Artwork Photography for Print

Following an inquiry from local artist Alison McIlkenny, I recently completed an artwork photography project. Quite different from my usual work and from most of the work that you will find in my portfolio. I was asked to photograph a number of paintings for reproduction in high-quality print, for commercial sale.

Artwork reproduction photography was quite a new proposition for me, but I was able to draw upon previous experience of product photography and from photography training exercises. Alison needed high-resolution images and I was very satisfied that my camera equipment was up to the task. If not I could hire a few more megapixels!

I also knew that there would be other important factors to doing the job well. Perspective, colour, and lighting.

painting of an owl by alison mcilkenny
painting of an bee by alison mcilkenny

Images reproduced with permission of the artist, Alison McIlkenny, with thanks.

painting of an flower and bee by alison mcilkenny
painting of an peacock by alison mcilkenny
painting of an elephant by alison mcilkenny

Perspective

It was important to ensure that the camera sensor was in the same plane as the painting. This was easy to achieve with a few measurements to help position the camera relative to the painting. I was shooting tethered to my computer so the fine gridded screen available was also fantastic, particularly when it came to setting the camera at the correct angle vertically. The painting was on an easel, therefore angled so the camera had to be at the same angle.

Correct Colour for Artwork Photography

When it comes to correct colour I don’t leave things to judgment or chance! There are tools available to photographers to ensure correct colour. The one I use is called Colorchecker Passport by a company called X-Rite. It consists of a grid of very specific colours and a neutral grey card, all built into a pocket-sized hard plastic wallet. The Colourchecker Passport ensures that the correct colour will be reproduced in a digital file specific to the camera, lens and lighting situation. A photograph is taken of the coloured grid, and the grey card and these are used in the editing program to produce a perfect colour profile. This is then copied across all of the actual images of the paintings.

Lighting the Paintings

An important consideration in lighting the paintings was that the light was diffused and of the same intensity across the painting. I used two shoot-through umbrellas, one on each side and at the same height as the painting. The distance and angle needed to be the same on each side, so out came the measuring tape again. Shoot-through umbrellas can produce a central hot spot of light. To prevent this from affecting the images each light was aimed off to the side of the painting, so it was only the diffused light from the side of each umbrella that was effectively being used. Consistent light meter readings left, right, top, bottom and center confirmed that the light was perfectly consistent across the paintings.

Test Shots

With the setup now completed it was time for a couple of test shots. The colour profile was applied to these and a few very minor toning adjustments made. Toning adjustments are always required with the raw file format used in professional photography, but in this case I didn’t want to stray from the light, shade, saturation or vibrance of the original. I sent these test files off to Alison who in turn sent them to the publishing company. A couple of hours later and a response from the publisher, “These look great. Good size and crisp images! Please proceed with the others. Thanks”.

“These look great. Good size and crisp images! Please proceed with the others. Thanks”

So that was great. I continued to photograph all of the paintings in the same way. Each different size of painting required a different camera position so the perspective had to be adjusted each time, but apart from that, there wasn’t much further variation. I was able to supply the files to Alison both in the native camera image size and scaled to match the actual size of the painting. I am looking forward to seeing them in major home interior chains across the country soon.

If you are an artist or gallery owner and need some paintings photographed for print, please get in touch to discuss your requirements.

Your thoughts or comments on this subject would be much appreciated.