Documentation Tutorial


Foreword:  The directions and requirements below are given to facilitate and guide students to take photographs of his/her artwork for documentation purposes for FINAL PORTFOLIOS in our classes. These are best practices considering our academic resources, environment and specific studio project and sketchbook assignments.


  • clean up the work if needed
    • erase smudges and/or stray marks
    • sweep away dust and/or eraser pieces with a drafting brush
  • make corrections/improvements if needed
    • glue down pieces that have come up (if they were once glued down)


lighting sample


  • NATURAL (sunlight)
  • INDIRECT (soft)OUTSIDE: calm, overcast day
    • INSIDE: midday bright, indirect sunlight in front of a large, uncovered window


  • HARSH, DIRECT or artificial lighting can cast shadows, create reflections and shift the color of your artwork – this is unacceptable for documentation in a portfolio
    • to the right are examples of both


  • large, clean paper with
    • neutral colors:
      • black
      • grey
      • brown
  • choose the color that makes your artwork pop forward (good CONTRAST)
  • your artwork needs to lay flat:
    • if the edges are curled they will need to be taped down (on the back side only/no tape on the front)
    • if it is a thick paper, like watercolor paper, you will probably have to tape it directly to our tile floor (directions will be given for this case)
    • if the artwork has organic edges, like the Identity Silhouette or Personal Icon, it must have a neutral background behind the image


  • for the purpose of our class, an iPhone is a great tool
    • if you don’t have an iPhone, other phone’s cameras will work, just make sure the image is clear and has a high resolution (if your camera is not up to par, just ask and I will lend you one or ask a classmate)


  • more details will be given below, but I use both the editing software on my iPhone and VSCO
  • if you don’t have VSCO and you can download the app, I highly suggest this app for editing, but it is not an absolute must-have



  • set-up the artwork with proper lighting and background
    • usually our work is on paper, so laying it on the floor in front of the window is best
    • double-check placement:
      • paper is flat
      • no shadows
      • turn off overhead lights
  •  prep your device
    • turn off flash
    • if you have HDR setting, turn it on
  •  adjust the device
    • adjust the distance between the device and artwork, for optimal high resolution:
      •  leave a small amount of space around your artwork without using the zoom function on your device, instead physically move to adjust the distance between the artwork and the device
    •  the device must be parallel to the artwork:
      • adjust the device vertically (y skew) and horizontally (x skew) to match the edges of your artwork






PINK ARROW = device is not parallel

YELLOW ARROW =  shadow from overhead light

ORANGE ARROW = device is too close to artwork



Both of the examples here show an incorrect camera hold. The device is NOT parallel to the artwork, causing the image to be distorted. Images where the x or y skew is incorrect will not be able to be properly cropped in the editing stage.

IMG_2133                   IMG_2134


The image to the right demonstrates correct camera hold for both distance and parallel placement.





RED ARROWS = show equal distance between the frame of the camera to the edge of the artwork 




1. TAKING THE IMAGE continued…

  • check the auto focus: the state or quality of having or producing clear visual definition
    • your image should be clear and your artwork should visually read as it does in reality (if you have an iphone, tap the screen on the center of the artwork to ensure correct focus)
  • check the exposure: the unit of measurement for the total amount of light permitted to reach the electronic sensor during the process of taking a photograph. (The two main controls your digital camera uses to control exposure are the shutter speed and aperture.)IMG_2147.jpg
    • for an iPhone, both the focus and exposure are connected – when you tap the
    • artwork to focus you will notice a sun icon *see sample below – slide the sun icon up and down to adjust the exposure.
      • remember – the image on your screen should be as close to your actual artwork as possible






♥ TIP for artwork that has both dramatic lights and darks, try tapping for focus and exposure in different areas of the work to check which area works best


♥ TIP for white paper: your device does not see colors in light the way that our human eyes do, so you may need to adjust the exposure or light setting on your device to get the correct white balance: the color and light in the image should be as close as possible to that of your actual artwork (if you have an iphone, touch the screen on artwork and you can manually adjust exposure by sliding your finger slightly up or down)

  • steady the device
    • best: use a tripod!
    • since we do not have a tripod in our classroom, you will need to hold the device very steady (sometimes I hold my breath) and take the shot

♥ TIP for editing: take several shots of the artwork, so you can choose the best to edit from later



  • all of the above still applies to artwork in your sketchbook
  • some challenges with the sketchbook are
    • working with a book format versus mostly flat, one whole piece
    • the spiral (if you have one)
  • 2 page spread –
    • leave the spiral – it is a sketchbook, so let the viewer see that it is a sketchbook!
    • optional – use a neutral background and crop evenly around the entire sketchbook

IMG_2155.jpghorizontal layout cropped with neutral background

SKBK Walk In My Shoes c 2019horizontal layout cropped without background

SKBK Fear Catherine c 2021


vertical layout cropped without background














  • 2 page spread with 2 separate sheets of paper –
    • space them evenly in between each sheet (about 1/2 inch to 1 inch) on a neutral background and crop around evenly same as above

SKBK Fear Student Sample

  • 1 page – optional – leave the spiral in or out of the image

SKBK dream dessert Class of 2021 Tori    SKBK dream dessert Class of 2021 Karam    still life sketch

 *the polaroid is a bad example for lighting, but works for showing even cropping around the sketchbook with the spiral!

  • a piece of the artwork is extending beyond the frame –
    • put the artwork on a neutral background and crop evenly around

SKBK dream dessert Class of 2021 Katie Rose


  • crop the image:
    • when cropping artwork that you were able to place on a neutral background, leave a small amount of the background within the frame
      • the small amount of background should be even on all four sides

♥ TIP for editing skew: if the skew is off in your photo (all four sides will not even out properly because device was not parallel to artwork) and you have access to the VSCO app, you can make minor corrections to the skew

♥ TIP for cropping: so you can see the details on the edges, leave the image rotated where it is larger, then when you are completely finished with the editing process, rotate the image into correct format

♥ Ideally, you should not need to edit beyond cropping! If you have followed the instructions above, your image should be ‘spot on’ and ready to email to yourself, upload to Google drive, rename the file and upload to CANVAS! The more you edit and change the image, the further away you are from ‘documenting’ your work as it actually is.

♥ If something is amiss or appears incorrect, see me so I can instruct one-on-one and hopefully help out before you have to do double the work!!! *However, read through the instructions carefully before asking for help – it is easier to help those who have tried to help themselves first!