Photographing an Art Portfolio

Grade Levels: 9 - 12


  • 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 a photography store)
  • Ektachrome 160 ISO film for tungsten lighting
  • Plastic slide sleeves
  • A copy stand may be used for photographing small work
  • Neutral cloth as a background for three-dimensional objects


To photograph the artwork, it is important to have even lighting without reflections. The following procedure is 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 the camera.
  4. Place the camera on a tripod and use a cable release to avoid camera shake. Look through the view 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. Make sure you don't block out the light while doing this. Trust the gray card! Cameras will "see" too much or too little light and will compensate by closing down on white backgrounds and opening up on dark ones.
  8. If you don't move the lights, it is possible to take photos of a number of different works of art without changing exposure.
  9. To be absolutely certain you have photos with "true" color, you may wish to bracket by taking readings with the gray card, then overexposing one or two stops and underexposing one or two stops.
  10. Back up and take the picture according to the exposure reading taken on the gray card.
  11. Rarely does a work of art have the exact proportions of the camera. You may either take only a portion of the artwork and fill the view finder, or you may tape the slide later (underneath the slide mount) with silver tape available from a photo supply store.
  12. Students may wish to take five shots of each work of art 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 of white light) with outdoor slide film, but the results may be less reliable. If doing this, bracket the exposures to get one that is perfect. (Take one slide at a perfect reading, then overexpose one slide and underexpose 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. Some schools say to use absolutely no tape on slides, as it makes it difficult to view them if they should stick in a slide tray.
  15. Put a mark or red dot on the lower left-hand corner.
  16. Number and label them as follows: Name, date when work was done, medium, size, title of artwork.
  17. Include a separate sheet with numbers corresponding to the slides. After each number on the list give the artwork's size and medium.

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

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