Our contributing writers John Hulsey and Ann Trusty of The Artist’s Road wrote a really informative piece about how to get the most out of a photograph of your painting or drawing, and I wanted to share it with you — plus an opportunity to put your “shooter” eye to good use by turning photos into paintings. Enjoy!

Photo by Getty Images

Insights from Behind the Camera

All the hard work and unique vision that we pour into our painting and drawing can result in artwork that we are proud of. The next step is to accurately photograph our art to share with friends, collectors, galleries and perhaps to enter into juried exhibitions.

Film holder frame attached to my light stand. Understanding how to shoot your art leads to understandings of how to turn photos into paintings.

Film holder frame attached to my light stand.

The essential component to that sharing process these days is the making of a professional-quality digital recording of our art. We have two choices — pay a hefty fee to have a pro shoot our work, or invest a small amount of money to purchase our own professional equipment and learn how to make these photographic exposures ourselves.

 Lexan/polarizing film sandwich I made to fit in the film holder frames.

Lexan/polarizing film sandwich I made to fit in the film holder frames.

Ann and I have done it both ways and believe that, in the long run, it is far more economical, efficient, and fun to take the pictures of our art ourselves. Here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way.

Camera Lens

Regardless of which brands of lights, stands and filters you use, it is essential that you purchase a camera with a good-quality glass lens. Every image must first pass through a lens of some kind. So, it is far better to get a camera with good optics but perhaps lower megapixels than the reverse! Buying a good used professional camera is a smart way to do this.

Lighting

Lighting is essential. I have an Impact Universal Film Holder frame attached to my light stand, along with a Tota-Light and heat shield.

I also use a Lexan/polarizing film sandwich I made to fit in the film holder frames. The Linear polarizing film can be purchased in various sizes and cut to fit, if necessary.

Filter

Note the Tiffen linear polarizing filter on the lens.

Note the Tiffen linear polarizing filter on the lens.

When a Tiffen linear polarizing filter is placed on a camera lens, the filter is rotated to 90-degrees from the orientation of the film in front of the lights (cross-polarization). The hot-spots and glare on your art will disappear, and the colors will increase in saturation, depth and fidelity. This is why the circular polarizer often sold for digital cameras won’t work here.

You can really see the difference that polarizing made in these two images of my oil painting, Another Night. On the left, no polarizing, and essentially a useless image. On the right you can see how the spectral highlights (hot spots) vanished, leaving well-balanced, rich tones without the heavy influence of the red-yellow tungsten light spectrum.

All that was needed was to crop the image and tweak it a little here and there in Photoshop.

Another Night by John Hulsey, oil painting. Another Night by John Hulsey, oil painting.

Worth the Investment

A small investment in the proper filters and lights pays big dividends in the results. With most juried shows relying on the quality of our photos to decide who will make the first cut, it is imperative artists get professional with their photography.

Without top-notch high-fidelity images to show, there is no way to get a fair assessment of our work. And that is entry-fee money down the drain. We should do all we can to learn about taking professional-quality photos of our art. It is easy and fun. And, learning how to take better pictures is also rewarding because you can capitalize on all that you learn shooting photos of your own work — if and when you decide to turn your photos into paintings.

From Photos to Paintings

Once you learn how to photograph your art like a pro, why not master how to turn photos into paintings? A great resource for accomplishing just that is Paint Stunning Landscapes from Photos with Johannes Vloothuis. This collection combines 24 lessons on working from photos to create landscapes, which is roughly 50 hours of instruction! What’s more? The lessons include demos in pastel, oil and watercolor. Learn more, and discover how to work from photos with Johannes Vloothuis’ help, here.