Photographs Stand In for Your Artwork

You’ve surely noticed that I feature a different artist each week in the Art Marketing Action newsletter. Besides selecting work of excellent quality, my other criteria are that the image must:

  1. Be pretty darned good photography, and
  2. Not contain watermarks or large copyright imprints. Both of these distract from the aesthetic appreciation of the artwork. Infrequently, I will run one with a small copyright, but I prefer not to.

I want to show the work in its best possible light, and you should, too.

Read “Invest in Photography” in this week’s Art Marketing Action newsletter.

Here’s an earlier newsletter I wrote on the subject of protecting your art online. And don’t forget to read the thoughtful responses I received to this in the following week’s newsletter.

Send to Kindle

11 comments to Photographs Stand In for Your Artwork

  • C. Dahan

    dear Alyson, Although you give great advice and most of it is free, I am a bit tired by your suggestions that cost a huge amount of money, like the photograph thing. “If you are serious about your art “begins to sound like: if you really love me… I think you are absolutely right with your suggestions, but cut the “if you are serious” bit”, please. Zaff

  • donnaloraine

    While I generally agree that good photography is essential I also want to point out the danger of too perfect photography masking problems in the work. I have often been disappointed after seeing great photos of work and being excited to see them in the originals, that these originals didn’t hold a candle to the photos. My thought then was ,”What a charlatan!”

  • Zaff, I stand by my comments in the newsletter. I may write things that not everyone believes in, but I believed in them when I wrote them. Yes, I give lots of free advice. I also give you lots ideas for free and inexpensive things to do. Some things will cost money. After all, a business can’t be run without the proper tools. Apparently, you don’t like my wording, and I am sorry for that. It was intended in the most generous of spirits. Dialogue is always good.

  • I have long been a believer in having professional quality photos of my artwork and have used a very good commercial photographer for that purpose for many years. He shoots a lot of art for local artists, so he knows what he’s doing. However, I’ve had a couple of problems with him over the years. He relies on color strips as any good photographer would, but sometimes the photo doesn’t match the art because he has adjusted the photo to match the color strip rather than the painting. I think sometimes you have to get LESS technical and rely on good ole eyeballing it. My last experience with him was also problematic. He shot the oil painting on canvas with his 16 megapixel digital camera, and the resulting image was so sharp that it picked up the weave of the canvas and emphasized it, ruining the image. I shot the painting with my 8 megapixel digital camera and, although you could still see a little of the weave of the canvas, it was an acceptable, believable amount. Another issue with this same image was that it seemed to have been shot under strong lighting, and the colors were off and almost posterized, making adjusting them impossible. When I shot the same image with my digital under studio lighting, the colors were adjustable to match the painting almost exactly. I learned three things from this experience. One, use more layers when painting on canvas to fill in the weave more. Two, sometimes less is better when shooting with a high resolution digital camera. Three, tis better to shoot my own digital images which leaves me complete control over how the images turn out. Fortunately, I have some photography training and a decent knowledge of Photoshop. So, even when you use a professional photographer to shoot your artwork, there can be problems.

  • I agree with the above bloggers who state that sometimes a “professional photographer” i.e. one who only does artwork, is not a feesible situation for most people; especially someone just starting out, like me. I think someone you can find in the phonebook, a shop, who does graphic design, etc. is fine, and to me, is expensive enough.

  • I use different photographic options depending on the appropriate situation…I paid an artist photographer about $150cad. to shoot a new collection and give me slides-which were then submitted to a museum archive-had to be good…for my studio website I shoot my own work quickly with a high quality cameraphone which can send images to the internet immediately-but these are studio shots, not to be confused with print quality show photos…the resolution is fine and I feel that I don’t have to worry about copyright issues, since it is not really print quality…also, I do have ugly copyright stuff embedded on the photos-because I feel that if you want to see the gorgeous real thing, you should have to pay for it…since I am represented by a copyright collective, who negotiates price for reprinting in magazines or elsewhere, I feel it necessary to abide by such rules…it is just too easy for someone to use images without that ugly copyright stuff somewhere…(there is a website now under much discussion which has been appropriating photos of paintings and selling them…)When my work appears say on a tin of chocolates, the company has to pay me a fee for the use of that image…(the photo will have been professionally taken- but since I am renumerated , the cost is covered in the fee)…unless a gallery or client is paying for top notch photography, I feel it is not incumbent upon me to provide images for free…that said, for those who suffer from artistic insecurity-(almost all), having your work beautifully shot is a tremendous ego boost- kind of like getting a really expensive haircut…It seems to be often a question of where you are in your career- if your work is truly great, it deserves great treatment…if the work is still not quite up to par- spend your time improving the art- not on better photographs…although-once I submitted out of focus slides-dumb move…another time a gallery owner shot really pretty photos for me, client ordered a painting- turned out the subtle blueish tone of the pics were not true- the original had subtle pinkish tones-fuji film shoots blueish, kodak often orangey …male client wanted blue not pink- end of sale…

  • Beth R. Turner

    I agree that good/great photography is a must but it is all sooooo confusing. What looks good to me might not be good enough to get into a top-knotch show. I have been using a local photographer who has a real ‘artistic’ eye and have learned alot from him. However last summer I bit the bullet and accepted an offer from a published ‘art photographer’. He was at a show I was doing and for X amount of $$$ for each shot you could get as many shots as you wanted and a booth shot (which he shot after the show closed in the evenings). I was really excited-he/they had really good ideas about what to shoot, how to arrange the booth, etc. I wanted a graduated background but he told me my work was too dark. I figured he was the expert so I took his suggestion… Well, long story short AFTER I ordered 10 slides of each plus the CD and received my order I could have just cried. The coloration on my work was awful. Still thinking I was over reacting and maybe they weren’t as bad as I thought they were I did nothing. Not even send them to shows. Then I took your workshop with Bruce Baker last fall and found out that they were awful! They were sharper than what I was using from my local photographer but he told me not to use them. The background he used turned out white/’Deer in the Headlight’ look. UGH!. I’m out about $400 +/- and no new slides to send. Very discouraging. Moral: Even if you go to a professional ‘art photographer’ that has been published in many trade magazines–it doesn’t always mean you’ll get what you pay for. I had checked out his work in print, on the web, etc. before I made the commitment. Next time I would ask upfront what happens if I don’t like the photo’s?? Will you refund my money? Will you re-shoot at no cost? Who pays for the shipping if you do re-shoot (we were states apart)?? I would also NEVER order 10 slides of each again BEFORE I saw the first one–even if I could save a buck… The one thing it did give me was a starting point to talk to my local photographer and show him what I mean by “I need a sharper image”… Great shots will give you more encouragement to try for bigger and better shows. Onward and Upward!!

  • I also spent a small fortune with one of the best photographers of artwork here in Denver. Unfortunately his slides are not good – they don’t look right when projected and they produce terrible images when shows have tried to print postcards or other images from the slides. A friend has had the same experience with all her slides from this person so it’s not just me. Because I didn’t know what to look for in the slides I had no idea they were bad. Until someone that knew what to look for pointed out the problems to me. I now take my own images and I can control the final product. It was a huge investment in time and money to buy the equipment and teach myself to use it but in the end I will save thousands and thousands of dollars and have a better quality product in the end. I print a postcard from my images a few months ago and it came out great. Just because they are professionals doesn’t mean they do good work. And unless you know what to look for it can be a very expensive learning experience.

  • M Patin

    I have been enjoying your newsletters, but you really need to remember that most of us are not rolling in dough to justify the expense of a “professional” photographer. And honestly, if I don’t want to use a “professional,” this doesn’t mean I’m not “serious” about my artwork. How rude! Instead, why don’t you do an article about how to do your own photography rather than promoting using the “professional” who, from what I’ve read from the other comments posted, is many times a big waste of our hard earned dollars. Most of the established, professional artists are probably not reading your column. I think the majority of your readers are here to learn and become more professional.

  • I agree with all who advocate taking their own slides! Previously I had a friend do them and they were of professional quality. When I moved out of state, necessity became the mother of invention and I laboriously learned how to do it myself. If I may offer a tip (before slide film becomes obsolete), I use Kodak Ektachrome Tungsten film and 250 Watt 3200 K bulbs. With this combo, the color is perfect. I don’t have such great results with a digital camera, but it’s getting better with practice.

  • I’ve finally learned to shoot my own work better than professionals can. That doesn’t mean I could do anyone else’s, I don’t have the generalized knowledge. When my work shifts (texture, gloss, scale etc.), I have to climb a learning curve to catch up with what I have done in the studio. I’m able with a 6.1mp digie to get not only everything I would ever need for web work, but also print quality images for show invite cards (300 dpi, I barely know what that means but I know if I have got it or not with a particular shot!). Next up for me is to learn how to get good slides made from digital shots. A few photoshop basics made a lot of difference. I also have an extremely steady hand and can work without a flash. Outdoors on a cloudy day is good only if you know how to color-correct for the blue light. I think a lot my results are because I ~know~ my own color, and no other photographer at this point is going to know my color well enough to adjust the images without the piece right there– and maybe even if they had the piece. Not every art photographer has the eye for color. To respond to an earlier comment– since I do web sales of work, I have often dulled down a photo just to be sure that the client would be pleased when they pulled that original out of the box. For web sales, the photos should NOT look better than the original work. With photoshop skills this is entirely possible! If the work is small enough I will prop it near the computer monitor and look back and forth to make sure I’m not flattering the piece.