Shop Talk

How to Photograph Your Art on a Budget

As a traditional artist, the first step in creating new products for your Redbubble shop is to photograph your works. Even with the proper equipment and methods, capturing an accurate representation of your work often feels as impossible as getting a photo of a Sasquatch taking a break. Thinking of all the time you spent creating your latest masterpiece, only to use a mobile phone is enough to make us shutter. There’s definitely a purpose for using a smartphone to photograph your work, but to most accurately reproduce your art we have some tips to help step up your game. Our resident photographer Sonya is here to show you how to use a minimal setup for print ready results.

"Phil" by Katie Crumpton

So let’s get this out of the way, we can’t all afford top of the line cameras but you could borrow or rent one on the cheap. Ideally you want to use one with manually adjustable functions including aperture and shutter speed, ISO, and white balance. In this tutorial we used a simple manual point-and-shoot camera, sunlight, and most importantly, a tripod. It’s important to make sure your image is sharp, so you’re going to need a stable surface. If you don’t have a tripod you can use any flat level surface as long your camera can sit steadily and doesn’t move around.

Let’s talk light

When capturing your works it’s best to use bright, indirect light. An overcast day or open shade outdoors can work as well. If your source of light is too bright you may want to diffuse it, sheer curtains work great for this. In our example we set up a watercolor painting by (Katie) on a table and secured the sketchbook open with a binder clip. If any portion of your art isn’t evenly lit, you can bounce light to this area using a white board or paper.

Since we are using window light, we want to make sure no other light source is interfering with our setup. A desk lamp for example can add a yellow cast to your image, so it’s best to turn those off. Position your art so that the light source—in this case our window—is off to the side (90 and 45 degrees is good). Depending on the medium, texture, or contrast you may need to adjust the angle of your art in relation to the light for best results. Our Sasquatch was set at a 90 degree angle from the window, using the opposite page of Katie’s sketchbook to evenly bounce light across our furry friend.

If your work is on a rigid material, you’re golden, however if you are photographing loose paper you’ll want to attach it to a stiff surface that can be easily set against your backing. In our example the sketchbook sat at a 90 degree angle, and our camera lens mimicked this angle. It’s especially important to pay attention to this detail if your work is leaning in any way. This will reduce distorted angles and the amount of time you spend cropping the image in Photoshop.

Camera settings

Set the camera’s ISO to 100 or 200 to ensure the clearest result. Use a smaller aperture (a larger number) and then adjust the shutter speed to lighten or darken the image to match your work. An aperture of f/8 is a good start, then depending on how bright your light source is, you’ll adjust your shutter speed to lighten or darken the image. Shutter speeds are fractions of a second or whole seconds, eg. 1/250 or 1”.

Next we need to adjust the camera’s white balance settings. Your camera maybe have a few choices such as “daylight” or “overcast” but since we are using the white backdrop we set the camera to auto white balance. Having a true white source in the camera frame is helpful when adjusting for white balance and color correcting later on.

Ready to shoot

Adjust your lens to about the middle of its zoom to reduce distortion at either end of the lens length, then move your camera closer to or farther from your art to frame it up.

Frame the center of your art in the center of the viewfinder and leave just enough space around edges of your work to see that the lines of your art are straight with the edges of the frame. Leaving space around the art also gives more flexibility when cropping later on, especially if you notice that your work wasn’t perfectly angled to the lens.


View of our photo inside Lightroom

Take several shots! Minor things can happen that you may not notice in the camera’s preview while you’re shooting such as camera shake from pressing the shutter with the sheer excitement of taking a beautiful photo of your art, wonky auto focus, under/over exposure, and again, our friend white balance. Hedge your bets and take several shots of the same piece of art, and then review them as soon as possible on the computer to make sure everything turned out great. If something isn’t quite right, you can make the necessary adjustments on the spot and shoot again. Once you get a few images you like, it’s time to color correct and adjust for products in your Redbubble shop. Katie’s final images of Phil the Sasquatch, fully edited, can be seen at the top. Perfect for sharing with her fans.

Did you find the tutorial helpful? Please let us know in the comments below, and share any tips you might have.

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Art historian, burrito enthusiast, and Email Marketing Specialist here at Redbubble.