Photograph Your Art Like a Pro

12 Jan 2012

Our contributing bloggers John Hulsey and Ann Trusty of The Artist's Road wrote a really informative blog about how to get the most out of a photograph of your painting or drawing, and I wanted to share it with you. Enjoy!

Impact Universal Film Holder frame attached to my light stand.

Film holder frame attached to my light stand.

Lexan/polarizing film sandwich I made to fit in the film holder frames.

Lexan/polarizing film sandwich I made
to fit in the film holder frames.

Note the Tiffen linear polarizing filter on the lens.

Note the Tiffen linear polarizing
filter on the lens.

All the hard work and unique vision that we pour into our painting and drawing can result in artwork that we are proud of. The next step is to make an accurate photographic record of our art to share with friends, collectors, galleries, and perhaps to enter into juried exhibitions.

The essential component to that sharing process these days is the making of a professional-quality digital recording of our art. We have two choices—pay a hefty fee to have a pro shoot our work, or invest a small amount of money to purchase our own professional equipment and learn how to make these photographic exposures ourselves.

Ann and I have done it both ways and believe that, in the long run, it is far more economical, efficient, and fun to handle the photography ourselves. Here are a few tips we've learned along the way.

-Regardless of which brands of lights, stands, and filters you use, it is essential that you purchase a camera with a good-quality glass lens. Every image must first pass through a lens of some kind, so it is far better to get a camera with good optics but perhaps lower megapixels than the reverse! Buying a good used professional camera is a smart way to do this. 

-Lighting is essential. I have an Impact Universal Film Holder frame attached to my light stand, along with a Tota-Light and heat shield. I also use a Lexan/polarizing film sandwich I made to fit in the film holder frames. The Linear polarizing film can be purchased in various sizes and cut to fit, if necessary.

-When a Tiffen linear polarizing filter is placed on a camera lens, the filter is rotated to 90-degrees from the orientation of the film in front of the lights (cross-polarization), so the hot-spots and glare on your art will disappear, and the colors will increase in saturation, depth, and fidelity. This is why the circular polarizer often sold for digital cameras won't work here.

You can really see the difference that polarizing made in these two images of my oil painting, Another Night. On the left, no polarizing, and essentially a useless image. On the right you can see how the spectral highlights (hot spots) vanished, leaving well-balanced, rich tones without the heavy influence of the red-yellow tungsten light spectrum. All that was needed was to crop the image and tweak it a little here and there in Photoshop.

Another Night by John Hulsey, oil painting. Another Night by John Hulsey, oil painting.

A small investment in the proper filters and lights pays big dividends in the results. With most juried shows relying on the quality of our photographs to decide who will make the first cut, it is imperative that artists get professional with their photography. Without top-notch high-fidelity images to show, there is no way to get a fair assessment of our work. And that is entry-fee money down the drain. So we should do all we can to learn about taking professional-quality photos of our art. It is easy and fun, and there are sources like The Crafter's Guide to Taking Great Photos that can really give you the photography tips and tricks you need to take high quality images of your art objects.

Do you have tips on how to use digital photography to create strong images of your artwork? Leave a comment and let us know.


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RickG wrote
on 13 Jan 2012 9:17 AM

Good information, Courtney. I photograph a lot of art in my giclee business and I put together some tips that some of my clients have found helpful in doing their own photography. Here's a link to a PDF file of those tips. I hope it may be of some help to your.

Rick Givens

on 13 Jan 2012 9:51 AM

Thank you for this article. I consider myself professional yet always struggle to remove glare from photos. I have a regular polarizing lens but didn't not realize I could do better with a Tiffen type. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

RickG wrote
on 13 Jan 2012 10:26 AM

Lori, the important factor is that you use linear polarizers on your lights in conjunction with your polarizer on your camera's lens. The information in the blog is great, but the comment that a circular polarizer on your camera won't work is incorrect. I use one all the time and it works great. Circular polarizers actually have linear polarization built into them. They include another element that allows the passage of circularly polarized light, which is essential to the functioning of the metering systems of most modern DSLRs. Spend your money on the polarizing filters for the lights and try your existing circular polarizer with the new setup. You should be able to rotate the polarizer on the camera to eliminate glare.


Joevega wrote
on 13 Jan 2012 10:49 AM

thanks for your articles, Courtney.

I am just a princip├Čant, but using my little camera 10 mpixs , and by diferent kind of accident or casuality, (trought a pair of ocassional dark glasses, or a peace of  infrared glass  of  my set for weld...etc. could to work with some nocturnal fotos, from flowers and skyies light., like the moon among trees, etc.



on 22 Jan 2012 10:15 AM

Courtney, thank you for sharing this invaluable information. I have been in need of serious help in this department since I started to document my work in high school. This post has provided some great tips.

RickG, thanks very much for sharing your PDF! It contains the answers to a lot of my questions.

I definitely have to invest in some good equipment as soon as possible.

on 30 Jan 2012 1:26 PM

RickG has provided some great info as well!

Our own experiences with the circular vs. linear filter has been that the linear works better for us on our Canon 5D - others may not get the same results with different equipment.  While it is true that all digital cameras require a circular type filter in order for the light meter and the autofocus to work properly, in this controlled situation, I do not use the autofocus, and I bracket all exposures, so my meter is not that important. It is absolutely necessary to have the lights and filter film in combination with the lens filter in order to eliminate glare and hot spots.  After a few tries, the novice will quickly discover the perfect combination of F-stop, speed and distance for the camera and the lights, and then the process will be nearly automatic.  Concentrate on getting a good, not necessarily perfect exposure in RAW or TIFF format. The fact is, the really important adjustments, including out-of-square issues will be made in the digital darkroom software, and we encourage artists to invest in a professional-level copy of Photoshop CS and perhaps take a seminar in how to use it.  It will be money and time very well-spent.

on 30 Jan 2012 2:19 PM


If anyone wants to go a little further and learn how digital cameras work, go to and read our extensive articles: The Artist's Guide to Digital Cameras, Parts I and II, in the member's section.  No technical jargon, just plain talk aimed at explaining the why and how of digital cameras. Join the site to access them and over 150 other informative articles, videos and tutorials about artists, painting and travel.