Helpful Tips

Capture the Best Image of Your Painting

There is a wide variety of good information available on how to best photograph your own artwork, should you decide to do it yourself. A simple google search will direct you to several great sources. That’s not what this post is about. Instead, this article is about obtaining the best High Res files to use for accurately reproducing and representing your artwork in print.

Also, since many painting organizations, including the National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society (NOAPS), pull the image submitted with the entry through Juried Art Services for printing the exhibit catalog, it’s important to upload the best High Res image you can when submitting to an exhibition.

Before we delve into the two basic methods for capturing a High-Res image of your original artwork, we first need to introduce a must-have accessory — the Color Calibration Chart.

Why use a Color Calibration Chart

Color Calibration Charts or Guides have been around for a long time, but in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, their use has fallen out of fashion. And that’s a shame because there really is nothing better to assist in color correction and adjustment.

Front and back of the Color Calibration Chart. The back lists the recipes for the colors on the front.

How does it work?

Place the Color Chart beside your artwork (so it’s under the same lighting conditions) and included it in all High Res images. Do not crop it out of the shot! Later, when you’re editing the photo, you can be crop it out for use on websites and entry submissions.

The chart includes squares printed with 100% Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow ink; the ink colors used in the four-color printing process. The Color Chart also includes 100% black, white, and a value range between the two, which aids in correcting white balance and exposure.

The squares of color in the chart provide a “known” value and help by creating a frame of reference to use while adjusting an image for accuracy before printing.

Color Calibration Charts vary greatly in price, here are links to an affordable option, and a professional version available through Amazon.

Methods for Capturing High Res Images

High Res Scans

Scanning is by far the best option as far as image quality and clarity, every inch of the painting will be in focus and under the same lighting conditions. Scanning original artwork is not always practical especially if your work is large and has lots of thick paint creating a very textured surface.

Although 300dpi is considered High Res — I have a painting scanned at the highest dpi available, at least 1200dpi. How high depends on the capabilities of the scanner. Why so high? It offers more flexibility down the road to reproduce it much larger or print a detail area and not have it pixelate.

Remember, an image can always be reduced in size or resolution, but not the other way around. Read Answering the High/Low Res Question for more on that topic.

The painting’s size isn’t a total deterrent to scanning because portions of the scanned artwork can be stitched together using Adobe® Photoshop® or a similar photo program.

Many printers offer High Res scanning and have large bed scanners.

High Res Photographs

I’m going to focus on digital photography because traditional film photography is rarely used today. Some things to keep in mind are:

  • Ask for the raw files in addition to the traditional images provided. Some photographers automatically include these, while others do not.
  • Ask for the largest file size their equipment will provide. Some photographers, as a courtesy, provide 300dpi and 72dpi versions.
  • Ask for uncropped versions that include the Color Calibration Chart/Guide.

Most importantly, talk to the photographer about how you will be using the photos. High-quality giclée prints, exhibit catalog, promotional materials are all good examples. No one knows what the future holds, and often the High Res images are all we have after a painting has (cross your fingers) sold!

The bottom line, leave it to the professionals! With the cost of the equipment, their knowledge, and the fact that technology is always advancing, it’s worth it.

Using a Smartphone Camera

I almost hate to mention this method because it truly is NOT the best option.

At some point or another, many of us have found ourselves in a situation where the entry deadline is tomorrow. There isn’t enough time to get our painting professionally photographed, so we snap a picture with our smartphone! I’ve done it, and I’m betting you have too — so let’s talk about the best way to do it.

Most smartphone camera apps take photos at 72dpi, with the only variable being image size. For example images taken with my iPhone automatically open in Photoshop® to 52×46 inches at 72dpi.

Creating a SMALL High Res from a LARGE Low Res Image

First, check that the setting in the camera app is to take the largest image size possible. Take several photos of the painting. On a desktop or laptop, open in Adobe® Photoshop® or other photo editing software.

  • Crop the image to just the artwork. It’s important to make all the edits to the image before saving it as a High Res file.
  • Check the new image measurements to see what the new height and width dimensions are after cropping.
  • Set the resolution to 300dpi and reduce the dimensions of the cropped image using this formula.

    72dpi x width of image ÷ 300dpi = the new (reduced) size

Side by side comparison of a small High Res image next to a large Low Res image reduced in size.

In the above example, the math works out to be 72dpi x 20 inches (width of cropped image) = 1440 pixels ÷ 300dpi = 4.8 inches for the new reduced size of the image. Therefore the image would need to be reduced to at least 4.8 inches wide (or smaller) at 300dpi to be an acceptable high res file.

This only works because you are shrinking a large-sized (height x width) Low Res image to a small (h x w) High Res image. Or, in other words, taking 72 pixels per inch spread across 20 inches or 1440 total pixels in the above example, and shrinking the pixels’ size to 300 pixels per inch — it’s the same number of pixels, 1440, but within 4.8 inches instead of 20.

It’s not the best method, but it works in a pinch and should not replace the more effective methods mentioned earlier for generating the best High Res image of an original painting.

Whether the painting has sold, given as a gift, donated to raise money for a charity, painted over, or damaged due to a natural disaster — in the end, photographs (or scans) are often the only visual record we have. As artists, we owe it to our future selves to capture the best High Res images we can today. And don’t forget to back up the files; computers fail too.

If you found this post helpful and would like to learn more about reproducing your artwork, there are more great posts on RGB vs CMYK color reproduction, Getting the Color Right and on Answering the High/Low Res Question.

This post is also featured on the National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society (NOAPS) Blog.

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