There is a wide variety of good information available on how to best photograph your own artwork, should you decide to do it yourself. A simple google search will direct you to several great sources. That’s not what this post is about. Instead, this article is about how to obtain the best High Res files to use for accurately reproducing and representing your artwork in print.
Also, since many painting organizations, including the National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society (NOAPS), pull the image submitted with the entry through Juried Art Services for printing the exhibit catalog, it’s important to upload the best High Res image you can when submitting to an exhibition.
Before we delve into the two basic methods for capturing a High-Res image of your original artwork, we first need to introduce a must-have accessory — the Color Calibration Chart.
CAPTION: Color Calibration Chart, front and back with color recipes listed.
Color Calibration Charts or Guides have been around for a long time but in today’s fast-paced technology-driven world, its use has fallen to the wayside. And that’s a shame because there really is nothing better to assist in color correction and adjustment.
How does it work?
First, the chart should be placed alongside your artwork (so it’s under the same lighting conditions) and included in all High Res images. Do not crop it out of the shot. The chart can be cropped out of images for use on websites and entry submissions.
The chart includes squares printed with 100% Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow ink, the inks used in most four-color printing processes, as well as 100% black, white and a value range between which is helpful in correcting for white balance and exposure.
The squares of color in the chart are a “known” and provide a frame of reference for use in adjusting an image for accuracy before printing.
Methods for Capturing High Res Images
High Res Scans
Scanning is by far the best option as far as image quality and clarity, every inch of the painting will be in focus and under the same lighting conditions. Scanning original artwork is not always practical especially if your work is large and has lots of thick paint creating a very textured surface.
300dpi is considered High Res, but when scanning a painting — I always scan at a higher dpi. How high? It depends on the capabilities of the scanner. My artwork is scanned at 1200dpi. Why so high? It offers more flexibility down the road with the option to reproduce it much larger or select a detail area for print and not have it pixelate as a result.
Remember, an image can always be reduced in size/resolution but not the other way around. Read “Answering the High/Low Res Question” for more on that topic.
The size of the painting isn’t a total deterrent to scanning because portions of the scanned artwork can be stitched together using Adobe® Photoshop® or a similar photo program.
Many printers offer High Res scanning and have large bed scanners.
High Res Photographs
Traditional film photography is rarely used these days so I am only going to talk about digital photography. Some things to keep in mind are:
Ask for the raw files in addition to the traditional images provided. Some photographers automatically include these while others do not.
Ask for the largest file size their equipment will provide. Some photographers, as a courtesy, provide 300dpi and 72dpi versions.
Ask for uncropped versions that include the Color Calibration Chart/Guide.
Most importantly, talk to the photographer about how you might be using the photos. High-quality giclée prints, exhibit catalog, promotional materials are all good examples. I say might because we don’t know what the future holds for us and often the High Res images are all we have after a painting has (cross your fingers) sold!
The bottom line, leave it to the professionals! With the cost of the equipment, their knowledge, and the fact that technology is always advancing, it’s worth it.
Using a Smartphone Camera
The entry deadline is tomorrow, there isn’t enough time to get the painting scanned or professionally photographed, so we snap a picture with our smartphone. Sound familiar?
I almost hate to mention this because it truly is not the best option but I’ve done it and I’m betting you have too — so let’s talk about the best way to do it.
Most smartphone camera apps take photos at 72dpi, with the only variable being image dimensions. My iPhone images automatically open in Photoshop® to 52×46 inches at 72dpi.
Creating a SMALL High Res from a LARGE Low Res Image
Before taking the photos, make sure the setting in the camera app is for the largest image size possible. Take photos of the painting and open in Adobe® Photoshop® or other photo editing software.
- Crop the image to just
- the artwork, it’s important to make all edits before saving as a High Res image file.
- Check the image size to
- see what the new height and width measurements (dimensions) are after being cropped.
- Using a photo editing program,
- set the resolution to 300dpi and reduce the dimensions of the cropped smartphone image. A rough guideline to use is
- 72dpi x width ÷ 300dpi = minimum reduced size.
In the above example, the math works out to be 72dpi x 20 inches = 1440 pixels ÷ 300dpi = 4.8 inches for the minimum reduction in size. Therefore the image would need to reduce to at least 4.8 inches wide or smaller at 300dpi for it to be an acceptable high res file.
This only works because you are shrinking a large size (height x width) Low Res image to a small size (h x w) High Res image. It’s not the best method but it works in a pinch. However, this method should not replace the more effective methods mentioned earlier for generating the best quality High Res image of an original painting.
Whether a painting has sold, been given as a gift, donated to raise money for a charity, painted over, or possibly damaged due to a natural disaster — in the end, photographs (or scans) are often the only visual record we have. As artists, we owe it to our future selves to capture the best High Res images we can today. And don’t forget to back up the files, computer’s fail too.
Written by Nancy Murty, NOAPS Publicity Director
If you found this post helpful and would like to learn more about reproducing your artwork head over to my blog, there are more great posts on RGB vs CMYK color reproduction, Getting the Color Right and on Answering the High/Low Res Question.