Are you looking for ways to earn extra money as a photographer? Well, here’s one great way that you very likely have never thought of: You can earn good money, even as a hobbyist photographer, if you can shoot artwork — such as paintings — and do it well.
There are a lot of artists out there and practically all of them need good photographs of their work. Professional painters who earn their living painting, often, as a matter of routine, pay photographers to take good quality photos of their latest completed works. These days, it’s just a part of doing business as a working artist. They need these photos to put on websites, send to art magazines who might be publishing articles about them, e-mail to potential buyers and gallery representatives, agents, and much more. If you’re a working painter — or even a hobbyist painter — in this digital age it’s an absolute requirement that you have good quality photographs of your artwork.
And, here’s the thing: If you have no photography experience, getting good quality photographs of a flat, 2D painting is very, very tricky. But, if you have just a little photography experience — even if your photography knowledge and skill resides somewhere in the hobbyist/enthusiast range, learning just a couple of very simple techniques for photographing artwork well is quite easy. So, if you can learn these extremely simple techniques, you should be able to set-up a pretty much constant stream of income from your photography. All you’ll need to do is to build a relationship with a few artists and/or local galleries, and each time that artist completes a batch of paintings, they’ll return to you to have those new paintings photographed. Or, each time a gallery has an upcoming show or event they’re promoting, or begins working with a new artist who needs photos of their work, they’ll call you to have you take the needed photographs.
And, like I said, as even a hobbyist level photographer, taking such photographs well should be fairly easy for you. But, it can be very, very tricky for someone who has absolutely no experience in photography.
The main reason that taking good quality photographs of artwork proves so impossible to people who aren’t photographers is that, if you don’t know what you’re doing, your photographs of artwork will end up distorted. Good photographs of artwork need to be absolutely straight and flat. They need to be taken at a pretty close to perfect 90 degree angle from the lens. If the artwork is tilted, even just a little — if you take the image with artwork on a bit of an incline — then the top of the work is going to come out narrower than the bottom, or vice versa. When you crop the final photo into a square, or rectangle, more of the top of the artwork will be cut-off than the bottom, or vice versa, and you will not get an accurate representation of the artwork. If, say, the photo was taken with the top of the artwork leaning away from the camera, then, in the final cropped image, features at the top of the artwork will appear smaller than they are in real life, and features toward the bottom will appear larger. And, of course, this will not be an accurate representation of the artwork — and, an accurate representation is absolutely essential for the photograph to be a ‘good’ photograph of an artist’s work. A lot of non-photographers don’t even have the means to crop a photo — but you, as even an amateur photographer do, right?
Also, if you take the photo of the artwork (as many non-photographers will) with a point-and-shoot camera, the small lens will often introduce significant amounts of barrel distortion into the image, and, again, one will not end up with an accurate, flat looking representation of the artwork. Non-photographers who photograph artwork wont know why this distortion is there, nor how to fix it. But, you, with photography experience do, right? You probably own a long-ish lens — say, an 85mm, 100mm, or 120mm, or something in that range? A longer lens will minimize or even eliminate barrel distortion. And, even if your lens introduces a little bit of distortion in the image, you probably know how to use Lightroom (or whatever editing software you use) to fix minor distortion problems, right? If not, it’s very simple to learn how to do it well for minor distortion problems.
Another problem that non-photographers encounter when trying to photograph artwork is problems with light. The surface of artwork is very flat and often quite reflective — especially since a lot of artists finish their work by applying a couple layers of glossy varnish to their paintings. So, they’ll go to photograph their painting — they’ll set it up on a chair, or their easel, or something, hit it with their camera’s built-in flash or another light source, and notice that there is a massive amount of glare coming off the painting in the final image. And/or there’s is a terrible looking ‘hot-spot’ of reflected light on the painting.
For a photograph of artwork to be well done it’s absolutely imperative that it’s photographed in flat, even light without any glare visible. A non-photographer will not know how to achieve this. But, you might. And, even if you don’t, it’s very easy to learn and accomplish. All you need is a diffused light source that sits at a 90 degree angle from the painting, and a second light source, also at a 90 degree angle, but from the opposite side from the main light source — and, bounced light will work perfectly fine for this. For perfectly lit photographs of artwork every time, I simply set up a softbox at a 90 degree angle, and in very close, on the left side of the artwork — so the light is directed directly across the painting’s surface — and I place a white bounce reflector, also in close, on a 90 degree angle on the right side of the painting. And, bingo! A perfectly lit photo every time — flat, even light and no glare.
And, that’s about it. That’s all there is to it. Just, as a re-cap, make sure you observe these things:
(1) The photo must be taken dead-on. So, you’ll want to position the artwork perfectly level to the ground — making sure it’s not on any sort of an angle, tilting toward or away from the camera. And, when you take the shot, make sure the camera is at as close to a perfect 90 degree angle from the painting as possible. Use a carpenter’s level, if you must, to make sure the painting is level, and use a tri-pod with a level bubble to make sure your camera is also perfectly level. Do that and there’ll be no mistakes, and no need to fix anything in post.
(2) Make sure you minimize any distortion in the image. You’ll want to use a fairly long lens. Wide angle lenses are entirely out of the question. A good quality 100mm works well, if you have the space for it — i.e. enough room to get far enough away from the photo and still get it all in when using a lens of such a focal length. If not, you can probably get away with using a 50mm at the absolute lowest if you’re in a bind. But, you should really try to go longer. And, you should know how to fix distortion problems in Lightroom (or whatever you use) to take care of any distortion that does creep in.
(3) Get flat, even, diffused light. You don’t want even a hint of a hot-spot appearing on the artwork. Every square inch of the artwork should appear to be lit with exactly the same intensity of light as every other square inch. And, you don’t want any glare whatsoever. If you have a polarizing filter and you know how to use it, do so for extra glare eliminating security. If not, that’s ok. Use the side-lighting technique I described above. If you don’t have a soft-box, an umbrella will work well also. Or, even a large window — just make sure the light from the window is sufficiently diffused — hang a white sheet in front of it if you need to. And, however you do it, bounce the light back from the opposite side. The opposite side lighting will eliminate tiny shadows produced by the ‘tooth’ of the artwork’s surface and flatten out the image.
If you can achieve those three things, you’ll get photos of artwork far superior to what a non-photographer can get. And, people will be willing to pay you for it. Like I said earlier — getting photos of their artwork is just a cost of doing business with working artists. And, they factor in such costs into the prices they charge for their paintings when they sell them — just like any other business. So, practice a bit on your own and see if you can get it down. Use paintings you might have in your house, or grab a couple from a local thrift shop. In a pinch, you can even practice with hardcover books that have a glossy dust-jacket. If you find you’re getting good shots, you can start contacting local galleries and artists.
Take a visit to some local art galleries one day. Talk to someone there and let them know that you photograph artwork and offer your services. Even if they, themselves, don’t need your services right away, here’s what often happens: Galleries are always being contacted by new artists looking for representation. The first thing a gallery will often say to new, inexperienced artists is to send photos of their work. And, you’d be surprised at just how many inexperienced artists either have no photos of their work, or have only terrible photos they took themselves — often, just images of their painting propped up on a chair, entirely uncropped, and the artwork appearing small in the middle of the frame, surrounded by their studio. The gallery will promptly inform them that they need to get good images of their artwork. And, the inexperienced artist will often reply: “How do I do that?” And, guess what happens if you’ve been into that gallery and informed them of your availability? There’s a good chance they’ll say to the artist “Well, here’s the e-mail of a photographer who takes photos of artwork.”
The best thing is, if you do a decent job and get along well with the artist, you’ll very likely gain a repeat customer. A few times a year, perhaps, when the artist has completed a batch of paintings, they’ll call you up for a photo session. Build a relationship like that with a few artists and/or galleries, and you should see a fairly constant stream of work photographing paintings for artists and galleries.
Of course, it never hurts to search the internet for local artists either. I recommend doing searches on Facebook for artists in your area. If you find one with amateurish looking photos they’ve posted of their work, drop them a quick line. Compliment their work, tell them you think they could really benefit from having professional photos taken of their work, and offer your services.
And, be sure to stay tuned here at PhotographyGiveaways.Com — in the near future we’ll post an in-depth article that delves much further into the specifics of what you need to do to easily capture perfect photographs of artwork every time. And, we’ll also discuss some of the business-end aspects of the process — what to charge, how to approach galleries and artists, etc.