Photographing Artwork Digitally; Setting, Shooting, And Post-Processing Page 2

Matching white balance is an area where digital cameras really outshine film. Don't rely on Auto White Balance (AWB)--choose the incandescent setting or better yet do a custom white balance. The exact procedure varies from camera to camera, but by letting the camera evaluate the way white appears under your lights can compensate for the limited color spectrum they may produce.

Position your camera so the work fills the frame, keeping the camera perpendicular to the wall, with the sensor parallel to the art. This is more difficult than it sounds, as photographers usually compose their pictures by intuitively pointing the camera, but any deviation will cause perspective distortion in copy work. Use a bubble level to check that the artwork is true, then check and level the camera using the front of the lens or camera back. Move the tripod side to side, and elevate until your art is square in the frame. Remember to keep the zoom at its most distortion-free focal length.

With the camera set on manual, bracket your exposures, giving the subject a range of exposures above and below the "correct" exposure that your camera suggests. Light artwork can be easily underexposed, and dark artwork can fool the camera into overexposing, but by shooting several frames with more and less exposure you will be sure to get one right on. Don't rely on your camera's LCD alone to proof your shots; the brightness of the image on it relative to the room you're in can easily mislead you. The more you can get correct in camera, the less post-processing will be necessary and the higher the quality of the resulting image.

Measuring from the floor to the center of the artwork will give you the exact height your tripod-mounted camera lens should be at.

Three-dimensional art presents a much greater photographic challenge, as angle, composition, and lighting must all work together to tell the story of the object. For small items we use the Lowel Ego digital imaging light. Window light is a possibility; it can have a wonderful wrapping quality. The big problem with natural window light is it will change by the hour, and is totally dependent on the weather. Use reflectors to fill your shadows where you need detail, and use a custom white balance to compensate for the shifting color balance.

Once you have good shots you need to begin the post-process. Always begin your digital darkroom session by copying your files to at least two different folders. One set can be safely archived while the other goes in a working folder. Evaluate the exposures and choose the best shots. If you shot raw files this is the time to select the precise color balance, sharpening, saturation, and contrast that will most closely match the artwork. If you shot JPEGs save them as TIFFs or in another lossless file format as soon as you open them. Never re-save an image file as a JPEG unless you are finished working on it and have already saved the same file in an uncompressed format.

If you are photographing for a juried art show the images you make will often be projected in front of a panel of judges. Most digital cameras create files in the sRGB color space. That's a good thing for digital projection because they are more accurate when projected in the sRGB color space than in Adobe RGB. More advanced digital cameras also may give you the option of the Adobe 1998 RGB color space. Either is OK for capture as long as you convert your digital file to the sRGB color space before creating the JPEG image for jury submission.

A calibrated monitor is required for any serious color work. Now that inexpensive devices like the Pantone huey are available for under $100, it's quick and easy to adjust your monitor so you can see what really needs changing. Compare the images you see on the monitor with the actual artwork. Hopefully you will only need minor tweaks. If major shifts are required you might consider analyzing where the shot went wrong.

Great results will please both the artist and all those who see your rendition of the artist's vision.

Thanks to Jane Petitjean for providing the artwork featured in this article. To see more of Petitjean's work, visit her website at:

Larry Berman and Chris Maher are photographers, writers, and web designers, specializing in image intensive photography sites. For more information, visit their websites at: and


barvelou's picture

Good lighting is really important in this aspect of photography. It can set the mood for the whole picture and it can help define what the theme is. - Markus Lattner