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How to take more compelling photos during Artprize

As The Rapidian takes people on photowalks during ArtPrize, and the community is out taking pictures while they're exploring the art downtown, here are some easy tips to help you go from snapshots to storytelling.

/Jon Clay

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Add your own photos; join a photowalk with The Rapidian!

Add your own photos to The Rapidian's photo gallery "ArtPrize in Pictures" right here.

All photos added will be rotated on the ArtPrize section page, and one photo a day will be selected as The Rapidian's front page Photo of the Day.

Join The Rapidian on two more photowalks:
Tuesday, September 29, 4:00 p.m.: a private tour through SiTE:LAB's Rumsey Street Project

Sunday October 4, 2:00 p.m.: Following the Top 20 Public Finalists announcement, go in search of the top selections

A Downtown Ambassador was very helpful in finding artwork and even posed for a picture for me in front of "250 Flamingos"

A Downtown Ambassador was very helpful in finding artwork and even posed for a picture for me in front of "250 Flamingos" /Jon Clay

Closeup of "250 Flamingos" by Michael Liscano at DeVos Place

Closeup of "250 Flamingos" by Michael Liscano at DeVos Place /Jon Clay

I attended a Rapidian guided photowalk on Sunday and it was a fun way to get out and enjoy Artprize with other people. We got to share opinions and ideas and the discussion about the art came naturally. There will be two more photowalks with The Rapidian during ArtPrize, so in preparation of those opportunities and all of the other times you'll be down at ArtPrize and want to capture your experience, I have collecte some helpful information for you to get your best shot.

While I was out on Sunday, I saw a lot of people photographing everything they saw. This excites me, but sometimes I see a lot of photos that fail to keep my attention. Fortunately, it's not difficult to take photos from simple blogging to intriguing coverage, and I think I can help.

First, lets cover some psychological pointers to storytelling. We'll hit some technical tips after.

Start wide

Take a wide photo of your subject. Include the background of the wall or the edges of the art hanging nearby. Show not just what, but also where. This provides a setting for the viewer. It helps them feel like they are there too. It's better to have your viewer bring themselves closer anyway: it's interactive. After you've established a wide shot, you can...

Follow up with the details

Subsequent photos of the same piece can become more detailed, more close up. Guide your viewers through a process more similar to seeing it in real life. First you see the art from afar, and after it's caught your interest you move in close to get the details.  You can try using editing software to create layouts of the detail shots and include several points of interest in one frame, which helps with the next point.

Avoid over sharing

This one is pretty simple. No one wants to see 200 photos. Less is more. Get your point across clearly and quickly and move on. Remember, there are always a best 10 photos. Then a best five, three and one. Share your best; let go of the rest.

Include people

People respond to people. Go out with a friend, an expressive one. Or even better, a child. Photograph them reacting to the art. Children wear their emotions on their sleeves, and when your viewers see the bright eyes of a happy child in front of a piece that excites them, they will be excited too. 

Be honest

This is great because it works to your benefit in many ways. Now that you and your goofy friend are out having fun and snapping away, feel welcome to express your dislike of a piece. Your audience will appreciate your candidness. It makes you trustworthy, and trustworthy is credibility when it comes to subjective review. Keep it lighthearted and don't be cruel, but don't censor yourself. Share your criticisms as well as your appraisals. Strangers' reactions are great as well. And kids have a free pass to dislike art. Take advantage of that if you can.


So now that we know how to tell a story visually, let's cover how to be eloquent in our approach. Technical tips aren't all F-stops and expensive lenses: there are tons of things you can do with any camera, even a phone.

When it comes to angles, it's all or nothing

You're allowed to tilt your camera and to crouch on the ground and to shoot from way off to the side and get creative, but knowing when to stand straight on and take that perfectly level photo is just as important. 

Diagonal lines express action. If your frame is filled with diagonals the photo will default to fun and exciting, so make sure the art matches that feeling. Horizontal and vertical lines are more calming, and allow people to take the picture in at a more relaxed pace. 

If you're going to go for a straight on shot, make sure it's perfect! Slightly tilted comes off as a "miss." Take your time; nail the shot.

You "frame" the art with your photo

The curators know this. The art can be made or broken by the setting. It's your job as the photographer to establish that setting. It's your creative contribution. Luckily, those curators should have made it easy on you. Include the wall. Include the floor and the ceiling if they all look good together. Outdoor sculptures work the same way. If there is a gorgeous sky over the piece, compose vertically, back away and get that cloud texture. Take the time to wait for people to move out of the way. They are clutter in your frame and distract from the subject and alter the overall composition. Plus, they can effect your...


Not just the amount of light, but the color of the light, the softness, the spread, everything about the light. Don't use a pop up flash on a two-dimensional piece of art, it reflects back and creates harsh blowouts. Find the angle that has neutral light covering the entire piece without blowing out the highlights. Keep cast shadows from people out of your photos and especially off the art. Take note of museum lighting- they know what they are doing.

With three dimensional art you have a lot more leeway. Some pieces are meant to play with shadows and lighting. Experiment and have fun, but always default to smooth, soft and neutral color light when you have to. Don't use Instagram filters. Display the art cleanly. The art was made to look a certain way, elaborate filters change that.

Keep your presentation clean

We already covered less being more. Trash your blurry photos, your overexposed photos and your photos where that person walked into the frame but only just a little bit. It's always better to display quality over quantity. If you didn't get a shot of one piece, it's not a big deal. 

If you went to a venue with four artists with four pieces each, keep all those photos sequential and keep the photos from the individual artists sequential as well. Stay organized.

Some other quick tips

  • Check your picture and retake it if you need to.
  • Delete as you go to make workflow easier once you get home.
  • Credit the artists! Take a picture of their nameplate.
  • Be patient. The good photos take time, especially with all the people around.
  • Stay safe. Avoid climbing to get shots or standing in traffic.


That's a lot of information- but if you work on it diligently, perhaps only one or two points at a time, they will habitualize quickly and all your future photos will benefit from your efforts.

Good luck and have fun photographing during Artprize!

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