How to Photograph 3D Artwork with Dimension and Detail

We recently posted How to Photograph Your Artwork: Professional Photos Without the Cost, which focused on photographing two-dimensional works. This week we’ll cover how to photograph sculpture, ceramics and other three-dimensional art.

Photographing 3D works has its own unique challenges. How do you best capture the dimensionality and volume of the art? How do you capture its texture and avoid losing details? We’ve break down the process into simple steps.

Step 1: Position your art

  • Place the art on a flat surface with a neutral background.
  • If you don’t have white or light gray walls, buy a roll of seamless paper and set up a sweep. What is a sweep? It is a smooth and continuous backdrop formed by paper in an arc shape. To form an arc with the paper, tape it to the edge of the table/flat surface and sweep it to a vertical point behind the table/flat surface.
  • Don’t place the art too close to the background; give it some space. If using a sweep, don’t place the artwork where it starts to sweep up.

Step 2: Light the art

  • If you want even, diffused light, position two lights 45 degree away from the art. Learn how to easily accomplish this in our post about photographing 2D works.
  • If you want contrast and shadows, use two lights and play with moving one of the lights around (adjust distance and angle from object). Avoid competing shadows that will make it hard for the viewer to focus on the work itself.
  • Add a third light if you need more dimensionality.
  • If photographing ceramics, it is recommended to use only one light, and to place it directly over the subject so the light shines down onto it. This creates a shadow under the bottom edge and grounds the object.
  • Adjust the softness of the light by raising or lowering the light. The closer the light is to the subject, the larger and softer the light will be. Soft light lessens the harsh edges of shadows and creates smooth gradations of tone and color.  
  • Use a diffuser. A diffuser is made of translucent material and is placed between the object and light source to soften the light and shadows.
  • Shape the light with cardboard. Place the cardboard between the work and the light and play with angling it to create preferred gradients.
  • Tip: Strong shadows create a sense of weight to a piece, which allows a potential buyer to imagine how it would feel to be held.

Step 3: Set your camera settings

  • Set the camera to shoot in RAW so you get the most digital information in your image.
  • Set the ISO to 100 to reduce the “noise” in the image.
  • Set the camera to Aperture Priority and set the aperture to f/8 or higher to get your entire work in focus (if you want it in sharp detail). You want a larger depth of field when shooting a work up close – more depth means more details.
  • Set your white balance. Our earlier post walks you through the process. If you want to set a custom white balance to get your whites absolutely white in challenging light situations, we recommend using a gray card. Never used one before? Here is an article describing how to use a gray card.

Step 4: Position your camera

  • Place your camera on a tripod or a secure platform like a shelf to avoid camera shake and blurry photos.
  • Play with angling the camera to capture different perspectives of the work – shoot straight on or from above.
  • Place the tripod so that the art fills almost the entire frame. Avoid distortions by zooming.

Step 5: Snap away

  • Make sure to photograph your work from multiple angles.
  • If you’re not using a tripod, use your camera’s timer so that your pressing of the shutter does not create camera shake – it doesn’t take much!
  • Shooting an installation? Use a wide-angle lens to capture the entirety of the work. Wide-angle lenses allow you to get more in the frame.

Step 6: Edit your photos

  • Crop the image.
  • Adjust color, focus and contrast if necessary.
  • Save as a JPEG or TIFF. You can make derivative JPEGs from your TIFF to match upload requirements — like CaFE’s, which just changed to make your life easier! Read about it here.
  • For more helpful tips, read our post about making photo edits, easy.

More of a visuals-type of person? Watch this YouTube video by Dan Meyers to get more advice and techniques for photographing your 3D work.

Now start propping, lighting and snapping professional-looking photos of your 3D works and get it uploaded to your CaFE portfolio so you can start submitting wow-worthy photos of your art.

10 Essentials to Keep in Your Camera Bag

Your camera bag needn’t be a 800-pound gorilla. It can be well-equipped, but still manageable to carry. Here are 10 lightweight camera bag essentials to ensure you’ll always be ready to snap the shot.


1. Plastic bags: garbage and zipper

 

Head to the grocery store and pick up garbage and zipper bags to protect your gear. If it pours, you can toss all of your gear inside a garbage bag and tie it up for extra waterproofing. You can also make a poncho to keep yourself dry. Zipper bags can serve as a lens waterproof cover; poke a lens-sized hole in the bag, place it over the lens, and secure it with an elastic band. Store your extra lenses and camera body in gallon bags to avoid dust settling on your gear.

 

 


 2. Microfiber cloth

 

It’s not the most alluring item, but it’s possibly the most useful accessory to have in your camera bag. It cleans dust and dirt off your equipment. It also serves as a protector of all things expensive – wrap it around your lenses and other accessories to avoid scratching.

 

 


 3. Mini tripod

 

If you don’t want to carry a tripod around everywhere you go, but don’t want to sacrifice the quality of your photos – purchase a small tripod like this Manfrotto mini tripod. Prop it on a surface to avoid camera shake and avoid blurry photos in low-light situations. Flexible tripods are great for mirrorless, point & shoot and/or smartphones; wrap them around a pole, tree branch, etc.

 

 


 4. Tape: Gaffer or Electrical

Gaffer tape is as versatile as it comes. It holds things together with a strong grip, but doesn’t leave residue when it peels off. You can MacGyver anything with this tape –  secure your tripod to a surface or fix a broken camera strap – problems be gone!

Want to save even more space in your bag? Get yourself some electrical tape – Gaffer’s smaller sibling of a lifesaver. You can find it for less than $2…and probably already have some in a drawer. You just have to be OK with the residue it will leave behind.

 



5. Circular Polarizer Filter

Polarizers are great if you’re photographing landscapes. They help eliminate reflections and glare, especially over water. They reduce haze in landscapes and provide greater color and tonal saturation. They aren’t cheap (~$60) but the price of rich blue skies, vibrant foliage, contrasty clouds and reflection-free water and glass are worth it!

 

 



 6. Mirror

 

Small, acrylic mirrors are lightweight, cheap and easy to find. They serve as handy reflectors and give you directional light for dramatic shadows or luminous fill.

 

 

 

 

 


7. Micro screwdriver set

 

Hopefully you won’t have need of a screwdriver set. But, if you need it, you NEED it –  loose tripod heads, broken sunglasses, or dare I say, broken camera. These sets are cheap and can be found on Amazon or at a dollar store.

 

 

 



8. Flashlight

 

If you’re venturing out for a night photography adventure, an inexpensive flashlight will keep you from fumbling with your camera controls and digging through your bag in the dark. Consider a LED headlamp if you don’t want to store your flashlight in your mouth. A pocket LED light is great for playing with light painting. Your smartphone’s flashlight app also works, consider the cost of a dropped flashlight vs. dropped smartphone…

 

 

 9. Paper serving ware – plates & cups

 

You can get a lot done with a paper cup and plate. Next time you’re at a picnic, grab a few extras. Cut the bottom off of a paper cup and ta-dah, you have a cheap snoot. Line the cup with electrical tape and you have a lens shade. A paper plate can be used as a ring light and a reflector. Cut a slit down the plate to create a funnel and direct the light more precisely.

 

 



10. Spare battery & memory cards

 

Nothing is more depressing than running out of space on your memory card or your camera battery dying. Don’t have that moment of disappointment and regret! Pack an extra memory card and battery in your bag so you can keep shooting!

 

 

 

 


With a well-equipped camera bag, you’ll set yourself for shooting success…without back pain.

Check out photography open calls on CaFE and submit those masterful shots today!

 

 

 

8 Photo Editing Tips for Artists

Thanks to our recent post on photographing your artwork, you should have true-to-life depictions of your artwork. To make them polished and professional-looking, all you have to do is make a few easy adjustments in the “digital darkroom.” Here are 8 simple but effective photo editing tips to set you up for success!


Crop Your Image

Crop down your image so you see only the work, nothing more.

Remove the background and make sure you don’t crop into the edge of your works!

TIP: If your artwork was positioned slightly at an angle, a rectangular crop will not give you an even cut. Rotate the canvas of your photo editor to get the work on the proper axis to crop evenly.

In Preview: Drag your cursor over the work to outline your desired shape. Select “Crop” under Tools to crop image.


Correct Colors

Do your images’ whites look a bit yellowish or blueish? Despite your best efforts to adjust your white balance and avoid mixed light sources, the colors in your photo may still be a bit off when you view them on your computer. You can adjust color with the white balance, hue and saturation tools in your photo editor to accurately reflect the real-life colors of the work.


Adjust Brightness and Contrast

If you didn’t get your exposure right in-camera, fear not! You can easily adjust in your photo editor. If there was not enough light at the time you took the photo and your image is too dark, boost brightness.

Adjust the contrast filter if you have a detail shot or a 3D work that needs to showcase form.

In Lightroom: Exposure and Contrast are two sliding adjustments on the right tool bar.


Sharpen to Reduce Blur and Grain

Photo editing softwares like Lightroom and Photoshop will have a sharpening feature to reduce any blur or camera shake that may have occurred while taking the photo.

In Lightroom, the sharpening feature is on right side toolbar, under the Detail section.

If your ISO was set too high and your image is grainy, you can reduce the noise. The tool is also found under Detail.


Resize the Image

You’ll want to resize your photo to a smaller size and resolution so that you can quickly send your photos to potential buys and submit to juried shows and competitions.

Your photos come off your digital camera in large dimensions measured in pixels (px). Resize your image so that the longest side is at least 1920 pixels – that is the minimum size for online juried shows and a CaFÉ requirement.

Don’t forget to change the resolution! If your photo is only being used for the web, change the resolution to 72dpi. If it’s going to be printed, adjust the resolution to 300dpi.

DPI stands for dots per inch, and the higher the dpi, the better the photos will look when printed. But, if the dpi is too high and used on the web, your images will load much slower and slow down your website speed.

In Preview: Select “Adjust Size” under Tools. Make sure Scale proportionally and Resample image are both checked.


Save for Quality

Save your finished digital image as a TIFF or PSD so that you don’t lose any file quality. Save it again as a JPG if you will upload it to the internet.


Stay Organized

Make things easy for yourself and label each image consistently with detail. We suggest including title, medium, dimensions and year for the piece. Save yourself time later; no one wants to hunt through hundreds of images.


Backup Your Images

Go one step further and export your images to folders on your desktop, on a hard drive, and on the Cloud. Save batches in folders by year, medium, or theme. Don’t make me tell you the sad tale of a MacBook that died during grad school and the hundreds of lost photos.

Upload your photos to CaFÉ’s Portfolio so you have them ready for your submissions!

TIP: Artwork Archive is a powerful, easy-to-use cloud-based inventory system available for artists. Sign up for a 30-day free trial and start organizing and managing all of those great artworks in your collection!


A note on editing software: Most of the edits mentioned in this post can be made in free software like GIMP. Find more free editing tools in CaFÉ’s blog post. If you want more tools and features at your ready, invest in Adobe’s Lightroom and/or Photoshop. If you don’t want to drop that much cash, take a look at Photoshop Elements, a cheaper and lightweight version of its older siblings – Lightroom and Photoshop. Try them all with Adobe’s 7-day free trial.

How to Photograph Your Artwork: Professional Photos Without the Cost

Your artwork is done and ready to be sold or entered in a competition. Now, you just need to photograph it.

Did I just hear a big ugh?

Photographing your artwork can be a hassle, but it’s what makes or breaks a sale or call for entry.

Avoid images with uneven lighting, distracting glares and shadows, and incorrect colors. Start photographing your 2D* work like a professional with these easy and affordable best practices.

*3D artists, there’s helpful tips in this post for you – check ‘em out. A more focused post on 3D works is coming!


The Set Up: Position Your Artwork and Yourself

Arrange the artwork.

  • Remove matting to avoid shadows.  
  • Hang the artwork on a wall and make sure it’s level to prevent shadows.
  • If you have to lean the work against something, tilt the camera so that the edges of the work are square in the viewfinder; otherwise your work will be a trapezoid.
  • Photograph the work against a neutral color, like white. Colored or patterned backgrounds distract the viewer and reflect color onto your piece.

 

The “trapezoid effect” from not shooting the artwork straight-on.


Line-up your camera.

  • The camera should face the artwork head-on. Line the lens up with the center of the subject. Make sure the plane of the artwork is parallel to the back of the camera.

Get closer.

  • Fill the entire frame with your artwork to get the most out of your camera’s resolution.
  • BUT, do not fill the frame with a zoom or wide-angle lens. Both can distort images by zooming in closely.

Avoid glare and reflections.

  • Glass reflects light avoid reflections and glare by photographing your work before it’s framed. If you can’t, angle the camera to minimize glare.
  • If your work is oil or acrylic, photograph it before adding a glossy varnish.


Lighting: Portray Your Work in its Best Light

Indirect light is best when shooting indoors.

  • Shoot in a room with plenty of windows and natural light, or, use natural light fluorescent bulbs. Avoid direct light since it creates hot spots.

Use cheap materials to diffuse light.

  • Soften glare and the intensity of light by diffusing the light source. Place a white sheet over the light source whether that’s a window or standing light. Or, direct your light source at an angle against a white piece of foam core to “bounce” and soften light.

Wait for a cloudy day if shooting outdoors.

  • Why? Cloud cover acts as a giant diffuser. Your subject will be evenly lit.

But, be willing to embrace mid-day sunshine.

  • If you’re under a deadline and it’s sunny, photograph mid-day (between 10am and 2pm) when the sun is high in the sky and will not cast any shadows. Early morning, late afternoon and evening light casts a reddish light.

Beware of colored walls and objects.

  • Colored walls or large colored furniture reflected color(s) onto your art.

Avoid mixing light sources.

  • Different lightbulbs give off different colors. And, unblocked windows let in light that is brighter than your indoor light, which will cast blue colors onto your work.

Equipment: Easy-to-Use Gear for Professional-Looking Photos

Use a Tripod to avoid blurry photos.

  • If you don’t have a tripod, prop your camera on something solid like a shelf.
  • Don’t have anything that’s the right height? Use your body as a stabilizer. Stand or sit still; hold your elbows against your body; take a deep breath and release it before taking the picture.

Two cheap standing lights will do.

  • Tall “dorm lights”: like these are useful, cheap light sources. Put a light on either side of the work. Situate the lights between the camera and canvas. Point them at a 45-degree angle towards the work to eliminate shadows.

Borrow or buy an affordable DSLR.

  • DSLRs give you more control over the quality of the photo you’re taking than a point-and-shoot or smartphone.
  • Get the most out of your DSLR with the online photography class, Basics of Digital Photography. In 9 lessons you’ll become more familiar with your camera’s settings, learn the fundamentals of light and exposure, and much more. Click here to get the class for only $19.99 – that’s 66% off for CaFÉ  blog readers – with the coupon code DJADW5Z.**
  • TIP: Clean your lens! Dust on the glass will mess with your camera’s automatic focus. 

Camera Settings: Get the Most Out of Your Camera

Adjust White Balance.

  • When you take photos of your works do they come out too warm or blue-toned? That’s because your camera is improperly reading and capturing the color white. Fix this by adjusting your white balance – the setting your camera uses to determine what color is white depending on the temperature of the ambient light.
  • Set your white balance to “Cloudy” if you’re outside on a cloudy day. Set it to “Daylight” on a sunny day.
  • If you’re inside, set the white balance to match the kind of light you’re using, i.e. Fluorescent or Tungsten.

The same painting was photographed indoors with natural light using different white balance modes in-camera. 

Fluorescent white balance mode generates the most realistic colors in this instance.

Clockwise from top left: Tungsten, Fluorescent, Daylight, Shade.


Set the ISO to the lowest setting.

  • Setting ISO accurately will give you a clear, crisp photo. ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor; the higher the number, the more sensitive the sensor will be to light. Higher ISOs generates noise and grain in your image so it’s best to keep your ISO at 100. 

Use Aperture Priority mode (Av).

  • It’s recommended to set your aperture between f-8 and f-11. This will allow enough light to pass through the lens and guarantee your work will be in focus.

Make sure your flash is turned off!

  • It will create hot spots on your work.

Editing: Fix Common Mistakes and Perfect the Image

Correct color.

  • The goal is to get your whites white and your blacks black. If your light source was different from the color settings on your camera, you’ll have to change the temperature of the image.

Crop the image.

  • Crop so that your work fills the frame.

Resize the image.

  • Images for the web should be 72 dpi and images for print should be 300 dpi. The minimum image size for online jurying is typically 1920 pixels on the longest side. Check out this CaFÉ blog post featuring 5 free tools to resize your images.

 

Now it’s time to get shooting so you have professional-looking photos ready for your

CaFÉ portfolio page!

 

Paintings by Shaun McNiff.

 

**Terms & Conditions: Get 50% off the full retail price of the Craftsy class, Basics of Digital Photography. Limit one per customer. Cannot be combined with any other coupons. Expires August 19, 2017.