Friday, July 22, 2011

Fabulous & Fun Fridays - How To Make Your Photos Pop

All artists that aren't photographers will come to find out at some point or another that photographing their art isn't as easy as one might think.  There is a lot to learn in order to get that perfect shot where your art looks in the photo exactly as it does in real life, let alone good enough quality to make prints with.

This tutorial is going to go more in depth with what to do with your photo once you have taken it.  However I will go over some basic pointers for you to keep in mind when you go to take the pictures.

  • Natural Lighting - I can't stress this point enough!  You don't want to be in  direct bright sunlight, you just want natural light and it doesn't even have to be a lot of it.  A large window in your house or even if you can get outside to take the shot is the best.  
  • White Background - I have found the easiest way to achieve a perfectly white background every time is to use a large piece of white foam board that you can lean your art against to take the picture.  These are easily accessible at any dollar store or craft store, they're cheap and portable.
  • Good Camera - As an artist myself I know that most of us don't have a lot of extra dough floating around to go out and by the Canon Rebel or anything but a decent camera with lots of megapixels is not overly expensive these days.  You can pick up a Kodak 14 Megapixel digital camera for under $100 and many more like it in the same price range.  I think for the most part this is common knowledge but I will say it anyhow, the more megapixels your shooting with, the better your picture will be, bottom line!
  • Tripod - If you are serious about being an artist then this is necessary.  You can pick up a great tripod for $20 and if you want to go all out then you can get even better ones for more money.  I have a $20 one and it has never done me wrong and even has the added features like a compass and levels.  Using the tripod will eliminate the problem of camera shake which causes your photo to turn out blurry.  Even if its just a little bit of blur it is no good when it comes to photographing your art, especially if you want to make prints with these photos!
  • Macro Setting - Familiarize yourself with the functions of your digital camera and you will come across the macro setting which is usually symbolized by a little flower on most cameras.  The macro setting is only to be turned on when you are taking a very close shot of great detail.  How close you need to be to your subject varies with each camera so you will need to check your manual.  This setting is almost like a magnifying glass and allows you to capture incredible detail within your subject however if you are too far away your shot will be out of focus.
  • Turn Flash OFF - This is SO important!!!!  Never use a flash when photographing your art!  This goes along with the first point of using natural light only.  If you are in the house and there isn't enough natural light your photos may be turning out kind of yellowy,  this leads beginners to feel the urge to turn on their flash.  I am telling you that it will only make things worst, just DON't DO IT!!!

Those are some basic guidelines to get you started.  Keep practicing and you find that your pics will only get better with time and practice.  However taking a good photo is only half of it, the rest of the task is done on the computer once you have uploaded all of your unedited pics.

The method that I use for this is actually quite simple and I even use a free program called GIMP!  If you do not have GIMP installed on your computer yet you can download it here  The download is 100% safe and like I already said FREE!  To follow along with this tutorial you will need this program as I can't guarantee that it will be exactly the same in other programs. 

Your going to want to start with a photo that you have taken in natural sunlight and isn't blurry, this is the only criteria you need to make this method work.  It won't matter if the photo is a bit crooked as we will fix that along the way here as well.

Here is a before and after of what you will learn today, as you can see in the before photo, it is a bit crooked so you wouldn't be able to crop it straight with out cutting off a bit of the painting, or can you?  Besides that the lighting is terrible despite being taken in natural sunlight.  Natural sunlight won't always give us perfect lighting in our photos right off the bat but it will give us something that can easily be worked with.  Looking at the after photo you will see that it has been cropped, straight, we haven't loss any of the painting at the edges and the lighting has been fixed up so that the painting looks like it does in real life.



What you will need for this tutorial:

  • A  photo of your product taken in natural sunlight
  • The free program GIMP

Everything that I describe and show you in the diagrams below has been highlighted in yellow and marked with a red arrow so you won't be able to miss it.  Ok, lets get started...

We need to get this ACEO straightened out in the photo and to do that we will use the rotate button.  Click on rotate and then use your mouse to click on the corner of what you want to rotate and drag it into place.

In this image you will see that the ACEO has been rotated into place and now all you have to do is click the rotate button in the little box that comes up to make it stick.

Now we need to crop the photo so that we are left with nothing but what we actually want to have in our final photo.  So using the crop button, when you click on it your mouse will turn into a cross which you can click anywhere in the photo that you want to start your crop and drag your box around the object in the photo, if it doesn't drag perfectly that is ok because you can play with it after the fact by moving the sides of the box in and out.  Once you have the box perfectly around the object that you are cropping just double click in the middle of it and that will complete your crop.  Remember, you want to get all of the sides evenly as close the art as possible without actually touching the art.

Once you have completed your crop it might look something like this image below especially if you are working with art.  As you can see in the image below, the perspective is a bit off so I was not able to get a perfect crop around the ACEO without either cutting some of the edge off or having extra space around it unevenly in different spots.  You don't ever want to cut off any of your art so just bring the crop box as close to the edge where you can and leave the extra space in the other spots. Now to get rid of that extra space we will use the perspective tool. 

Click on the perspective tool in the tool box and then use your mouse to drag the corners of your art out until they fill the box.  Your art will be outlined in a dotted yellow line so you can easily see how far you need to drag the corners out until they meet the edge. Now your dotted yellow line and the extra space is now outside of your image.  Once you have it all fixed up you can click on the transform button in the box that came up and it will stick.  Now to complete this task we will need crop the image again just to completely eliminate that extra space.

As you can see by the image below that extra space is now highlighted in the yellow dotted line around your image and you can get rid of it by clicking on the crop button and cropping out only your item.  You will only be able to drag your crop box as far as your good image so just drag the box around your image and then pull all 4 edges over as far as they will go to ensure you don't cut off any of your good picture.  

Once you have dragged them all the way to the edges double click in the middle and you will be left with only your perfectly straight picture.

Now we need to adjust the lighting and get this picture to look exactly or as close to the original painting as we can.  There are 2 ways that we can do this, and how complicated the lighting in your picture is, is how you can determine which method you should use.

The first method I will show you only gives you 2 values to adjust, your brightness and your contrast (light and dark).  I find that the result is a bit harsher with this method as there is no in between.  However if the lighting in your picture is very close to the original in real life then this method will probably do you just fine. To do this click on the colors tab at the top of the program and then in the drop down menu that appears click on Brightness and Contrast.  You will see a new box come up titled Brightness - Contrast.

Starting with the brightness tab drag the bar over to the right, there is no exact measurement for this, you will just have to play around with it until it looks right.  It won't really look right though until you adjust the contrast below so what I like to do is pull it over about 3/4 of the way to the right and then start adjusting the contrast until it starts to look right.  Looking at the real life art next to you while you do this will help you to get it as close to life like as possible.  Don't be afraid to play around with these 2 values until it is perfect.  If you find that it gets too far off and you need to start over, just click the reset button at the bottom of the box.  When you are happy with it click the ok button to make it stick.  See the next 2 images for my examples of how to do this.

The second method is done by using the Levels tool which is also found in the colors menu as shown below.

This box may look a little more complicated if you are unfamiliar with this tool but it really isn't.  You are only going to be adjusting your Input Levels at the top, which is really only one more value and that is your mid tones which were missing in the first method.  You can do this in a very similar fashion as you did with the Brightness and Contrast only this time you have 3 values to work with instead of only 2.  It is very easy to remember which is which because the arrows are color coded in case you ever forget.  You should start with the white arrow which is furthest to the right.

Start sliding the white arrow to the left and as you do you will see your middle mid tones arrow sliding left as well.  That is ok because you can still adjust it separately after.  Once you see the lightness starting to look close to what you want you can start adjusting the dark and mid tones.

You will see that when you move the black arrow that is furthest to the left and which controls your dark levels that the mid tones arrow in the middle will also move with it just like it did for the light arrow.  However when you move the mid tones arrow only it will move by itself.   So knowing all of this you can now play around with the 3 arrows until your painting looks the same as it does in real life.  Once you have all of your levels how you want them just click ok at the bottom of the box.

Now your picture should be done at this point, however I am going to show you one more option which will be handy for posting your art to the internet.  If you have used a high megapixel camera then your photo will be high resolution and if you upload this to the internet you are making it very easy for theft.  Not to mention there are some sites that have size restrictions. 

So you can adjust your size by clicking on the layers tab and selecting Scale Layer from the drop down menu.  I find that 1000 px works best for most sites and is small enough that you don't need to worry about theft.  A box will come up like the one below choose the bigger number and change it to 1000 px, the other number will change on its own to correspond with the proper proportion.   If you ever don't want the numbers to change together for whatever reason you can easily click on the little link button beside the number boxes and when you click on that it will break the link so that you can adjust both numbers separately but for art it is generally better to leave them linked together as to keep the proper proportion.  

Once you get them adjusted click the scale button and your image will change size.  Now you will need to adjust the canvas size around your image or you will be left with a white box around it.

To adjust the canvas size click on image which is right beside the layer menu and then click on Fit Canvas To Layers and this will complete your picture.

Your final picture should look something like the one below which is ready to be saved and uploaded to the website of your choice.



  1. Thank for this. I need all the help I can get. I also need a new camera.

  2. I have the GIMP program and really struggled with figuring it out ( I know, shock, right :) )
    This cleared it up for me! Thanks you!
    Awesome :)

  3. Great tips and thanks for going to the problem explaining how GIMP works!

  4. That's very smart! Thanks so much for the useful tutorial.


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