The Fine Art of Photographing Fine Art
Specialising as we do in product photography, at Photography Firm we sometimes get the chance to get a little bit… “meta”. We’re not talking selfies here (do you know how thick the selfie stick would have to be that could hold our camera/lens combos??!), but turning our viewfinders towards our close neighbours on Creativity Street, the work of artists. Whether it’s painters, sculptors, graphic designers, metal-workers…. most artists need to be able to share their work online and in print if they’re to reach a wider audience or build their name. They pore their hearts and souls into their creations and then often find to their frustration, the photos they are able to take simply don’t do the artworks justice.
Though art might not seem like the most challenging of photographic subjects – it’s generally not moving quickly, refusing to smile, or peeing on the studio backdrop (don’t ask…), there is in fact a high level of skill involved in art repro. Where lifestyle photography of artworks such as sculptures in a gallery may permit a degree of creativity or photographer-led aesthetic choices, straight up images of, well images should generally reveal nothing of the photographic process. The aim is to transport the artwork to the viewer (wherever they may be in the world) with no discernible filter. Images need to be pin-sharp (we use high-quality prime lenses), evenly lit and free of any kind of distortion, be it lens barrel distortion or from angle of view. If the piece has its own characteristic texture, this should be revealed where possible with careful lighting choices.
We strongly recommend colour checking with any type of product photography (with most types of pro photography full stop), but it’s unquestionably essential when reproducing artwork, a medium where the colours and tones used are of fundamental importance, carefully selected by the artist. Art is already subjective enough, so it’s imperative a potential customer doesn’t purchase a piece they see online because its lush shade of green takes them back to their idyllic childhood in the country only for it to arrive and remind them more of the projectile-vom scene from The Exorcist! Sorry for the crude analogy, we had a point to make – ALWAYS colour check with art repro!!
When we said photographing artwork can be challenging, we weren’t kidding. It’s not always as easy as photographic an A4 print in our studios, sipping tea and listening to Spotify (some days that’s all you want, some days you crave the challenge). Some subjects don’t travel so readily due to their size or value, so if the art can’t come to the studio, we take the studio to the art. We’ve shot all shapes and sizes, even turning a town hall into a huge shooting space when our oversize subjects demanded it.
Another head-scratcher is art behind glass. Glass, as anyone who’s ever seen a window will attest, is great stuff, but it does tend to reflect its surroundings. Employing tilt-shift lenses, clever lighting and velvet tents are all methods we employ to ensure our grinning faces aren’t reflected in the pieces we’re shooting – we might scrub up ok when the occasion demands it, but no one at Photography Firm’s claiming to be a work of art!
Thanks for reading.