For this reason, it can typically be recommended that you photograph larger artworks to get the WHOLE image, faithfully, in one go. Photographing artwork isn't like scanning an image, though. There are a lot of conditions that can greatly affect the quality result of your shot. Scanners generate their own light in a closed space. This gives you a uniform result every time. Photography, however, relies heavily on the lighting within the room, or the quality of the sunlight that day if you're shooting outdoors. Ambient light reflecting off the image can change its color, or cause certain reflective materials used on the piece [such as paints and graphites] to shine and become hard to see. Raised elements such as folds in the paper or thickly layered paint can also cast unintended shadows across the piece. Knowing how to avoid these issues can make the difference between having a photo that LOOKS like a photo of your work, or a photo that looks even better than a scan.
There are some very necessary materials you need to effectively take photos of artwork. First and foremost, you need a camera. Most any 5.0+ Megapixel digital camera will do, but if you really want to get a good shot, make SURE you have a camera with manual controls. The controls that are most necessary to have manual are ISO, Shutter Speed, Image Quality, and White Balance. Next, you'll need a tripod for the camera. You may think that you can hold a camera steady enough to take a photo of an artwork, but think again. A tripod is infinitely more stable at holding that camera than you will ever be, especially when dealing with shutter speeds below 1/30th of a second. Next, you need either a well-lit wall or an easel that you can put your artwork on. Lastly, you need some sort of a light source. We'll be talking about light sources in a moment.
First, lets talk about that camera.
Fully automatic digital cameras can make too many assumptions. And they're almost always wrong on these assumptions. For example, lets say you're taking a photo of a large drawing on a white sheet of paper. Cameras are designed to always attempt to expose the image to what's known as EV-0. A photo taken at EV-0 means that the photo was properly exposed to ensure that it's not too bright, yet not too dark. In a typical outdoor scene, this works very well to try to keep bright objects from blowing out in brightness. However, by photographing a large sheet of white paper, the camera automatically assumes that the paper is a bright "over exposed" object, and it will lessen the exposure to make the paper more gray to save details. The problem is that paper was never over exposed. It's just white by nature. And when you take that photo, you want the paper to be white like it's supposed to be -- not a dull gray. It's for THIS reason, above any other, that a manual camera is highly, highly recommended to use.
Shooting artwork with the JPEG file format is most common, and is acceptable to do as long as it's on the highest quality setting, and you make sure that you set your White Balance accordingly to ensure a "Neutral" reproduction of the image. Using Tungsten setting in, say, a day lit room will result in a very, very blue image that you won't be able to fix easily. The best format you can use is RAW file format, which is available on any digital SLR camera. The RAW format will allow you to tweak all color balance parameters [and even some exposure parameters to an extent,] after you take the photo. RAW file formats can help make a good shot perfect once opened in Photoshop. For all photos, it's recommended you shoot with your cameras LOWEST available ISO setting. For most cameras, this will be ISO 80 or ISO 100. This will ensure the best quality image with the least amount of grainy noise. Also, importantly, remember to DISABLE YOUR CAMERAS FLASH! A flash never looks good when used to photograph your friends, so do not expect any miracles when used on artworks.
Now for the approach on how we should be shooting these artworks.
Most people assume that shooting in direct sunlight is the best thing you can do when photographing an artwork. If you're using a small automatic digital camera, that is probably true since these cameras were built mostly for daytime shooting. However, manual cameras and larger Digital SLR cameras are usually better left photographing indoors. The best lighting situation you can have for photographing an artwork is in a white room on a sunny day. The idea is to use the ambient light within the room to give the artwork you're photographing an even uniform illumination with no hard shadows cast around it. Shooting into direct sunlight can often be much too harsh. It can cause colors to wash out in the photo, leave nasty specularity and shadows, and cause uneven lighting within the lens. When shooting in direct sunlight outside, you'll be using very fast shutter speeds of 1/500th of a second and faster. This quick exposure time in such intense light is what can cause the loss of color and contrast fidelity. On top of that, you'll be fighting against the blue ambient light of the sky showing up in your work. In an all-white room, this no longer becomes an issue. Shooting indoors also provides a more controllable environment. There's no wind you have to worry about moving your work, and if it's too bright, you can just pull some shades over the windows.
Next, most people might also assume to just move the camera as close to the artwork as you can until it fits the entire viewable area of the camera. This is a bad approach. Being so close to the artwork can cause ambient light to be blocked by your body and create a dimmer area in the middle of the artwork. On top of this, camera lenses always have distortion at their wider-viewing ends. Your artwork will have a noticeable "bulge" throughout the entire image, giving the corners of your photo a soft out-of-focus appearance. You want to avoid these things. So, all you have to do is just back up! Place the camera farther back into the middle of the room and use the camera [or camera lens'] zoom ability to make the artwork larger in the photo. Zooming in eliminates bulging distortion, keeps edges sharper, allows more light to cast over the artwork since you're farther away, and flattens space.
When ready to shoot, it doesn't completely matter how dim the room is. The most important thing is that the artwork is illuminated diffusely by the ambience of the sunlight / skylight entering the room. Even if the room is somewhat dim, you can compensate easily to bring it up to a perfect exposure by lengthening the shutter speed of the camera. Since the camera is on a tripod, you won't have to worry about any jittery blur being caught from a shaky hand. If you want to eliminate all chances of blur entirely, set your camera to the Timer Shutter function, so by the time it counts down and takes the photo, you've had enough time to let go of the camera and allow any standing vibrations or wobbles within the tripod to dissipate.
If you're shooting multiple artworks one after another, try not to move the camera and tripod at all, or as little as possible. If you have an artwork that is in portrait orientation, flip the artwork on its side to landscape orientation to maximize the detail the camera can get. Remember, flip the artwork to match the camera -- not the camera to match the artwork. If the next-up artwork is larger than the last one, just zoom out a little, don't move the camera back. If it's smaller, zoom in. If you can't zoom in any more to make it fit within view, return the camera back to about a middle zoom level and bring the tripod closer a few steps to the artwork. While you shouldn't move the camera, it's more important to keep the artwork in one spot to keep a consistent lighting result across all artworks. [Also, if you're photographing artworks hung on a wall, you really don't have any other choice. You very well can't move the entire wall, now.] The best recommendation for photographing multiple artworks of different sizes is to photograph them in order by size. Start with the larger ones and work your way down to the smaller ones so you'll have to make fewer adjustments to the camera after each shot.
Your goal is to take a photo of the artwork with decent black and white level. If you have an artwork with a lot of contrast, with both black and white elements within it, make sure the white in the image is bright enough without making the black in the image start to lighten to appear gray. You only need to get it as good as you can with the camera. Don't expect to get a perfect reproduction of the image in one shot. You'll always have to do SOME Photoshop retouching to get the artwork more closely resembling its real-life counterpart. Try to take 2 to 3 shots of each artwork with slightly different settings. Maybe one with one step faster or slower shutter speed. You could be happy you did after you unload them onto your computer and find that when viewed at its full size, one shot looked better than the other.
Now that you've taken your photos, its time to get them onto your computer. [Pro tip: if you're going to be taking many photos often, of anything, it's a good idea to get a USB Card Reader to transfer photos instead of using the camera's built-in USB connection itself. Card readers typically transfer much faster, and save your camera's batteries.]
Using Photoshop, some simple edits can be done to make your image look more faithful to the original. Visit each of these adjustments under the menu Image menu, Adjustments sub-menu:
LEVELS: This is perhaps the most important one to use. Sliding the three arrows in small increments can help make whites white, blacks black, and achieve an overall complete contrast that will look great on any computer monitor or reproduced print. Be sure not to move any arrow too far in a direction that you start to lose details, however. For instance, making the paper so white that lines you've drawn start to disappear. Avoid doing it THAT much.
SATURATION / VIBRANCE: Different cameras light to play with color for you because they think they know what's best. Because of this, more often than not, you'll end up with a photo that is WAY too saturated in attempt to make it look "Punchy." If you didn't want your original artwork to look "punchy," you'r certainly not going to want your photo to look it either. So turn down the saturation a little! In more professional cameras, its actually entirely possible that the colors are too muted. So turn it up a little, then!
COLOR BALANCE: Your camera most likely won't capture a perfect color likeness of the artwork. Color Balance can help return some of the missing hues to the image. When comparing the photo on your screen to the artwork in real life, discern which tones need some help. If the photo looks far too yellow compared to the original, simply slide the Yellow/Blue slider AWAY from the yellow and towards the blue. Small amounts can make big differences in Color Balance. Just +/- 4% in either direction can completely alter the tone of your work. Be sure to carefully work your way toward a quality, neutral image. You don't want to slide that slider too far that your work now appears blue!
[Note: these same parameters can be found in Adobe Camera Raw if you are processing RAW photos. It's recommended that you use the Exposure sliders instead of Levels, though, for RAW photos.]
Next, once you've gotten your work how you like it, comes the most important step in presenting your work: crop the photo! Take the Crop tool in Photoshop and cover JUST the artwork itself. Don't get the wall, or easel, or whatever parts of the room in there too. Just crop the image and ONLY the image.
Lastly, depending on what you're using this for, you have a rather large image of your artwork. If you intend on printing it, you'll want to leave the size of the image alone and save it as a .PSD file for optimum quality. If you plan on distributing this image on the internet, shrink your image to about no more than 1024 pixels in width or height. To change the size, go to the Image menu and select "Image Size." Enter how tall or wide you'd like it to appear, [with constrain proportions on,] and hit OK. Go to the File menu and select Save For Web. Choose the image format to be "JPG," and choose a quality of at LEAST 70%. Hit the save button, name it, save it, and you're all done! [Pro tip: "Save For Web" isn't just a longer round-about way of using "Save As." Save For Web uses advanced compression algorithms that yield the same quality picture with a smaller filesize than Save As.]
If you're going to be photographing many artworks over the course of your career, I highly suggest you look into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom software, or Apple's Aperture. These programs streamline the entire process of importing and archiving your photos, editing them to perfection, and resizing/distributing them in a single swoop.
[an original tutorial by `fox-orian]