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Tips for Photographing Artwork and Other Flat Objects

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Woman taking photograph of blank painting, close-up Grant Faint/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
Many times people will want to photograph a piece of art they have created to show long-distance friends what they have been up to lately. From painted items to cross stitch, these flat objects present some special challenges.

One of the biggest challenges comes from glare. Whether artwork is being photographed through glass or the paper/fabric itself is reflective, glare is a real issue for art photography. The best way to prevent glare is to diffuse the light source. This is done by placing a piece of translucent material between the light source and the artwork. One way to do this is to create a homemade light box. This is basically a framework box with thin white paper or fabric stretched around it and light placed outside the box. This effect is much like light shining through white curtains. It helps to eliminate shadows and glare. If a flash is to be used, the flash itself should be diffused. This can be done by carefully taping a small piece of diffuser material to the flash or by purchasing a commercially available flash diffuser.

The next big challenge is angle. In order to photograph a piece of artwork without distortion it must be photographed head on. Many people try to do this by placing the artwork on a table and looking down at it with the camera. Without a tripod that has a rotating head this can be very difficult. A better option is to hang the artwork on a vertical surface and use a tripod to hold your camera steady directly facing the art. If you are using a lightbox this can still be done, you just need to attach a hook to the back of the lightbox to hold the artwork. If you have a point and shoot camera, most of these are still tripod compatible and small tabletop tripods are available at most discount and camera stores.

Getting enough light can often be a problem even with a light box or flash. To make sure you have enough light, lamps can be used (even flashlights in a pinch). The diffuser material will help to color correct the light back towards white. If your images consistently come out yellow, try setting the light box outside in bright sunlight.
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