Today I would like to address something that has seemingly fallen through the digital cracks of the internet: how to photograph print art work. We live in a majorly digital world, but there are still times when having a printed representation is required. Typically, these times will be interviews, reviews, or for commercial purposes. This is something that is essential to illustrators, graphic designers, & fine artists for their portfolios & if they run an e-commerce store. It is true that people could simply post digital versions, but if they were originally intended for print, photographing them like this will help show the context in which they were made. Another advantage is that the images can be used for both your online website & your physical portfolio book.
I am most experienced with graphic design prints, but I hope these tips can help other types of artists as well. I apologize though for fellow photographers as these may not be applicable to your work, but if you have a friend that asks for your services for their portfolio, then perhaps these 6 considerations can help you.
Have high quality prints.
Aside from looking professional, a high quality print will ensure every detail of your piece is captured. I don’t recommend going to drugstores or superstores for this. The quality is questionable and for basically the same price you could go to an office store (Office Depot/Max, Kinko’s, etc) that is better equipped to print.
Another option is to order from a pro lab online. They are specified in this field and can ensure the top most quality for a moderate to more costly investment depending on the size you choose. Here are some links to reviews of online pro photo labs:
If your prints are small enough, you could print them yourself (on a photo printer at home) or have a friend with a photo printer print them. This might be a good option if you are selling a small batch as it is the quickest option. Whichever option you choose, remember you get what you pay for. Or don’t pay for.
Have a high quality camera (or know someone with one.)
This tip is for much the same reason as the first. You want to be able to capture all the detail of your piece and having a good camera will ensure that. The definition of “good” has changed these past few years, and depending on the final digital dimensions of your file you have many options.
If you want small images (less than 500px), using a smartphone (made within the last couple of years) in a well-lit area will suffice. If you want medium images (500-750px), using a point & shoot (once again in a well-lit area) will work as well. If you want a large image (1000px+), I’d recommend a mirrorless or DSLR camera.
If you aren’t also a photographer, chances are you know at least a few that you could trade services for (design/draw/build them something in exchange for shots for your portfolio) or you could save up a little bit to invest in a photoshoot. If you do ask for someone else’s help, make sure to have all of your items ready to go to make the most out of the photographer’s time.
Shoot in a well-lit area.
The foundation of photography is light, but it is often overlooked. Light is especially important for capturing fine details that may be harder to see on a flat print. Soft, diffused light is desirable for most situations, and even more so for product shoots such as this.
Inside, set up your work on a large surface beside a window. (This is a safe option if the weather is unpredictable outside.) Make sure the light isn’t directly shining in and isn’t casting harsh shadows. You may still need to have a fill card on the other side (you could use white poster board for this.) You would set up the fill card between the prints and you/the photographer.
Another tip is to use a prime lens (if you have one) as they naturally allow more light in and typically capture more detail than zooms.
Vary your shooting angle.
Having multiple angles will help give your portfolio variety. A full frame shot is important as it can show the scale of the work, but close ups can show the typography or special texture. And don’t forget you’ll be able to crop once you have your images on the computer.
Choose the appropriate depth-of-field.
Typically, you want to have a smaller aperture (larger f-stop) to ensure that everything is in focus. Though stylistically, you can choose to have a shallow depth of field on close ups to really direct the viewers eye. (I like to do this with my editorial pieces.) Really it depends on how you as the artist want to audience to see your work. But I would recommend having a balance of in-focus full frame shots with in-focus close-ups if you are trying to sell the piece.
Make sure the white balance is correct.
This is very important! If you are trying to show a particular piece made for a specific business, the colors in your image should match those colors of their brand. Conversely, if you are trying to sell a print online, a buyer wants to know exactly what color they’ll end up with after they hit ‘add to cart.’ (Unfortunately due to different calibration of screens the colors may not be exact, but with the correct white balance, they’ll at least be close to the way they naturally look when you shot them.)
Also, having a consistent temperature for all of your images will also ensure unity within your portfolio. This helps with the overall flow, which will not distract from the images themselves.
So there we have it; six things to consider if you’re planning to take some shots of your print artwork. I hope this post has aided you and provided some clarity into this particular part of the creative world.
May the light be with you.