only solution is to contact the manufacturer. However, “user error” is usually the cause of blurry photos. So, be sure to read through the rest of this section before concluding there’s something wrong with your camera.
Motion blur is related to the shutter speed of the camera. When you take a picture, the shutter opens for a specific length of time and exposes the sensor to light. If the camera moves slightly during the exposure, the picture will be blurry.
Typical shutter speeds range from 1/60 of second to 1/1000 of a second. Generally speaking, motion blur can appear at speeds below 1/60 of a second.
The “reciprocal rule” states that you should use a shutter speed that’s equivalent to the focal length of the lens to avoid motion blur.
In other words, take the focal length of the lens and put a “1/” in front of it and that’s the slowest shutter speed that you can use. So if you’re using a 50mm lens that would mean that you need to use a shutter speed of at least 1/50th of a second to avoid camera shake. 1/50th of a second doesn’t exist on any camera that I own, so you would have to round up to 1/60th of a second.
In my experience, hand holding a camera to take pictures of artwork doesn’t yield the sharpest images. You’ll gain some extra clarity by using a tripod with a remote. That will allow you to use slower shutter speeds and still obtain sharp images.
If you increase the ISO you can use a faster shutter speed but it will have an impact upon the image. Increasing the ISO adds noise to the image and you’ll still benefit from using a tripod.
The close up comparison below shows a slight difference in sharpness and image quality. The photo on the left uses ISO 800 so I was able to increase the shutter speed to 1/80 of a second and take the picture without a tripod. The photo on the right uses a tripod with the original settings. The shutter speed was 1/4 of second and yet it looks slightly sharper.