Creating Better Digital Images of your Paintings. How to Ensure your Masterpiece is Best Represented Online and in Print

Review of 2012 OPA National Exhibition Session with Susan Abma and Jerry Goroski, by contributing OPA artist Julia Bright

Most of us have had the experience of taking a photo of our painting, only to find out that it’s a distorted, too light/too dark, too blue, too red (insert your own adjective here) version of our beautiful painting. Then we go to Photoshop ( if we even know what kind of “animal” that is) to try and manipulate the image to make it look like the original. At the end of the session, we end up with an even worse image than we started with! How frustrating!

Well, Susan Abma and Jerry Goroski have some great tips on how to make the process of photographing your paintings (almost) painless!

Artists these days must do so many things – take photos of their work, post to Facebook , update their website, blog, etc. the list goes on and on…. all these activities leave limited time to actually create art. So how do we make sure we spend time painting, instead of manipulating technology? One way is to take better photos of our paintings. Here are some guidelines:

A good camera is an absolute must

What is a good camera? One with a glass lens. With cameras, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. A cheap camera has a plastic lens, which distorts the image. A camera with a glass lens will give you a detailed, sharp, intense image. Buy the best camera you can afford. As a general guideline, a camera costing at least $300-$400 will have a glass lens.

Never use an IPad or Iphone image for print

The resolution is not high enough, and you will get a grainy, distorted image every time

Lens Tips

A longer lens, further back takes a sharper image than a 15mm lens close up. Get a zoom lens – at least a 15-85mm.

Lighting and setting up paintings

Using photo lamps indoors can change the colors of your painting dramatically. Susan and Jerry recommend taking your painting outdoors on an overcast day or in shade (but not deep shadow). Put an easel in a perfectly straight vertical position (measure to make sure it’s perfectly vertical). Put your camera on a tripod. Use of gray card (if one can be found) is recommended to calibrate the color. Another way to calibrate color is to place a piece of white foam core in front of the camera on a tripod exactly square to your image, and take a photo of that. Your camera will now have a guideline for white, and will adjust all the other colors accordingly.

Always take your painting out of the frame to avoid cast shadows. It does not matter what color you choose to put behind the easel. Again, make sure your painting on the easel is in a perfectly vertical position, you want to limit having to crop the image. Try to keep your camera at the same angle (vertically) as your painting. This will help in eliminating glare.

Back up your camera!. Shoot your photo from farther away, with a longer lens. That’s it!.

If your image quality is not where it should be, retake the photo, rather than trying to manipulate the image in Photoshop. Take as many shots as you can, so you have lots to choose from later on.

Manipulating images in Photoshop

If your image quality is bad, there is not much a printer can actually do with your image. Try to avoid extensive Photoshop manipulation at all costs, unless you are a Photoshop super-user (expert). All computer monitors are different, so the color you see on one, will not necessarily match the color on another monitor. If you have several computers, check the image on all of them. Manipulate the image in Photoshop by very small percentages, because small % changes alter the image dramatically. Overly manipulated shots usually come out very dark and muddy off the press.

When manipulating images in Photoshop, DO:

  • Darken images
  • Lighten images
  • Sharpen images


  • Manipulate color, unless you are a Photoshop expert. Just try to take a better photo!
  • Adjust light/dark curves more than 2% either way. Adjusting by a higher percent will result in grainy images coming from the printing press.
  • Adjust color in curves. If you need to adjust color, or light/dark by a large percentage, take another photo!

Photoshop is a very expensive program to buy. If you do not have Photoshop on your computer, a cheaper program will do just fine for the above manipulation of images. No need to invest in Photoshop. Save your money for a better camera!

Jpegs vs. TIFs

Most printing facilities require images in TIF format, rather than Jpegs. You can save your image as a TIF file in your computer, but the image needs to be a higher resolution – aim for a resolution of 300. When you change the resolution of your image in Photoshop, if resolution is increased 4 times, the other dimensions need to decrease 4 times. That is the way to obtain a crisp image. Normally, the image from your camera will be in a resolution of 72. Keep your original (unchanged) image file, because when you manipulate a file, it completely changes the image. Save the manipulated files under another name.

Closing thoughts

Final words of advice from Susan and Jerry – If you can at all afford to have your work professionally photographed, do it. Otherwise, spend more time learning how to take good photos, than learning how to manipulate Photoshop!


Upcoming OPA Events

30th Annual National Juried Exhibition 30th Annual National Juried Exhibition
The Thirtieth National Exhibition and Convention will be hosted by the California Center for the Arts, Escondido Museum, located in Escondido, California, from April 9 through May 16, 2021. Learn More!
First Annual Student Art Competition First Annual Student Art Competition
The First Annual Student Art Competition is from January 15 - February 15, 2021 and will be open to Student between the ages of 14 to 22 only. Learn More!
OPA Spring 2021 Online Showcase OPA Spring 2021 Online Showcase
The Spring 2021 Online Showcase is from March 1 - May 15, 2021 and will be open to Associate members only. Learn More!