Notes from the Studio

18 Tips for a Great PR Photo

What makes a compelling self-marketing portrait for your website and brochure?  Do you want a face shot? Do you like the “artist in action” look? Or, would you like a blend of both? Plan on taking 50-100 photos (thank goodness for digital cameras!). It will take that many images to find a few that work really well, unless you are photogenic, which I am not.

1. Begin by collecting marketing photos of other artists—photos that interest you. Cut them out of old art magazines, artist brochures, art workshop ads, print them from artist websites, or scan them from book fly jackets. Stick them in a notebook and make notes of what you like about the photo. After a few of these you will begin to notice consistencies in your choices. (For example, I don’t like lower legs and feet in the picture and discovered cropping is not the only way of getting rid of them!) I also discovered that French easels with huge canvases are more dramatic than pochade boxes with small panels. If you are a plein air painter try both if you have the materials.

2. Have a patient spouse or friend do the photography, or have a “photo jam” with a couple other artists.  Try to get the camera in the hands of someone who has a sense of style and observation, and review with them what you want and don't want.  Show your photographer the pictures you have collected of other artists.

3. Relax, but don’t slouch. Use good painting posture and hold the brush properly.

4. Photograph in more than one background or setting.

5. Select time of day and weather. Late afternoon is popular with photographers because of the warm light. In my climate, sunny weather is glary, so I like the even light of overcast days for outdoor self-portraits. Don’t bother on windy days, unless you make the wind part of the visual story.

6. Plan on taking lots of photos in a few different settings, poses and expressions. My best expressions were when my husband was “fiddling with the camera settings”—I didn’t know he was taking pictures, so I put my hand on the top of the easel, my chin on my hand and gave him a bemused smile while I waited. Totally unposed, these were the best.

7. Generally speaking, wear neutral colors just as you would when painting en plein air. If you are a flower garden painter, however, you might want to brighten it up a little so you don’t get lost in all the color. One favorite in my notebook shows a smiling woman, one third of her face hidden behind her French easel and canvas. She is wearing a neutral shirt, but has on a broad-brimmed floppy floral fabric hat. She is surrounded by a blooming garden. This beautifully composed photograph shows an artist in her element.

8. My favorite photos show artists standing while painting. However, not all painters can stand for long periods, so sometimes it is appropriate for your portrait to show you seated. In that case, avoid letting the aluminum and bright plastic colors of your chair dominate your portrait.

9. Photograph at different angles: Facing the camera and various degrees of side view, and ¾ back view featuring your painted canvas and the matching subject.

10. Compose. Unless you have good photo editing skills, do extra work composing en situ.

11. Pay attention to your distant background: If you are a gritty “blighted landscape” painter, yonder dumpster may serve you well. But if you don’t want it in your portrait, avoid it.

12. Remove your own clutter from the scene, such as beverage containers, stool, bags, paper towel roll (some painters use toilet paper—what is a viewer supposed to interpret from a roll of toilet paper on an easel?)  If the portrait is about you as an artist, keep the paraphernalia simple. If it is about how you equip yourself to paint in the field, show it all.

13. Avoid trendy clothes unless you replace your marketing image frequently.

14. Hat is optional: Try different ones, and none.

15. Have the photographer stand far enough away to allow plenty of space around you, the model. Without the photographer right in your face, you stay more relaxed, your nose won’t be too big, and there is ample cropping space.

16. A formal face shot shows your potential collectors what you look like, but little about the artist you are. If you want a face shot, google portrait photography for lots of tips about making an interesting portrait.

17. From each photo shoot, try to accumulate several good PR photos that can be used for newspaper articles, holiday cards, and promotion in addition to your website and brochure.

18. Edit those photos freely. For those of you who are not technically savvy, cropping is pretty easy to learn and is often the only thing that needs to be done to an image. Do your editing on a copy: Always save your original unedited image until you are absolutely sure you don’t need it any more. Then keep it a little longer.

That’s it! Have fun out there, and feel free to add your suggestions.

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DVD Review: "Three Landscape Studies" by Scott Christensen

««««« Scott Christensen’s DVD, “Three Landscape Studies,” is for anyone interested in plein air painting, using plein air sketches to work up a studio painting, and painting with a limited palette of 3 primary colors.  He explains his process in a way that is interesting and easy to understand. The filming is also excellent, frequently using a split screen so the viewer can observe Scott selecting and mixing paint as well as watch his painting technique. 

Scott uses three primaries, red, lemon yellow, ultramarine blue, titanium white and black. The harmonious range he achieves from these few colors is extensive. He uses color tonally with subdued results, and explains how to maximize the punch of an accent color in a tonal painting.

Years ago I experimented with three primaries and detested the results. After watching “Three Landscape Studies” I selected three primaries from my paint collection (only the red differed from Scott’s palette), and made some puddle color charts, labeling each addition of color. The results surprised me with their delicacy and range of color.

Four years ago I began having difficulty mixing color from my old familiar palette. I changed the bulbs in my studio lights and got a new pair of glasses, but nothing helped. My world was beginning to look depressingly dingy. I was diagnosed with cataracts. Cataracts are famous for making vision fuzzy, but their worst characteristic for a colorist is that they are yellow to brown. The ophthalmologist warned that color perception would be affected. It was. This may sound familiar to baby-boomer painters.

Scott’s “primaries only” palette may compensate for damaged color perception by limiting the potential for unbalanced hues. I am setting myself a challenge to do more puddle charts and to paint only with this trio of colors for the next few months. I’ll post the resulting paintings and my thoughts about the learning curve.

Although not new, “Three Landscape Studies” is worth viewing. I rented it from for $10, a handy way to view a DVD before deciding to add it to your permanent library.  Visit Scott Christensen’s paintings at

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