How to Photograph Your Art for Websites
and Other Online Purposes
The Internet has forever changed the way artists get the word out about their art, and that change is only just beginning. The fact is that conventional ways of doing business can reach nowhere near the numbers of people that online resources can and for you as an artist, effectively expanding your audience is becoming increasingly dependent on how well you craft your online profile. A large part of that profile has to do with the way you organize, contextualize and present your work, but the most important part by far is your visuals-- the images of your art. Your goal, of course, is to interest people enough in your work to take some kind of action-- contact you, ask questions, start dialogues, and hopefully in the end, buy something. If the images of your art don't look their absolute best and most compelling, those outcomes are likely not going to happen.
In spite of these truths, many artists do surprisingly inadequate jobs of conveying the visual components of their art. One of the most persistently frustrating aspects of looking at art online is that you can't tell very much about it. Why? In the overwhelming majority of cases, artists mistakenly assume that because their images make perfect sense to them, they automatically make the same amount of sense to everybody else, so no more effort on their part is required. The truth is that only those already familiar with the the art know what they're looking at; the rest of the planet is pretty much clueless. Furthermore, looking at art online is not like looking at it in a gallery where you can ask questions, get answers, move from side to side, back up, zoom in close, and really study it from a variety of perspectives. Online viewers are handicapped from the start because not only can't they experience the physical presence of the work, but in many cases, they know little or nothing about the art they're looking at. The only way for you or any other artist to rectify this situation is to visually provide as close to an in-person viewing experience as possible-- for anyone who likes what they're looking art-- regardless of how much they know.
Unfortunately, many artists are convinced that online images are always inferior to seeing the art in person and use that as an excuse not to pay that much attention to them. But depending on the circumstances, the opposite may well be the case. Through effective use of images, the online viewing experience can in certain ways be superior to viewing the art in person. Online, you can control what viewers see and direct their attentions like you've never been able to before, possibly even more so than in galleries. You decide what people should look at, when they should look at it, what order they should look at it in, and why.
For example, people often overlook important details when viewing art, and if you're like most artists, you've likely had to point those details out on multiple occasions. Many people either don't have a lot of experience looking at art, they don't know enough about particular artists or works of art to know where or what to look at, or they're simply afraid to look for too long or get too close. Now you can solve all those problems by controlling what people see in order to make sure nobody misses anything. Here's how....
Rather than show single images of each work of art like the overwhelming majority of artists currently do (and which many times raise more questions than answers), present a series or sequence of images, a "complete viewing experience," a guided tour, so to speak. You be the choreographer here. You know how your art looks best, what details or characteristics are most important for people to see and understand, so take them on an image-by-image journey that shows all that. You don't necessarily have to do this with every single work of art on your website; providing a handful of representative examples is usually enough make your points and get viewers in touch with the most outstanding qualities of your work. But if you can do it for all, that would be best.
Model the online viewing experience after the way you and other knowledgeable individuals typically approach and view art-- either your own art or that of other artists-- where you take it in bit by bit in order to achieve a total understanding of the whole. If you've been around long enough and have enough good solid feedback and data from your fans about how they look at your art, combine your experiences with theirs. Depending on the art, image sequences will likely vary from piece to piece and artist to artist, but begin the way you normally do, with a good quality introductory image that shows the complete composition. That's what people almost always want to see first-- how the art looks straight on, in its entirety, with no interference. In other words, the exact same way you likely show your art on your website now. Keep that format and organization the same.
What changes is that interested parties will now have the option to look at specific artworks closer by selecting from various detail shots. With a painting, for example, you might include an image of the edge to show depth, one of the back to show supports or construction, one or two of the surface to show texture or detail or color gradient, and whatever other close-ups you deem necessary. With a sculpture, show different perspectives; take the viewer on a 360-degree tour in either stills or video. Include images of the base, the signature, close-ups of compositional details, a view from the top looking down or the bottom looking up, and so on. Add to those, other views you believe will enhance and enrich the understanding and appreciation of your work, with the endgame being to make viewers feel like they're holding the art in their hands, standing directly in front of it or walking around it. Four to eight detail views should be adequate in most cases.
Additional points to keep in mind:
* Label your main images, the introductory ones of the entire works of art, with essential information including title, medium, dimensions, and any other particulars that contribute to understanding the art as a physical object and not just a picture on a computer screen.
* Scale the art. Most people have a hard time imagining exactly how large or small a work of art is in person no matter how much written information you provide-- including the dimensions. Photograph the work hanging or otherwise on display either in an interior setting or better yet, on a blank wall just like it would look if it was hanging in a gallery. (Maybe even ask a gallery if you can borrow some blank wall space to shoot your art.) If you do this well, the online viewing experience can approximate that of an actual gallery. The fact that the viewer sees your art on display in a "gallery" setting can also have the psychological effect of increasing its (and your) credibility, not to mention that they'll have an easier time imagining what it would look like on display in their collections. Remember-- always include enough in the way of context so that size and physical appearance are easy for viewers to grasp.
* Before you put your images online, show them to other people. Ask for feedback. How large do they think your art is? Have them demonstrate with their hands. Ask how they think it looks up close. Ask if they have any questions. Ask if they'd like to see certain parts of it closer. Take a survey; find out what they notice, what they're missing, and fill in the blanks with a better or more extensive range of images.
* Be especially thoughtful about choosing your close-ups. Here's your big chance to zoom in on aspects of your art that people might otherwise overlook or inadvertently gloss over. With the quality of today's digital cameras, you can show any feature of a given composition larger than life, and better than any naked eye can see. To take that idea one step further, you can even teach people how to observe and appreciate art (like yours) in ways that they never could before. You know what your strengths are; make sure you have them covered. For example, if brushstrokes, meticulous workmanship, or areas of exceptional detail are important aspects of your art, show them. Quality impresses; it's just that simple. Here also, don't forget to scale your close-ups; you might even use a ruler or other standard of measure when helpful. The better people understand and appreciate the time, effort, painstaking care and hard work that go into creating your art, and how difficult and challenging it is to make, the more inclined they'll be to buy.
* Make sure all of your images look professional. This doesn't mean you have to hire a photographer, but rather that everything's in focus, vertical and horizontal lines are straight, the lighting is ideal and even, there are no flashes or reflections or glare or shadows, colors are true, and so on. Your art should be accurately represented in terms of what it looks like in real life, and most importantly, it should look it's ABSOLUTE BEST. Remember-- strangers who have no idea who you are or what your art is about will be seeing it for the very first time; this is your big (and often only) opportunity to impress and win them over.
* Keep file sizes reasonable-- not too large, not too small. Note somewhere on your website that if requested, you'll be happy to provide larger or more detailed images of either an entire work of art or of specific areas.
* Don't be so concerned about other people stealing your images that you end up compromising their quality by making them too small, reducing the resolution to the point where viewers can't see detail, blind-stamping your name across them, or employing other techniques to purposely degrade their appearance. You'll only be hurting yourself.
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