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Digitally Fix Your Art Images

February 14, 2010

So, you’ve followed all the tips for documenting your art, but you’ve still ended up with a less than perfect image. Don’t worry, it happens. Luckily, if you’re documenting using digital photography, you can use your computer to enhance your images.

The important thing to remember when doing this is to not get carried away. You want to get your image as close to the original as possible, not make it look better than the original! This works best when you have already done everything possible during the photo-taking, and then only have to make minor digital changes. In my experience, the more altering you do on the computer, the grainier your image can get. So remember: small changes!

As far as photo manipulation software goes, you can get as simple or as complicated as you want. Most computers come with basic software that allows you to adjust brightness, colour, contrast, etc. All I’m using is the Windows Live Photo Gallery and Microsoft Picture Manager. I’ve also used Corel Draw and the Gimp (a free download). A program like Photoshop isn’t really necessary for the kinds of change we’ll be doing.

Here is our first image, direct from the camera. The problems with this are that it is very gray, there’s too much space around the drawing, it’s not square to the frame, and it’s not quite grayscale.

digitally fix art images 1



Our first course of action is to use the rotate option to make the edges of the drawing parallel to the edges of the picture frame.

digitally fix art images 2



Next, crop the image to the edge of the drawing. This is easiest, obviously, if you’re working with a square piece of art. Some pieces, like my  abstract paintings, have irregular edges. In this case, you’ll want to document your work against a plain, neutral background and crop to just outside the edge of the art.

digitally fix art images 3


Saturation has to do with the intensity of colour. With a black and white drawing like this, the lighting can actually change the colour. I like to reduce the saturation to zero, making the drawing completely grayscale (no colour).

digitally fix art images - saturation



The next thing we want to do is get the values closer to the original. In the actual drawing, the lightest areas of the dog’s fur actually show the white of the paper. You can see how dark and greyed this image is. The first part of this two-step process is to increase the brightness, making the fur lighter.

digitally fix art images brightness



Our last step is to increase the contrast. This will make the darks darker, and the lights even brighter. Contrast is the option to be most wary of, as it’s easy to get carried away (for me at least, because I love high contrast!). It also has the  most potential to ruin your image, so go slowly in small increments.

digitally fix art images contrast

Now we have an image that is much more faithful to the original drawing. Instead of being dull and grey, there is a range of values from the white fur to the black eyes.



I just want to quickly mention the size of your images. When storing your images for documentation, gallery exhibitions, and promotional use, keep them large. If you’re e-mailing your images or loading them onto your website, save a smaller version. Your site will load faster and you won’t overload people’s inboxes!

If you liked this article, take a minute to check out my entire series on gallery exhibition proposals, or sign up for the newsletter!

  1. Your article on adjusting the computer pictures is all that I do also with a recent trick that I just added: When taking the photo I add the brightest, whitest card or piece of paper next to the drawing. Many of my drawings are done on colored paper and there is no pure white. In my image editing software (PhotoImpact) I use this white to adjust the color balance using the eyedropper to select it and make it pure white. The rest of the picture colors adjusts around it.

    • Hi Carol. Thanks for the tip! Maybe I’m not doing it correctly, but adjusting the white balance never seems to work for me! I find I get better results manually adjusting the brightness and contrast. Maybe it’s the difference between a coloured painting and a black and white drawing, but when I use the white balance it makes the pencil very dark and grainy. But like I said, I might not be doing it properly!

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