5 Tips on How to Photograph your Artwork

Learning how to take good photos of your artwork is incredibly important for all types of artist. Professional photographer, Olivia Swinscoe NWA, shared her insights in her tailored workshop at the RBSA Gallery. Writer and illustrator Emma Channell, picks her top five tips to help you get started.

The digital age has changed the way we consume many forms of culture, and the world of visual arts is probably one of those affected most dramatically. The internet is the primary way many of us discover, share and promote art, so an effective online presence is a must for any artist.

Even for those lucky enough to be showing in a gallery, it is likely that their work will be seen in digital form first – indeed it may be a deciding factor as to how many go on to visit in person. This means it is more important than ever for artists to be able to photograph their work effectively.

In February, The RBSA ran a workshop to support artists in learning how to take better photographs of their work. The workshop was delivered by Olivia Swinscoe, who is a photographer, Next Wave Associate (a graduate selected from the RBSA Next Wave development programme), and also lectures at Birmingham City University.

The class was popular with 2D artists such as myself, and 3D artists and makers. Olivia’s talk was pitched just right – enough detail to be of real practical use, but not so much that it felt overwhelming for the amateur photographer. With that in mind, these are just some of the top tips that I took away from the experience:

1. Catalogue vs Conceptual

Olivia began by urging us to consider – before even starting to set up a shot– what the photograph would be used for. Thinking about the different uses and contexts for an image as either ‘catalogue’ or ‘conceptual’ really helped me to realise that a photograph of artwork can communicate various meanings.

Catalogue photography is intended for selling the subject and conceptual photography usually illustrates an idea, communicates meaning or is even a piece of art in its own right.

2. Get to know your camera settings

Next we got down to the more technical ‘nitty gritty,’ as Olivia talked us through the most important settings to consider, and how they might look on the most common types of camera.

Learning about your cameras settings – auto or manual mode, aperture, ISO and shutter speed, will help you take better photos. Setting the white balance depending on whether your inside or outside can avoid red or blue tinted photos.

3. Lighting

Lighting is something we all know is important, but many of us struggle with – especially when we might be working from a home environment. Olivia explained the many ways in which lighting affects the final image, and how we can work with and around different kinds of light, as well as demonstrating how this works in practice. She also showed us some useful pieces of kit, for those that are able to invest a little more, but also recommended some DIY alternatives.

4. 2D vs 3D

It can be easy to fall into the trap of immediately thinking of paintings or drawing when thinking of photographing works of art, but of course many artists and craftspeople work in 3D – including several of the talk’s attendees. This can call for an entirely different set of considerations such as how to capture reflective or glass surfaces, or how to deal with difficult angles or perspectives. Olivia also touched on how 3D objects can be photographed creatively – for example by considering the background or ‘props’ that may be used when photographing a piece of jewellery or pottery.

5. Digital Editing

Finally, we looked at post-processing, and went through the most important digital editing tools and processes to be aware of. Olivia highlights that the more thought and care that goes into making the image, the less need there will be for further digital editing. This section was another crucial one for me, and as a bonus, Olivia had produced a handout for us all to take away with us – very handy when discussing the technical side of things.

The talk ended with a well-deserved round of applause for Olivia, and many of the participants were then lucky enough to have secured a one-to-one review with her. This was the perfect chance to discuss any remaining burning questions as well as going through their own personal set up and working practices.

I went away with a new found determination to improve my own photography skills, and buzzing with ideas of new ways to present my work online. I would thoroughly recommend this workshop for any artists or makers who want to learn more about creating images of their work, or who may be lacking confidence in their photography skills.

In an online world, creating eye-catching, unique and professional images of your work is a vital part of building a brand identity as an artist, so any investment you make into these skills is time and money well spent.

By Emma Channell

Instagram: @emmachannellillustration

Facebook: Emma Channell Illustration

About Us

The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) is an artist-led charity which supports artists and promotes engagement with the visual arts through a range of exhibitions, events and workshops.

The RBSA runs an exhibition venue – the RBSA Gallery – in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter, a short walk from the city centre.

The gallery is currently closed due to Covid-19.

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