Painting How To: Photographing Your Artwork

If you want to make reproductions of your work, you need a proper photographic image of your painting. If you want to enter your artwork in juried exhibits, you need to submit a slide or digital image. This applies to most art exhibits, but for most local art association exhibits, you only have to submit the painting itself.

The better the image, the better the reproduction, and the more likely you’ll be able to get artwork into an exhibit or sell it.

Painting of Artwalk, Torrance Artwalk, watercolor art of artwalk

Click Picture to Purchase: “Artwalk in Torrance”

Professional photographers have the type of equipment necessary to photograph artwork and capture an accurate image. Every artist needs to decide whether to engage a professional photographer to create first-rate images of their artwork.  Somewhere during your career, you’ll need to find someone like this, but initially, perhaps not. You may even be able to do it yourself. These decisions will largely be determined by whether you have the following:

(1) time to do it,
(2) skill and equipment to do it, or
(3) funds to pay someone else to do this work.

There are many things an artist has to do. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway!), you have to create artwork. Photographing your artwork is something you don’t have to do. This is the main reason why I sought out a photographer. As I did, you’ll likely go through several photographers before settling on one that best suits your needs. You may also have to do this.

Be aware that it can be difficult to photograph and get a proper image of a painting that’s already been framed, particularly one that’s hard to remove from its frame.  You will incur additional expense if you have to take your painting out of its frame and subsequently reframe it.  Some photographers have experience making good images of artwork that’s already been framed.  Seek them out!

If your two-dimensional artwork has not been framed (or can be easily removed from its frame), you might consider getting it scanned. Seek out someone that has scanning equipment large enough for your artwork. If they can scan a full-sheet painting, they most likely can also provide you a full-size print.

When doing business with a photographer (or anyone else, for that matter), find out in advance what they charge for their work. Also make certain you know when they can get the work done. This is a particular challenge for plein-air artists who have to get their work photographed during out-of-town plein-air events. Every artist needs to get a good image of their painting before it’s exhibited… and sold.  But in the case of plein-air events, you don’t have much time once you’ve completed a painting to get it photographed and subsequently framed for the exhibit. Since you’re often the out-of-town artist and unfamiliar with the territory, you may not know where to get your work photographed.  Some advance planning is therefore necessary to identify a good photographer who can take the pictures before you need to pick them up, a place where you can get them framed and delivered to the exhibit on time.

Click Picture to Purchase: “Scene of Beech Ave, Torrance”

Most likely, you’ll do what I once did: grab the first person you run into.  Organizations running these events generally have to engage someone to photograph paintings in the exhibit. I considered this individual to be the likely candidate. So I had him photograph all my work right in the gallery where he was photographing all the other paintings.  Several months after I got back home, I had received nothing from him and had trouble reaching him by phone. Once I did, I asked for a CD with images. Lo and behold, an invoice appeared the next day on my computer screen for an amount far greater than I’d anticipated. Thus began a lengthy series of negotiations before a settlement was finally reached for a lesser amount, but still far more than what I would have had to pay my trusty and reliable local photographer (Chase Photography in Torrance) to do the same work. To make things even worse, I discovered soon after that the quality of these digital images was less than what they should have been. A number of the images compromised my ability to get these paintings accepted at subsequent exhibits.  Plan ahead and locate a local photographer beforehand who can do the work properly. Find out what they charge for this work, and sign an agreement before you participate in that plein-air event.

Douglas Stenhouse also wrote a book about watercolor painting.

“I decided to write about how I paint, not only to share my observations with others, but also, frankly, to do some self- examination. I wish I had done this earlier in my life! But then, how was I to know I’d benefit from doing so, certainly at a time when I had no aspirations of becoming a professional artist.” 

To learn more about Doug’s Watercolor Painting Book, click here. To purchase a signed copy, use the link below.


Douglas Simms Stenhouse, watercolor artist, transparent water color art, watercolor painter, painting with water colors