Author Topic: Photographing paintings.  (Read 5691 times)

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Offline Akshay Jamwal

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Photographing paintings.
« on: November 05, 2005, 01:57:41 PM »
Has anyone tried their hand(s) at photographing paintings? I've just been offered a shoot to photograph an artist's most recent work (read 40-50 paintings, murals etc.).
I'm a little worried about colour casts if I use the flash. I've never photographed paintings before, and colour rendition is going to have to be dead-on accurate if I am to keep this client.

I've read and heard that the best way to shoot paintings is in natural light, with little or no flash at all.
Some are of the opinion that flashes placed at 45 degrees from the plane of the image will also work. This also doesn't sound too bad, but from what I've read and heard, most people agree that natural light is the way to go.

Nevertheless, I'd still like to hear some opinions from users on this forum, if anyone's shot paintings before.
Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.  ~Ansel Adams

Offline Clive

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Photographing paintings.
« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2005, 03:41:58 PM »
Akshay,

I've tried to photograph my own watercolors and it is difficult. I've just done a few an used  natural light. Oils and acrylics will be tricky because of glare. Absolutely no direct flash. A bounce flash may be okay. I am guessing you'll need two or a good set of studio strobes or studio 'flood' lights.  

There is an issue with natural light and that it is changing all the time and if you have 40 pictures to shoot it could take a few hours. As the day progresses the angle of color of the light will change. That may not be a big deal provided you can move with it or if the pictures are all different. But if the artist has (say) 15 paintings along one theme and framed the same then you will get diff results as time goes by.

Best advise: try different set ups..but if using natural light remember it changes all the time...tomorrow is diff than today.

You need to be in control of the light and I suspect that s a good set of strobe studio lights (with the bounce umbrellas) may be the way to go. Or just a set of good studio lights--they are hot--or the old fashioned ones were. If you don't own studio lights perhaps this shoot will pay enough to cover the cost.

Oh yeah almost forgot...if the pictures are in diff sized frames..big and small..that affects the set up. KEY POINT >> Your camera must be perpendicular to the framed pictures. You have to shoot square on and not at an angle. You'll need a space of suitable size to allow you to shoot big pictures. It is easier with small framed pictures than large.

The white balance feature will be handy..you may get away with some sort of "industrial" lighting....but your customer will want true colors on the images.  

Another consideration. What are the photos to be used for. If it is a a magazine..well...have to be first rate. If they are for a web page, you can likely get away with more sins.

Cheers!

Clive
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Offline Stäck

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Photographing paintings.
« Reply #2 on: November 05, 2005, 05:58:26 PM »
The best way to get the colors spot on is to use one of those color reference card. If you will be shooting for a while, it's easier to use artificial lighting as the color balance of sunlight can vary with cloudiness and time of day. The best way is to use good photo lights with known temperature, but it is not necessary (and quite expensive). You should be using a tripod anyway to get perfectly straight and parallell shots, so there is no need for lots of light, just make sure it is even over the whole picture.
Placing the lights (be it flash or normal) at an angle on each side of the picture is a known trick. I think it has to do with photographing oil paintings and such, which both are susceptible to bright reflections (a bit glossy surface) and has some "texture" in it, which requires a bit of light from the side to capture. You will probably have to experiment quite a lot to get it right, but with a little patience and systematic trials, you can get really good results. Fine details can look really different on screen/paper and in the viewfinder, so digital technology is really a plus to get it right.
Use a good prime lens for low distortion (35-85mm are usually the best), and stop it down to f/8 or so for optimum sharpness and low vignetting. Zooms are easier to use (to get the picture to fit "full frame"), but even the best zooms have more distortion than a cheap prime lens.

Offline Akshay Jamwal

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« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2005, 06:59:25 AM »
Thanks a lot for the advice, Clive and Stack.
Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.  ~Ansel Adams

Offline viewfinder

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Photographing paintings.
« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2005, 08:59:09 AM »
I'm normally a 'lurker' on this site but felt moved to add some stuff to the good advice given so far......So, here goes with my first post!....

Artworks such as paintings have some particular difficulties which are often overlooked by the first time photographer.  Illumination, as has been said, must even both to give smooth coverage and also to help deal with the slight sheen of oils.  Additionally,  thick oil rendering, which is called 'impasto' has considerable texture which must be overcome, or at least dealt with to the artists/gallery's satisfaction.

If you are trying this work for the first time and don't have good studio flash in enough quantity to give even illumination, then try this 'quick kill' method...

Aquire 6 halogen lamps such as are used for both outside security lights and for builders and contractors to light up interiors during refurbishment etc.    These are available in both 500watt and 1000watt sizes,..sometimes in 300watt, which for medium/small oil paintings would perhaps be better as you could use 8 instead of 6.    Cut two longish strips of hardboard about 18 inches wide and a little longer than the longest side of the biggest painting,...paint the smooth side with matt white emulsion.   Now set up the painting with white reflectors at 45 degrees either side, play halogens on to reflectors being careful to baffle them from the painting itself using bits of your hardboard off cuts.   light is now hopefully even and without any specular highlights and sotly filling any impasto......

A polarising filter will help with any residual highlights and will also saturate the colours more which many artists/gallery owners like although it will change colours slightly.....

If you have trouble setting up camera/painting as some people do, then use simple plumb bob on both painting (assuming it is not on a wall) and on the camera back...just a length of string with your keys on the end will suffice.

With a digital camera you can play around with colour balance settings until you get an acceptable result.......Hope some of this helps!

Offline gazraa

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Photographing paintings.
« Reply #5 on: November 06, 2005, 12:41:55 PM »
and a useful first post it is too. welcome to the forums and thank you for coming out of the lurking phase  :D
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Offline Akshay Jamwal

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Photographing paintings.
« Reply #6 on: November 06, 2005, 03:28:08 PM »
Thank you, viewfinder.

Re: A polarising filter will help with any residual highlights and will also saturate the colours more which many artists/gallery owners like although it will change colours slightly.....

...can't do that. Wouldn't have really thought about that should any of the shots to prove to be a little desaturated though... so thanks.

Incidentally, that halogen bulb idea is quite interesting. I'm going to be using a couple of Elinchrom studio flashes though (there are way too many paintings to shoot in natural light anyway), but I'll keep that in mind for the future. Might just experiment with that idea.

Thanks for the tips, folks.
Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.  ~Ansel Adams