With a photo habit, you can visually keep track of work over time, and collecting your own images allows you to offer accurate, quality-controlled snaps to anyone who asks. Here are a few ideas for a better photo archive:
It’s not necessary to kit yourself out with reflectors and other professional lighting aids. You can get natural images by taking advantage of even, ambient daylight. Hang the painting on an easel or wall and perpendicular to a large window, under a skylight or outdoors in medium shade or cloud cover. If the work is on an easel, make sure there’s no backlighting. Avoid facing paintings directly into the sun.
Shoot when paintings are finished and signed, but before varnishing — this will eliminate pesky sheen and reflections. Keep the work unframed for purity and timelessness. Frames also cast shadows.
Avoid flash, light bursts and gradations in light quality. Diminish overexposure and amplify brushwork by keeping the work perpendicular to the ambient light source and by paying attention to where soft shadows can creep in. For example, a large piece of furniture or an overhang outdoors can lead to a shadowed corner or a darker area.
When working with a lot of finished work, shoot the back, too, assuming you’ve titled verso. This keeps the title handy during editing.
Use a tripod or set the camera on a table. A wide-angle lens on a digital SLR camera will keep things sharp, but an iPhone will work in a pinch, steadied on a table and using the HDR setting.
Most computer photo apps have a basic editing suite where you can crop, straighten, adjust exposure and colour temperature. Crop with care — get horizons straight and edges clean. Crop delicately as close to the inside edge of the image as possible, without including the painting edge. Colour correct with caution, and reference the original work as you go. Natural daylight (not too cool, not too warm) should get you most of the way there.
Give your image file a helpful name, something like this: artist-name-title-size-medium-year.jpeg. You, your collectors, adjudicators and dealers will appreciate this attention to detail.
Take a minute to assess your work as a tiny, perfect thumbnail, where compositional strengths and weaknesses reveal themselves.
Store your images in folders or in galleries in your photo app. You can sort images by gallery, what’s in your studio, sold paintings, etc. Files double as inventory lists and are shared easily with free apps like Dropbox. File sharing apps save you the embarrassment of clogging innocent inboxes.
Shoot with the idea that you’re creating your own comprehensive archive, and execute in such a way that when it’s time to share, the quality of your images reflects your artistic standards.
PS: “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” (Author unknown)
Esoterica: Watermarks ruin paintings. Worse yet, ill-conceived ones reframe your work as commercial or amateur. Artists may disagree as to whether watermarking even works to discourage copyright infringement, as your sister’s nephew’s dog can likely remove it in any basic graphic design app. If it’s branding you’re after, this is what your original style and signature are for. Better to eschew any possible “fear energy” that can leak from an overzealous overlay and into the heart of someone who would otherwise have become enchanted with your work. You can use Google’s reverse image search to find works you think others may be “borrowing” and simply ask to be credited. If they’re printing t-shirts for sale, shut ’em down. For the rest of us mere mortals, images of our work, whether requested privately by a potential collector or shared online, should exude the same ineffable lustworthiness as their originals. Trust and quality just might transcend them into real-world objects of desire.