Preparation and photographing your painting

Photo Dos - Things to do before you take your photo

Set your camera's white balance

Ever tried to take a photo of a snow scene, only to find that the snow looks a dirty grey?  Ever wondered why that pure white mat on your painting turns out a dirty grey?  Every struggled to stop that white paper on your charcoal artwork from looking grey?  Ever wondered why that nice white wall where your painting's hanging looks grey in the photo?

That's because your camera, on automatic setting, assumes that you're taking a normal snapshot, where pure white as a dominant colour is uncommon.  Whites end up being under-exposed as 18% grey.

Where white is dominant in your photograph, perhaps from the painting's mat or a wall, you need to set your camera's white balance so that what the human sees as white is also captured as white in the resultant image.

Your camera's instruction manual will describe how to do this.

Move the painting into good lighting

Do not trust your pad, phone or camera when it says that it can take photographs in low lighting. It does so by increasing the sensor's ISO rating (resulting in grainy, low-resolution photos) and by reducing the shutter speed (resulting in blurry photographs when the camera is hand-held).

Diffused, indirect lighting will give you the best results. Bright direct lighting will create unexpected shadows that you might not see, but that will show up in your photo.

It's also essential that the lighting is even across the entire painting.

Where possible, use a tripod

Camera shake is an image quality killer. Use a tripod if in doubt, especially where the available light results in a slow camera shutter speed.

If you don't have a tripod use the camera self timer

A self-timer can help reduce camera shake when taking a photograph in low light. It gives you time to steady the camera, and also avoids the possibility of any jolting caused by you pressing the shutter release.

Remove the painting from its frame

This rule is especially important if the painting is behind glass - we've seen quality artwork spoiled by clear reflections of the artist taking the photograph and by reflections of the room where the painting is hanging.

Unless you've spent several thousand dollars on high quality lenses, it's nearly impossible to take a photograph of a frame that's perfectly square, with straight sides. Photograph the painting itself, out of the frame.

Gallery 247 uses a smart colour analyser that helps a potential purchaser search for works that are suitable for their roomdécor. Mat and frame colours are treated as if they are part of the painting itself. We've seen colourful paintings where the colour filter thinks that black, grey and white are the main colours simply because of frame, mat, under-exposure or background colours.

Take the photo square-on

If possible take photographs of your artwork directly in front of it, with your camera pointing squarely at it. This will ensure that the tops and sides of your image are parallel and aren't distorted.  Taking a photograph from the side will produce distortions, too.

If your painting is leaning against something, or on your easel, match the angle of your camera with the angle of the painting.  For example, if the painting is leaning backwards, you need to have our camera pointing down slightly to match the angle.

The good news is that perspective, trapezoid and parallelogram distortions can easily be corrected using a program like Photoshop, the serious photographer's tool box.

If your skill, budget or technology don't run to Photoshop, a free online service we recommend is It's worth bookmarking in your browser's favourites.

Keep background to an absolute minimum

This is not always easy to achieve, partly because your painting aspect ratio will not always match that of your camera. Some cameras allow you to select a different aspect ratio that will help eliminate unwanted background in your photograph.

Including white walls, coloured carpets, your lawn in the background will influence accurate colour rendition of your painting (refer to the item on white balance above).

Fortunately it's very easy to crop your image afterwards using your own camera software, using your computer's default image manipulation software or a free online tool such as  It only takes a minute or so.

We've prepared a user guide on aspect ratios and why cropping is almost always necessary here.

Photograph your work before you send it to be framed

This will save you the hassles and problems of trying to photograph through glass, through plastic wrapping and trying to get the frame straight and square.

Turn off your camera's date stamp function

Some cameras allow you to superimpose the photo's date as part of the image. Turn it off - it only makes the image look amateur and cheap.

Worse, if you need to crop the image, you're likely to chop off part of the date stamp.  The only thing worse than a superimposed date is half a date stamp.

Photograph your painting before you apply lacquer

Lacquer spray will create a gloss surface that is inclined to create flares, random sparkles and unwanted reflections, especially if you use flash.

Those flares will confuse your camera's light meter, probably resulting in an under-exposed photograph.

Manually set your exposure

Where you have background colours, particularly white, that are likely to affect the accuracy of your camera's automatic exposure, it pays to force your camera to use a manually set exposure.

You can measure the exposure required for the painting itself. Simply get close to the art work and fill the frame with as much of the painting as you can. Note what exposure the camera is adopting. Then move back to where the entire painting can be photographed, and manually set the exposure to what you just noted.

Although most cameras allow you to press the shutter release half way to lock in exposure and focus, doing so might not work because as you move back your exposure will be OK, but your focus is likely to be incorrect.

Bracket photos using different exposure settings

Nowadays you don't have any film costs to consider. You can take as many photographs as you wish, all for free.

Where there's a risk of incorrect exposure because of background colours, you can use a simple technique called "exposure bracketing". Take three or four photos, with one deliberately under-exposed, one as the camera decides (the “correct” exposure according to your camera) and another two deliberately over-exposed to different degrees.

Some digital cameras will automatically take a series of photographs at different exposures, from which you can choose the best one to upload.

Then you can preview the ones you've taken, pick the best one for use on Gallery 247 and delete the others before you upload them.

Use a digital camera in preference to a pad or smart phone

Modern phones, pads and tablet cameras are good. Very good, in fact. However, the quality of your image is not determined by the number of pixels your device captures - it's all in the quality of the lens.

Mobile phones usually have rudimentary lenses, some cannot be focused and zooming is often done electronically. An electronic zoom simply means that as you "zoom" in you are actually taking a lower resolution image.

As a general rule, mobile phones are a compromise option for photographing your paintings.

If you can afford one a digital SLR is by far the best option to do your art work justice. A modern (usually expensive) mobile phone with a proper movable lens might, however, perform better than a simple "point and shoot" digital camera.

Photo Dont's - What to avoid before you take your photo

Don't use direct flash

Flash photographs of a painting almost invariably result in unwanted flares in the image. Flares are caused by a reflection of the flash itself.

A flash flare will almost invariably result in the rest of your painting being under-exposed, with the problem of poor colours and whites that look grey.

If you have a good SLR camera with a separate flash, you can avoid flare by using bounce flash or a good flash diffuser.

Best solution of them all - arrange your painting to be in good, even diffused lighting - and turn your flash off.

Don't stand too close to the painting to take the photo

Taking a photograph of your painting close up means that your camera is forced to use a wide angle lens setting. This will invariably produce barrel distortions in the image.

This can be most severe where a phone is used as a camera. This is because many phones do not have adjustable lenses, and they're really only suitable for general scene snapshots.

That's also why so-called selfies produce weird distortions in their subjects' faces.

Don't photograph your painting while it's wrapped in plastic

Taking a photograph of your painting while it's wrapped in the plastic the framer has put it in will give you a perfect image of plastic wrapping. Photograph your work before you send it to be framed.

Don't include yourself in the photograph

Photographing yourself standing next to a painting might look good in your album of family snapshots. Potential purchasers, however, want to see only the painting itself.

The place for your own photograph is as part of your personal profile.

Don't try to be "creative" in how you take your photograph

The only photograph you should be taking is a plain one of the painting and nothing else. Avoid using funny camera angles, and photographs with, for example, pot plants or your family cat in front of your painting.

After all, it's your skills as an artist you're trying to show off, not your imagination as an amateur photographer.

Don't take a lazy snapshot

A lazy snapshot is one where no care has been taken to present your painting is its best light. For example, a photo of your painting lying against the wall. A photo taken from the side or looking up at the painting. Standing at the end of the painting that's lying on the floor.

A photo taken in a dim corner is a lazy snapshot.

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