ProWax Journal 3: Featured Article

Acquiring Skills to Support the Studio Practice: In This Issue, Photography

By Maritza Ruiz-Kim

Artwork that is born from intensive hours in the studio requires a wide set of skills to ensure that the work reaches an audience. These skills serve as the framework that supports the life of the professional artist. Additionally, artists need time and know-how to find a way to connect with fellow artists and curators. Seeing these connections as merely a gateway to finding venues for artwork would be cynical. It has so much more to do with fostering engaging dialogue, being an active member of an art community, and seeing those connections lead to real understanding in one’s own work & the work of others. For the artists, the richness of the community originates from the work each artist does in the studio, keeping the artwork alive despite innocent distractions and difficult obstacles.

Last November, artist David A. Clark shared on the ProWax Facebook page: “I don’t live in a place where there’s a lot of options for hiring a photographer that knows how to shoot art, so I have to find a better way to do it on my own. I am a firm believer that I can educate myself to do better.” He went on to share several tips he learned from a photography consultant; 90 comments later, many artists had added to the conversation with their own expertise, several of whom have backgrounds as professional photographers. I learned several new things as I read the thread. What follows in the lists below are my own notes on information gathered from that conversation, as well as additional clarifications from artists Elena De La Ville, Patricia Dusman, Karen Freedman, Sarah Rehmer, Patti Russotti, Krista Svalbonas, as well as from David A. Clark.

It takes multiple passes over the same information on photography (ISO? f-stop? white balance?) for me to retain the knowledge. I know that shooting in Manual mode allows me more control over the image, but I hesitate to leave Auto. Although I can make videos, somehow the technical work of capturing one image of my artwork seems so much more daunting since I know that once an artwork leaves my studio, a photograph of it may be all I have left. I have several bad pictures of artworks I’ll probably never see in real life again. I learned the hard way that there really are standards for images of artwork: during a graduate portfolio review, each reviewer commented on the same poor qualities of a photograph I’d taken of a piece. In a photograph of my artwork, I must capture the spirit of the physical piece I see before my eyes. When I’ve been able, I’ve used a professional art photographer. However, it’s time to really learn how to photograph my own work.

This could easily be a much longer article, several articles, or even a book!– however I have edited information to what is helpful to me in hopes that it enlightens fellow photography novices.

The Art of Creating an Image of Your Artwork

Just as it takes time to acquire painting, sculpting, or any number of studio skills, it similarly takes time to become proficient at creating photographs of one’s own work. This is especially true if camera use & photo editing are not familiar to an artist. Ideally, the best time to practice creating images of your work would be when there is no imminent deadline.

  • Use even lighting across artwork; no hot spots of light;
  • use soft shadows to show texture, not harsh shadows;
  • do not over expose the image;
  • do not skew the perspective of the artwork, take photo from front & center;
  • if showing edges of the artwork, wall must be neutral;
  • take multiple images from different viewpoints for three dimensional work; and
  • capture best representation of the artwork’s color in the photographic image.


After some discussion, most artists in ProWax agreed that Adobe Photoshop Elements provided sufficient control over image editing (straightening, cropping, color correction, light balancing, etc). Some artists who are more experienced with photo editing software still prefer the full Photoshop program, but concede that Elements is fine if that’s all that’s available. Lightroom, Phase One, Aperture and other pro-photographer software is best used by artists who want to shoot tethered, meaning the camera is connected directly into the computer to see one’s images on the screen as they are taken. Tethering the camera to the computer is used more by professional photographers than by artists taking pictures of their work.

Camera, Lighting, & Artwork Setup

Most photo stores have a setup like this for around $100-$150. It's at the very low end of professional but more than adequate for our studio needs. Photo credit: Joanne Mattera

Most photo stores have a setup like this for around $100-$150. It’s at the very low end of professional but more than adequate for our studio needs. Photo credit: Joanne Mattera

  • Know your camera; spend quality time with your camera & owner’s manual;
  • keep the camera manual handy at all times;
  • set the camera on the tripod directly in front of the artwork, center the camera lens in the center of the work and then back the camera up until the work fills the camera frame. That helps keep the images square when the image is captured, and prevents having to “skew” the image while editing in photo software.
  • Have levels for camera (side to side + front to back) and for artwork;
  • use tether remote or self-timer (pressing shutter can add to blur);
  • shoot in landscape mode if possible; hang vertically oriented work sideways & rotate when editing work in the software;
  • find the “sweet spot” for your camera’s lens (see online resources below for more info);
  • check the white balance (see online resources below for more info);
  • turn the flash OFF.
  • Natural light on an overcast day works well.
  • Indoor artificial light requires several components. (See online resources below for more info.)

An indoor set-up, blocking out other light sources. Photo credit: David A. Clarke

Workflow for Creating Images of Your Artwork

The following workflow is a suggested framework. Without a workflow, each time you create images of artworks, you will have random habits for working your files, and you run the risk of losing important digital information. You may use this as a guide and modify as you gain experience. Only you can create the best workflow for yourself.

  1. Never let artwork leave the studio without creating an image of the work.
  2. Set up camera & tripod.
  3. Position artwork.
  4. Set up lighting (see above).
  5. Capture at least 3 images of artwork.
  6. Upload images to computer.
  7. Keep the original RAW image; the file extension of the RAW image varies depending on the camera manufacturer.
  8. Correct the original RAW image by: straightening, cropping, color-correcting, light balancing, and leave it as large a file as possible. Do not merge layers. Save in the file format that is native to your photo editing software; in the case of Photoshop & Elements, it is “Photoshop” in the drop down menu. The file extension will be “.psd”. Save your file at the highest dpi possible. This file is now the master copy. Every time a jpeg image is adjusted or corrected, the quality of the image is reduced. This is why the master file is so important. Suggested title format in Photoshop & Photoshop Elements:
    Note: Some artists prefer to save in TIFF format rather than in the file format used by a particular photo editing software. In that case, the title of the master file would be: Title_InventoryNumber001_Year2014_Master.tif 
  9. Use the ‘save as’ command to generate the following versions from the master file. Suggestions for how to title these image formats are included.
    A. 300 dpi RGB (the colormode used in electronic displays)
    B. 300 dpi sRGB (optimized RGB color for web)
    C. In Photoshop/Elements, use “save for web” command or a 72dpi srgb file for the Web (a smaller size for faster online loading)
    D. 150 dpi 1″ thumbnail (to use for image lists and other misc needs)
    E. 350 dpi CMYK (optional based on your printing needs; the CMYK colormode is for images that will go to print. Printers prefer JPEG or TIFF files)
    Title_InventoryNumber001_Year2014_CMYK_350dpi.jpg or
  10. BACKUP all of these images to a separate disc (including all original raw, uncorrected images). Label the disk.
  11. Enter image and the painting info into inventory database
  12. Create three individual labels for each painting containing the image, title, size, date of creation, medium, retail price and contact information.
    A. Tape one label to the back of the painting;
    B. Tape two labels to the storage box (one on top; one on front).
  13. Upload new work to website.
  14. As you edit images for a particular purpose (submission for a show/grant/fellowship), create a folder for those newly saved images (adjusting for file size, etc), as they will likely be titled as specified by the receiving party. When possible, include your last name in the file title for any images that you are sending out, so that your name is always tied to the image.

Getting This Information in Real Time

Among many talks, demos, lectures & panel discussions offered at The Eighth International Encaustic Conference (Provincetown, MA June 6th – June 9th, 2014) two classes will explore this topic in depth: “Preparing Images with Photoshop” by Elena De La Ville, and “Digital Imaging for Artists” by Patti Russotti.

Online Resources for Software & Photographing Art

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