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You probably have a huge pile of artwork that your child brings home from school – and it probably grows every day! I’m not a big fan of paper clutter, but I want to preserve it somehow. Taking pictures of children’s artwork is a great solution – it’s space-efficient, portable, and allows you tons of flexibility for displaying that artwork later.
Here’s how to take great photos of your child’s artwork:
1. Get Ready
1. Find a spot in your house that has lots of natural light from windows or doors. You don’t want a patch of direct sunlight – you want the soft, diffused light that brightens up the whole room.
Set down a piece of white foam core or poster board as close to that window light as possible. This gives you a plain white background to shoot on, since that will show up on uniquely shaped artwork or 3D projects.
Position yourself right above your artwork, shooting straight down at the poster board. You may need to stand on a chair, and shoot at the artwork on the ground, or you may be able to shoot down towards a low table or bed. Just check to make sure your body isn’t blocking the light!
You may want to consider a tripod for ease and efficiency. Cheapo tripods aren’t weighted correctly to be able to support the weight of a DSLR facing down, so you’ll need one specially weighted to handle it. This is my absolute favorite tripod and can stay balanced even with a heavy DSLR on the end, at any angle.
2. Choose Your Camera Settings
The goal here is to take a great photo of each piece of artwork, with no editing necessary. So get your camera set up perfectly!
– Set your DSLR to shoot high-quality JPGs. If you usually shoot in raw, this is a great controlled situation where you can get your settings right in camera, and not have to bother converting/editing afterward.
– Get your white balance right – If you’re in a room with lots of natural light, you should be able to shoot on auto or daylight white balance. Try a few test shots and see which ones make your white poster board look the most naturally white! Also, you may want to consider wearing a white or light grey shirt. Light is reflected off off everything, and your colored shirt might causing a color cast to show up on your white background. This is especially true with green and blue shirts!
– Turn off your flash; you shouldn’t need it if your room is bright enough. Shoot at an aperture that leaves everything in focus – f/5 or higher, with a fast shutter speed for handheld shooting.
– The key to getting a beautiful white backdrop on these photos is to over-expose them, just slightly. If you’re shooting in program or aperture mode, use the exposure compensation to over-expose by 1/3 or 2/3 of a stop. If you’re shooting in manual, use your light meter to adjust the settings just one or two clicks brighter than your meter indicates.
Camera phone tips:
Technically, you could take all these pictures on a nice camera phone, but it’s not my recommendation. If you’re trying to document these for posterity, then you ought to be using the best quality available in the first place! Even on auto, your DSLR can take better quality photos than a camera phone.
But if you have no other camera available, then use your phone. The same tips apply: a bright location is an absolute necessity! Make sure you tap the camera screen to focus correctly, and if you’re using an iPhone, slide up after focusing to increase the exposure just a tad.
3. Get In A Shooting Rhythm!
Now it’s time to start shooting! Ideally, you already have all your children’s artwork gathered in a big pile so you can run through them very quickly.
I recommend starting with one picture of a piece of paper, that says your child’s name and their age/year. If you’re shooting art from more than one child, or even more than one year, then this is a necessity. The sign doesn’t have to be cute – it’s just for your benefit! – but you will be grateful when you’re trying to find something later!
Scrawl out a quick sign on a scrap piece of paper, and then shoot all of that child’s artwork from that year one at a time. Then switch to the next child or the next year, take a picture of a new sign, and then a new pile of art. This makes it easier to sort and locate specific pictures on the computer.
Shoot one piece of artwork at a time. Ideally, you only have to take one picture per piece of art, so you don’t end up with duplicates.
Remember to point your camera straight down – no funny angles here! Depending on the art, you might want to leave a white border visible in your picture. If so, then make sure the edges of your artwork are parallel to the edge of your frame. If you have mostly rectangular artwork, you may want to fill up your frame with art, and have no border visible. Either is fine – just decide what you like and do them all the same.
I did want to note that I do save my top 3-5 art pieces from each year, but no more than that. With these tips, you can fly through that stack of children’s artwork – and then enjoy your clutter-free memories of their creativity!
Any questions? Ask them!
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