Any established artist will tell you that having good pictures of your work is critical. Whether you are submitting work for a show, applying for a residency, grant, or masters program; good photos make the difference. If you are like me just starting out your photography skills might be limited and your pockets probably are not deep enough to pay for a professional. What is a starving artist to do? Well in my case, pick up a few new skills.
In this article I will focus on white background photography. This type of photography would be used for juried shows and applying to different programs. It features only the art object instead of styling it in a natural setting with various props. I hope to talk that kind of photography at a later date. Also I will be talking about how to photograph 3 dimensional objects because that is what I have experience with.
With the worldwide web at my fingertips I started looking around photography blogs and websites. I learned what I could about different cameras before buying. I ended up with a Canon Rebel T5 because it was the best digital camera I could afford with the features I needed to document my work.
Taking photos of artwork is considered still life photography, so if you are looking information pay attention to blogs or articles that focus on this type of photography. One of the things I invested in was a decent tripod. A tripod is very helpful when taking pictures of your artwork. You don’t have to worry about sorting through any blurry photos later.
One of the best pieces of advice I received about taking photos was to have my computer and USB cord on hand. I periodically pause and download the photos onto the computer. Looking at them on a bigger screen allows me to see if the exposure, depth of field and angle are good. It gives me the opportunity to change settings and saves me from having to redo a shoot.
I needed lights and a basic photo tent to take photos but I could not afford top of the line equipment. I browsed Youtube videos and photography DIY blogs to get ideas of how to recreate quality photos without buying gear that needs its own insurance policy. The photo tent I made is basically a cardboard box, Bristol paper and white muslin. You can find instructions here.
I did buy light stands and bulb sockets. They are not the best quality but they do the job. I found out after buying only two stands and two bulb holders that three lights would be ideal for white background photography. One is directed to illuminate the white background. The other two light either side to eliminate distracting shadows. Reflector cards can be cheaply made from poster board or foam core and they are invaluable for bouncing light up onto dark undersides.
Another piece of advice, take lots of pictures. I mean really go crazy with it. Change the angle, change the exposure settings and take vertical and horizontal pictures. If you are just starting to take photos of your own work, you will learn more by experimenting. The more pictures you have to choose from the more likely you’ll be able to find a good one.
At the end of the day I still have learning to do. I would not considered myself qualified to give more specific advice on aperture, shutter speed and other such things. Don’t be afraid to ask for pointers from the photographers in your life. Be prepared for trial and error. Not every photo I take is a gem these days but I learn from the bad more than the good! Feel free to share your own photograph tips, struggles or questions below.
Thanks for reading.