Disclaimer: I am NOT a professional photographer, just a fellow doodler/designer sharing MY way of showcasing a sketchbook in a way that is budget-friendly and simple.

As an artist in 2019, it’s no secret that it’s extremely important to share your work over different forms of social media. Whether your goal is to earn a living, expand your portfolio, build a following, or just show off a piece that you’re really proud of, you want to let your work shine in the best possible light. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen amazing art in a sketchbook that completely loses it’s wow-factor due to the way it’s being photographed. That being said, not all of us are professional photographers or have the extra cash to dish out on expensive equipment (nor do you have to). You don’t need to blow your entire paycheck to get pictures that are worth bragging about, because you can literally use your smartphone to take photos if you create a solid lighting setup using these simple steps:  


What You’ll Need:

  • 2 Large white foam boards (for bouncing light onto your sketchbook)
  • Something to hold the 2 foam boards together at an angle (nails, tacks, tape, glue, etc.)
  • Large Sheet of Colored Paper (for a backdrop: optional, but recommended)
  • Daylight

Step 1: Find Your Sweet Spot

Pick a spot in your workspace that is close to a window with lots of natural light during the daytime. You don’t want your sketchbook to have the sun shining directly on the pages, but you don’t want a spot that is lurking in the shadows either. Ideally, you should have a table large enough to accommodate your sketchbook and the large sheet of paper that is going behind it.

Step 2: Create Your Setup

I highly recommend choosing foam board panels that are much larger than your sketchbook so that you can take a photograph that isn’t cropped right to the edge of your sketchbook. (I like to leave extra space around my sketchbook for props, or to show a background that makes the artwork pop.) Attach your 2 foam board panels to one another at a 90 degree angle. I used tacks and tape because it’s what I had lying around. Whatever you can find to hold those two panels in place as pictured below.

Congratulations, you just created your own mini light reflector! Place your backdrop (i.e. the colored sheet of paper) on the table and position your reflector on the side of the sketchbook that is further away from your light source (see photo below). Make sure the light is hitting both panels evenly. This will bounce more light on all sides of your sketchbook making the shadows less harsh, thus brightening up your work. You may need to play around with the angle of your reflector. Pay attention to the way it lights up your sketchbook in various positions.

* If you have a window that has white, or light colored curtains, that’s even better (if not, you can still continue without it). Following all of the previous steps, close your curtains to create a soft glow (like a softbox) making the light less harsh and more evenly distributed.

Your setup should end up looking something like this:

Step 3: Photograph Your Sketchbook

Lay it all out! Place your sketchbook far enough away from the edge of the reflector that it doesn’t show up in your photo. If you don’t have the patience for that, you can also just crop it out later but it’s always good to eliminate the number of steps in the process.

My favorite way to photograph my sketchbook is from an aerial view, with the tools I used to create the piece. Choose angles that make the most sense for what you’re trying to convey. For example: I do alot of hand-lettering quotes, so for me it’s important to get a straight-on shot from above so everything is legible (plus it just looks amazing). If you’re trying to show details close up, you can get more creative with your angles.

Incorporating your tools is helpful for those wondering how you created your art and adds an element of epicness..”I turned THAT..into THIS”. Even adding random props like flowers, or a cup of coffee can help to set the mood and make your picture more visually interesting. If you’re shooting with your phone, try setting your camera on a 2-second timer to reduce the shake of your hand. 

Before you start snapping away, be sure to turn OFF your camera’s flash. If you don’t, your photos will turn out harsh, and very unnatural. Camera flash = bad news bears.

I took both of the pictures below using my samsung galaxy s6 active to show you guys the “before and after” of my little lighting setup. Both pictures are unedited, taken in the exact same spot, one after the other, with the same exact background. The only difference is our trusty home-made reflector. And that brings me to our final step for stepping up your sketchbook photography game…

Step 4: Photoshop or Lightroom (Optional)

It’s not a necessity, nor is it the quickest thing if you’re just looking to snap and post right away. HOWEVER, I feel that taking the time to retouch your photos in Photoshop or lightroom makes a huge difference. It doesn’t need to be some big mission either. All I do is crop the photo, raise the brightness, and maybe play around with the levels a little. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at my unedited photo above vs. the main image for this article. It’s like taking the time to bake a really delicious cake from scratch, but not putting any icing on it when you’re done. If I’m photographing the piece in the first place, it’s something that I take pride in and I don’t mind taking the extra few minutes to give it that extra love. Of course, you can use the Instagram editor, etc. if you’re posting on social media, but I notice that when cropping and adjusting the colors too much it definitely decreases the quality of the photo. 

I realize that most people don’t have the time to set aside a chunk of their day when the lighting is perfect to capture their artwork as they go, so what I like to do is doodle like a monster all week long, and then set aside an hour or so in my free time and take as many different photos as I can all at once! I hope that you guys found this both helpful and enjoyable, and I’d love to see how your sketchbooks turned out (share them in the participate section). If you have any tips, comments, success stories, etc. please let us know below, and keep doodling on my friends!