Great documentation of your art = future opportunities

To paraphrase what we heard at a panel at 3rd Ward in Bushwick recently, it's so important to get great documentation of your art work, since those images can lead to future opportunities. In this post we are going to tackle the fundamentals of documenting your 2D and 3D art work, since it is the most important tool in getting your work out there. Great work can be ruined by poor documentation, since the juror or collector won't know what your piece really looks like. Invest in yourself by having the right equipment and taking the time to learn.

We all can learn how to make and edit great images. If this is all too technically advanced for you, or you just don't have the time, hire a professional to help you. There is no shame in that, it will decrease your stress load and you will get great results. If you do choose to hire someone, you should know how you want your work photographed, so keep on reading! The key is to incorporate documentation into your practice: as you finish your work in the studio, when it is up during an exhibition and/or along the way to document the process. That way, you will always have access to professional images to submit to competitions or for your website.

Gather your work together and get organized! Here are some tips for making some incredible images.


You should own a decent to excellent camera. Also please be sure to buy an extra battery and memory cards for your camera. If you just can't afford the camera you want right now,  borrow one from a friend or rent a DSLR from a camera store such as Calumet.

Purchasing a camera is fun and ultimately, you should get what you feel comfortable with. We recommend going to your local store and trying some out. Make sure to bring a list of what you need as far as megapixel size (the more the megapixels, the larger you can print), how big/small you’d like the camera to be, if you need video, the ISO range, and make sure the camera has a good battery life. There are many cameras out there and most of them are great. Amazon and B+H Photo usually have competitive prices on cameras and accessories. We love Canons here at Kind Aesthetic- Powershots are great point and shoot cameras, the Rebel is a great introductory DSLR and their professional DSLRs are amazing machines.

Use a tripod. The tripod doesn't need to be fancy, but if it has a level in it, all the better.

Borrow or invest in lights. If lights are too much of a hassle for you, be sure to photograph in daylight, when it is overcast and the light is nice and even. Too sunny is not good since you will get hotspots on the work, and it won't photograph well.
If you anticipate needing lights often and want the flexibility of shooting your work whenever you want, we recommend it. You can find inexpensive tungsten light kits at photo stores. Just tell your salesperson what you need them for.

Practice using your camera before you start your shoot. Learn what aperture, ISO and shutter speed are, where to adjust it, and how to change your depth of field. Can you shoot RAW files with your camera? That is great, but high resolution jpegs are fine. Your camera most likely has many settings and remember that your goal is a well lit, clear photograph with a high resolution. You can always make the image smaller for web purposes later. It's frustrating to start shooting and you realize your camera was on the wrong settings. Many local schools and photographers offer classes on how to use your camera–they are fun and empowering.

The Set-Up

2D work 

This is a great resource for 2D work.
Use a simple, non-distracting background, like a white wall. Also, if your work would resonate being photographed in a certain context, such as outside, then shoot both.
If it's framed and under glass, remove it to photograph it.

Hang it on a wall so that it is parallel to your camera lens:


courtesy of

courtesy of

3D Work

The same rules apply for the background as for 2D work.
Don't place your work too close to the background– give it some space.
Your lighting is also crucial for sculpture, since you may want to emphasize the depth or materiality of a piece through the shadows you can create with your lights. Play around with it until you get the lighting you are going for.

Make sure your backdrop is clean. If it's not, then "dust" it afterwards in Photoshop.


Dirty backdrop before and after, art work courtesy of  Andrew Hamill

Dirty backdrop before and after, art work courtesy of Andrew Hamill

The Shoot

Assure that your aperture is f8 or higher, so that the work is in focus. You can set your camera to Aperture Priority to assure your f-stop won't change while shooting.
Make several images. Change up the aperture a bit, change the lighting, move your work around. Try different angles and get detail shots.
Focus and fill the frame with the image.

After the shoot

Once you've uploaded your images to your computer, you can crop the images and do any color correction you need to in a photo application, such as Photoshop.
Often, especially with paintings and drawings, you will need to tweak your images so that they are as close as a representation to the real thing. Perhaps certain colors need to be toned down or the blacks aren't dark enough. It's important to work on your digital files in the same room as your art work so you can look at it to compare.
Save your work often and be sure to rename your files as you finish them. It will help you organize them later. Each file name should include the title, medium, date and size of your work.
Sometimes the post-processing of the images on your computer can take just as long as the actual shoot–please be sure to set enough time aside and back up your images.


Don't shoot with a flash! Use off camera professional lights or natural overcast daylight.

If you are accepted into an exhibition, make sure to document your work before you send it off. (It could get sold and you won't have easy access to it, etc.) Documenting your work for insurance purposes is also a good reminder.

Organize your files! Everyone has their own system. Make sure your files are easy to find and BACKED-UP.

If you have a flat piece that can be scanned, and the image looks good, go for it. Just remember to "dust" the image in Photoshop.

Gather up your work and get documenting. That way, you'll build up your arsenal of gorgeous images to put on your website, show to a curator, and apply to a residency or your next exhibition. Good luck!


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