Photographing an Art Portfolio


  • Students will prepare photographic slides of their portfolios.


  • 35mm single lens reflex camera
  • Tripod
  • Two photo flood lights with 3200 K bulbs
  • Cable release
  • 18 percent gray card (may be purchased at aphotography store)
  • Ektachrome 160 ISO film for tungsten lighting
  • Plastic slide sleeves
  • A copy stand may be used for photographingsmall work
  • Neutral cloth as a background forthree-dimensional objects


To photograph the artwork, it is important to have even lighting without reflections. The following procedureis recommended.

  1. Turn off overhead lights and work well away from a window.
  2. Pin the work on a wall with a neutral background.
  3. Place the lights level with the center of the artwork and at a 45 degree angle slightly in front of thecamera.
  4. Place the camera on a tripod and use a cable release to avoid camera shake. Look through theview finder to make sure there is no glare (hot spot) on the artwork.
  5. Have someone hold an 18 percent gray card directly in front of the artwork, and take the camera up to it.
  6. Get close enough so you see only the gray card, and take a reading for proper exposure on it.
  7. Makesure you don't block out the light while doing this. Trust the gray card! Cameras will "see" too muchor too little light and will compensate by closing down on white backgrounds and opening up on darkones.
  8. If you don't move the lights, it is possible to take photos of a number of different works of artwithout changing exposure.
  9. To be absolutely certain you have photos with "true" color, you maywish to bracket by taking readings with the gray card, then overexposing one or two stops andunderexposing one or two stops.
  10. Back up and take the picture according to the exposure reading taken on the gray card.
  11. Rarely does awork of art have the exact proportions of the camera. You may either take only a portion of theartwork and fill the view finder, or you may tape the slide later (underneath the slide mount) withsilver tape available from a photo supply store.
  12. Students may wish to take five shots of each work ofart if they are sending out a number of slide sleeves for admission to college.
  13. Slides of artwork may be taken outside in shaded daylight at midday (to assure a full spectrum ofwhite light) with outdoor slide film, but the results may be less reliable. If doing this, bracket theexposures to get one that is perfect. (Take one slide at a perfect reading, then overexpose one slide andunderexpose another slide to try to get a good result.)
  14. After the slides are developed, select the best 12 to 20 and put them in slide sleeves. Someschools say to use absolutely no tape on slides, as it makes it difficult to view them if they shouldstick in a slide tray.
  15. Put a mark or red dot on the lower left-hand corner.
  16. Number and label them asfollows: Name, date when work was done, medium, size, title of artwork.
  17. Include a separate sheetwith numbers corresponding to the slides. After each number on the list give the artwork's size andmedium.

Excerpted from A Survival Kit for the Secondary School Art Teacher.

More on Portfolios

Find step-by-step procedures for photographing an art portfolio. Students can use slides of their art work for Advanced Placement exams and college applications, among other uses.
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Teaching Strategies
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