How to Photograph Art in High-Res for Reproduction

I’m excited and honoured to announce that I’ve just signed a contract with Abbey Road Fine Art & Licensing! By contracting with them, my art has the potential to be reproduced as wall art and on a variety of products internationally. This opportunity came about as a direct result of being a featured artist on the Artsy Shark blog, so I am very grateful to Carolyn Edlund, the author of the blog, for the exposure.

Now, before Abbey Road can begin representing me to buyers, clients or at shows, they need to have high-resolution images of my work on file. This is where I need to hunker down and produce suitable files for them. After some backing-and-forthing, where I sent a few files for them to review, I’ve managed to produce a sample that meets with their production office’s approval. Now to do the same for, eventually, all my art!

What’s involved, you ask? I thought I’d give you an overview here in case you’re interested. There will be some techno-babble involved.

Usually I photograph my work at a fairly high quality which I then manipulate in Photoshop to be suitable for my website. For website viewing, the files don’t have to be very large (called low-res). I size them at 72dpi, which is tech talk for a resolution that reads well online but would not print very well. It would be blurry at anything except a very small size. To print an image clearly, especially at larger sizes, a higher resolution is needed along with a larger measurement, in this case I’m aiming for 300dpi and at least 16 to 20 inches across. My 12mb camera is capable of taking quite large images, but I will often need to photograph the art in sections and join them together in Photoshop to create a really nice, big file.

Photographing the work in sections leads to a couple of other considerations. One is that the lighting needs to be consistent across the sections so that when joined together, they don’t have different exposures in different sections. The other thing to watch out for is that each section is perfectly square to the camera, so that the edges will meet perfectly when joined.

My husband, who is the camera geek in this household, helped me set up a great photography area for this purpose. It’s in a corner of our basement and allows us to create a dark room where the only lights the camera reads are the two we’ve set up for photography. We’ve set manual settings on the camera (not automatic) to F18 for optimum sharpness and a four-second exposure. This is what works for us under these conditions, but if emulating this setup you will need to adjust your own settings.

Photography Setup

Here you can see the setup in a corner of my basement. We installed slot walls so that the art can be moved around on hooks as necessary to photograph the different sections. The computer image allows me to set F-stop, exposure, focus and so on right on the computer screen.

Photography Setup

Another view of the setup. I hope you can see the green tape on the floor which marks angles and distances for the lights and camera. Thank goodness for techno-husbands!

We use two lights aimed at approximately 45 degrees to the art. I say approximately, but the distance from each light is measured to be exactly the same to the art so that one side of the art is not more lit than the other. Then, the camera is set up on a tripod (very important for the sharpest exposure) to be perfectly square to the art. It is set up to fill the viewfinder with a section of the art, in this case the middle third. Because the camera is connected to the computer I can adjust focus and exposure right on the computer. Notice the slat-board and hooks on the wall. The art can be moved as necessary to shoot the sections of art, keeping them square to the camera without moving the camera. This is key—it is much easier to adjust the art on the wall than to reset the camera square to the art each time another section needs to be photographed. For even larger artwork, I will need to photograph more sections.

Once everything is to our liking, I press the shutter release on the computer, not on the camera. There is no vibration of the camera this way.

After I’ve got all sections photographed, I bring them into Photoshop for some digital manipulation. In Photoshop I create a new file that will be large enough to hold all sections of the art. Then each section is moved to the new file, each on its own layer (I’m assuming a familiarity with Photoshop, as explaining all the ins and outs of the software is not part of this post). I can now move each layer as necessary, checking where they overlap and lining them up as perfectly as possible. I’ve found that while the photography method I’ve used makes it much easier to line all the edges up, there will still be some little areas that need adjusting or correcting. Once it’s as good as I can get it, I flatten all the layers, now allowing me to work on the image as a whole. Then I blow the image up super-large, and using the Clone Brush, get right into the very finest details, smoothing and correcting any areas that don’t meet exactly right. Next I correct colour and exposure as necessary using the Levels feature. Then I crop to the edges of the image to eliminate unneeded background.

Lastly, I go into the Images menu, uncheck Resample Image, then change the dpi from 72 to 300. By unchecking Resample Image, I retain all the pixels, my goal if I want the image as large as possible. I make sure the aspect ratio is correct (that the measurements are proportional to the original art), save as a tiff (a non-lossy format) and I’m done!


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4 Responses to How to Photograph Art in High-Res for Reproduction

  1. Debra M December 2, 2015 at 10:18 am #

    Wow- a complicated process for sure. thanks for sharing. Just wondering what kind of camera and what kind of lights? I have Canon Rebel XTi but no lights yet. I have been considering purchasing lights but have not made a decision on what brand.

    Love your artwork and congrats on the licensing –


    • Dorothy Siemens December 2, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

      Thanks, Debra for your nice comments! The camera is a Canon Rebel T5i. The lights are 5000 kelvin compact flourescents. You have to manually set the white balance for the type of lighting. We’re not completely happy with these lights and would like to upgrade – these are a bit too directional/small, but for now they work.

  2. Lisa Gibson December 3, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    Thank you for this article! I’ve been wondering how to get higher-res photos of my work for prints without getting a different camera. We’ll have to play around with this!

    • Dorothy Siemens December 3, 2015 at 11:16 am #

      I’m glad it was helpful! It does take some playing around to get settings, etc right. We did quite a bit of experimenting to come up with a system that works for us.