Monday, March 26, 2012

Photographing Art for the Web

A letter came over the transom today inquiring about how I prepare my images to be posted online, (specifically, it was about my images at Fine Art America). I thought it could be helpful for others, so I’m sharing here what I do.

Scanning Smaller Works:

An original should be scanned at no less than 300 dpi at 100% size. 600 is the norm, and, if your scanner can do it, 1000 dpi is recommended for works that will be printed at a large scale. However, RGB is fine. (see my note on color below for why I think this is so.)

Photographing Large Works:

First things first: TAKE YOUR OWN PHOTOGRAPHS. Unless you have a contract that gives you all the rights, the photographer will own the rights to the photo itself, and thus, any profit made from it, if they choose to be a jerk about it. Yes, even though the photo is of YOUR work! (BTW, it goes without saying, but I AM NOT A LAWYER, I’m just breaking down what I do for my own work.)

If you don’t have a good quality camera, borrow one from a friend or rent one from a camera store. Renting is not that expensive, and it’s a great way to test out camera bodies and different lenses anyway.

Avoid direct light – especially if your work is glossy. Just like cloudy days make for the most-detailed outdoor pictures, a soft, allover light will make the details of your painting more discernible.

Leave some room around the frame – leave a little bit of room so you don’t accidentally lose a border when processing your image in Photoshop.

Use the right lens for the job - Use the longest lens you can, as the more macro the lens, the more distorted the edges. We’ve all seen photos taken with a fisheye lens. Well, all lenses distort the image the way, just to a lesser extent. Reduce the distortion by using a long lens.
Shoot from an appropriate distance – the closer you are to the work, the more distorted the edges will become. 

Use a tripod – No matter how bright you think your lighting is, or how steady your hand, don’t assume that because the screenshot looks good, the photo isn’t blurry once you zoom in. It most likely will be blurry unless you zoom all the way in to focus manually, AND shoot the photo using a tripod.

Shoot in RAW Mode -  Like scanning at a high resolution, shooting in RAW mode is a must as it offers the most flexibility when adjusting your image in Photoshop.

Photoshop – yes, you will need to use some photo editing software to get your art to look right. There are filters that reduce the lens distortion in a photo, meaning the edges can be straightened digitally.

Transferring Files to the Web:

Your native files will be gigantic, so you’ll have to rejigger the image size and “save as” for a web-friendly version. The average laptop screen is something like 960 pixels across. 150 dpi seemed to be okay in the past, but with all these retina-screens and whatnot, that may be changing. It’s up to you and how much storage space you have available on your website.

A Sidenote on Color:

This post pertains to photographing art for the web, not for book publishing. For publishing, the word on the street is that working in CMYK shows that you are more professional and understand the printing process. But CMYK doesn't appear as vibrant as RGB on a computer screen, and thus doesn't look as appealing. I want my art to look its best when people see it for the first time. This is why I choose to work with RGB color even for the images on art print websites.  Sure, it's possible that this just means I'm being naive and/or shortsighted, but that's how I feel as of today. Order a test print of the same image in each color mode and see what you think. Ask your non-arty friends which image they prefer. Show the images on a computer screen and ask them the same question.


This post just touches the surface. I realize I didn't supply any details or examples. In case it wasn't already obvious, not only am I not a trained lawyer, but I am also not a trained teacher. If you have any technical questions about art photography or Photoshop, there are tons of forums online with plenty of information.

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