How to take a photo of an artwork


So you are a Native American artist and you want to sell your art online? ArtNatAm.com exists to help Native American artists promote their art and our present artists have had considerable success selling their art through this website. Does this mean it's easy to sell art online? No, it's not, because you have be careful how to present your art:

  • You have to send ArtNatAm good photos of your art
  • You have to promote your art by supplying text that describes your art and your tribe's culture


  • This page is about the first point: how to do fine art photography.
    You know the saying:
      You don't get a second chance to make a first impression
    In no part of society is this more true than on the Internet. If people see a bad photo of a good artwork, then they won't stop to think: "I don't like the photo, but I do like the artwork". It's the overall impression that an image makes which counts, and if it's bad, then people won't spend any time on the webpage that has your art.
    No matter how good your art is, you HAVE to make good photos, or else your efforts to exhibit your art online are futile.
    Art photography is not that easy, but on the other hand, it's just a craft. If you can learn to be an artist or a craftsman, then you can also learn to do fine art photography!

    Roughly, art photography falls into two categories:

  • Taking a photo of a flat, two-dimensional artwork, such as a painting or an art print.
  • Taking a photo of a three-dimensional artwork, such as a sculpture, carving, jewelry, etc

  • I have to confess I'm only experienced in the first category, but I will nevertheless try to get you on your way in both categories, taking into account the photographic principles that, I think, apply to both.

    Photographing a flat (2D) artwork

      this includes: paintings and art prints
  • Avoid using the camera's flashlight, because it will result in a reflection in the artworks's surface. Instead you could take the artwork outside on a clear, sunny day (in the early afternoon, because then the light will be best) and put it in a place where there is plenty of light, but avoid backlight (the sunlight coming from behind the artwork).
  • Make sure the artwork is illuminated evenly, so that all parts of the artwork get the same amount of light.

  • If your artwork is rectangular, then what we want is an image that is also rectangular (instead the topside being wider than the bottom, for instance).

    To this end:

  • Position the artwork as straight as possible on it's resting surface, without it falling over.
  • Position your camera right opposite the center of the artwork.
  • Try to position the camera parallel to the artwork. Look in the camera's viewfinder: If the topside of the artwork shows up wider than the bottom, then tilt your camera backwards a bit. If the bottom shows wider than the top, tilt your camera forward until the top is as wide as the bottom.

  • To get an image that is exactly rectangular is very difficult, but it pays to make an effort to make it as rectangular as you can. When I receive your image I will have to trim the sides of the image to make it rectangular and some of the artwork will be lost.

    If you find it impossible to take adequate photos of your art prints, then I can do it for you. You will have to send me an art print, obviously. In fact, this is how ArtNatAm.com started. None of it's original artists had the ability to digitize their art prints, so they had it done by John Kostura, ArtNatAm's creator.

    Photographing an artwork that isn't flat (3D)

      this includes: sculptures, carvings, jewelry, basket weaving, etc
    If your 3D artwork is dark-colored, then you could try using the camera's flash light, since a curved form will less likely produce a reflection on your photo.

    If you can't take a photo of your 3D artwork without the background showing, then please choose a fitting background. This does not, in general, include your couch or a cupboard. Please choose a background that is simple and natural and matches the style of your artwork. One way to avoid the background problem is to take the artwork outside and make sure there is a large enough distance between your artwork and the visible background. If you then position your camera close enough to the artwork, then the background will be blurred as seen on the photo.

    If your artwork is small, as in jewelry, then you should choose your camera's macro mode, which allows you to take take close-up photos. Do some experimenting how close you can get, without the photos going out of focus. On digital cameras the macro mode is generally symbolized by a little flower.
    In macro mode many digital cameras don't flash by default, so if you want to use flash, then you should look for a setting that forces your camera to flash.
    In macro mode photos will appear darker than in normal mode, so in macro mode it will be difficult to avoid using flash, unless you can find a place that has an abundance of natural light. Whatever you do, don't use ordinary light bulbs to illuminate your artwork, because the yellow light of a light bulb is not clean light, giving bad photographic results. Clean light is daylight, which is why going outside on a sunny day is always advisable. If you are serious about art photography, then you may consider buying daylight lamps. They produce clean light, but are a lot more expensive than ordinary light bulbs, but worth it if you are a (semi-) professional artist taking his/her own photos.