Photographing Children’s Artwork
All of the ‘bespoke’ children’s artwork for Artful Kids starts with a photograph, or copy of the original work. But as you can imagine, the finished product derived from that artwork is only as good as the original photograph. For the wall-art products which Artful Kids offers, customers can either scan in the artwork themselves and upload it directly to the Artful Kids site, or alternatively if they don’t have a scanner, send the artwork itself. We sometimes get asked if a photograph can be sent as an attachment instead, but having tried this initially, we are now reluctant to offer this as an option because the quality of the photos we receive is often so poor, that it’s impossible to produce a finished product of a high enough standard. We’ve found it’s a lot easier all round, and the finished result much better, if we control the whole process from start to finish. It might take a little longer, but we feel it’s worth it – or maybe we’re just control freaks as well as perfectionists! However, if you want to take photos of your children’s artwork for your own projects, I thought it might be worthwhile offering a few simple pointers to getting the best image you can. After all, not everyone has access to a scanner, and if the artwork is large, then your average home scanner is not an option.
At this point I should make it clear that it’s not necessary to have a super dooper all singing all dancing camera to get a good photograph – these days it’s possible to get fabulous photos with a mobile phone, as long as it’s set to take them at the best quality possible. Remember, if the image is destined to be printed, such as in a photobook, the quality or number of pixels in the image should be as high as possible. If it’s going to be uploaded for viewing online only, then the quality does not have to be as high.
However even with the most expensive SLR it is possible to take poor photos. So here are 6 golden rules to remember when photographing children’s artwork:
- Place the artwork in good natural light, but not direct sunlight. Avoid direct flash, or artificial light which can be too harsh, creating strong shadows and contrasts, and can also do strange things to colours. You need a good even, preferably non-directional light. If necessary take it outdoors.
- Make sure that when you take the photograph the camera lens is directly opposite the artwork. Pin it on the wall, or put it on the floor and stand over it. If the camera lens is not directly opposite, you are introducing perspective into the picture, and distorting the original artwork. You can easily tell whether you are directly opposite if, when the paper is framed in the viewfinder, the edges of the paper are completely parallel to it.
- Make sure there are no shadows on the picture when you take it. That includes from yourself! It’s surprisingly easy to miss them when you’re taking the photograph. Watch out also for any shadows caused by crumpled paper and directional light, for example from a window.
- If there is a lot of white background on the artwork, and you are using your camera on an automatic setting, make sure that you either adjust your camera’s white balance setting to compensate, or alternatively increase the exposure time so that the image isn’t under-exposed (too dark).
- Children’s art always seems to get crumpled and dog eared. You won’t get thickly painted paper completely flat and wrinkle free, but try to get the paper as flat as you can without any corners curling up, and if necessary stick or tape the corners/edges down. If the paper is very crumpled, you can use a household iron to get rid of the worst creases. Make sure you use a warm rather than hot setting, and only iron on the reverse.
- Make sure the image is pin sharp – if you don’t have a tripod, use as fast a shutter speed as you can, and make sure everything is focused properly. With the best will in the world, it is impossible to do much with a blurred image. This is another good reason for taking the photograph in good light so that you can use a faster shutter speed, but if necessary (which it might be on a winter day) and you have to use a slower shutter speed, try to brace yourself or the camera against a rigid object, so that it is as still as possible while you take the photo.
These rules are pretty basic, and indeed may seem obvious if you have any photography experience, but will make all the difference to the quality of the photograph and the finished project it is intended for. And though it might be argued that many of these photographic faults can be edited away (which is true to a limited extent) it all involves extra work which everyone can do without.
To illustrate the point, the following completely unedited photos, demonstrate some of the pitfalls – as you can see, all of them are rather dark – a combination of poor light, and failure to adjust either the cameras white balance or exposure setting.
A little extra thought and preparation will make sure that you do justice to your original artwork and that you get a finished product to be proud of.