How to: take pictures of paintings

Started Feb 18, 2010 | Discussions
Bobalooie Regular Member • Posts: 291
How to: take pictures of paintings

Just wondering about lighting does and don't of photographing Oil Painting...my artist/friend would like a record of his work, and to post on-line..
thanks....

Onetrack97 Senior Member • Posts: 1,953
Re: How to: take pictures of paintings

Flat lighting. I use two medium sized softboxes at about 30-45 degrees off of the painting's axis. Adjust the light to within 0.1 f-stops across the surface.

I use my 85 mm lens on a camera stand. WhiBal to calibrate color.

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Scott

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Bimthecat Senior Member • Posts: 2,642
the truth....

I have been doing this for years...

Large light sources (banks, umbrellas etc) are bad: they add to glare problem, they flatten-out any relief or texture(s)....

Lighting from both sides is not ideal: It can create double cross shadows....

People think that this is the only way to get an even coverage, but it is not ideal.
Double side light also flattens.

My method:

Use a direct standard reflector (at about 45 degees off axis)...from only one side...

far enough away (15'+ away with a 3 foot wide painting) and add a white foamcore reflector to the unlit side...remember a reflector does not create a shadow, because it's a passive secondary.

When I can get the strobe 20 feet away, I even use a Sports reflector ! Super Color Content.

Cross Polarize... (the strobe is Polarized, the camera is polarized...but ALL the glare is controlled). The light Pola sheet cuts 2 stops, the camera Pola cuts 2 stops...so you do need POWER....

Laser align....The Art is parallel to the CMOS chip....we only care about parallel.
Shoot RAW.
Use a certified WB card....with all the polarization engaged.
Use a Passport (from Xrite) for great color...Shot the Passport with all the
polarization engaged.

Everybody thinks shooting Art is easy....it's not.
But the results do show a big difference....

wcrosman Contributing Member • Posts: 833
Re: How to: take pictures of paintings

What everyone else said plus 'take it out of the frame'.
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Hugowolf Forum Pro • Posts: 12,674
Have to disagree...

I would disagree with almost everything that has been said so far, and I have also been doing this for several years.

I would agree that softboxes or any wide panel lighting is a really bad idea, for the reasons mentioned in a previous response.

One light and a reflector is also a bad idea: unless you come across a perfect reflector, you will have one side with more light than the other.

The standard setup is two identical lights (unless you have very large paintings) set at identical output. Use bare bulbs or wide reflectors. The lights should be feathered: the right light should be aimed left side and the left light at the right side. The lights should be at about 45° to the surface, should be measured to be the same distance from the work (measured horizontally and vertically).

Use a light meter if you have one; the centre and edges should differ by less than a tenth of a stop. If the centre is slightly brighter, that is ok because even the best lens will have some light fall off towards the edges. If you don’t have a light meter, shoot the wall behind the where the works are to placed, and use Photoshop’s ‘Info’ tool to check the light consistency. If the lighting is uneven, try moving the lights further back.

Unless the works contain heavy impasto (relief caused by very thick brush work or a palette knife), then there is really no need for cross polarization. Indeed, polarization of any sort can cause subtle color sifts that cannot be fully corrected in post-processing. If the lights are correctly positioned, it is even possible to photograph then under glass with no reflections showing – but it is much better, whenever possible to photograph them sans frames and glass.

Cross polarization, if necessary, isn’t difficult and isn’t expensive. You need a circular polarizer for the lens, and linear polarizing gels for each light (very inexpensive). You do need to ensure that both linear polarizing gels are aligned in the same direction.

Other points of note. The camera should be aligned dead centre with each work and the sensor plane parallel with the surface, otherwise you risk one side being more in focus than the other and also will have to deal with keystoning. If you shooting them on a wall or easel, use a tape measure for the camera/lens height and painting height. (There is a mirror trick that can be used if you really need total accuracy.)

Macro lenses are best. Fixed focal length lenses are second best. Zooms are best avoided, but if used should be set at some mid zoom point where barrel and pin cushion distortion are minimized. Shoot at f/5.6 to f/8 and shoot tethered if you can. Shoot raw and do a custom white balance. It is also good to shoot with a color card, something like a Gretag-Macbeth color checker.

A lot depends on how accurate you want to be. You are clearly not dong museum work and if they are only ever going to be displayed on the web, then the sRBG color space is very limited to start with.

Brian A.

Ricardo M New Member • Posts: 21
Re: How to: take pictures of paintings

I think the last post has all the information you need to take a proper professional picture, its the one i use for most of the pictures i take of paintings. But in some occasions wen the space available is small, the painting has no glass frame and has some generous dimensions i found that a non direct light, reflected, produces a more uniform light throwout. To use this simple method i tend to reflect the flash in a white roof, it´s vital that the roof is white in order keep the white balance of the light. Take the flash (with this technique normally i use two flash heads at the same distance and at a 45º from the center, but try with one to keep it simple) as far as you can and place it in the center of the painting and above it in order to avoid direct light from reaching the painting, use a black pasteboard if necessary. It is also vital that you place the painting in a white surface in order to compensate the probable difference in exposure of the top and bottom of the painting, if contamination occurs due to the white surface use a black pasteboard and place it on the surface as close as it can be to the painting, but use just enough to eliminate the white reflection.

This is a parasite light, similar to a soft one, that brings out texture but keeps the shadows very soft.
Try it, its very simple but the effect will be a nice surprise.

As for the use of soft boxes if the frame has a glass you will only get a big white blur in the glass.

Barrie Davis
Barrie Davis Forum Pro • Posts: 21,460
Re: Have to disagree...

Hugowolf wrote:

I would disagree with almost everything that has been said so far, and I have also been doing this for several years.

I would agree that softboxes or any wide panel lighting is a really bad idea, for the reasons mentioned in a previous response.

One light and a reflector is also a bad idea: unless you come across a perfect reflector, you will have one side with more light than the other.

Single light from one side has its uses.....

The lighting can be made perfectly even, if that main light is feathered correctly. With correct feathering, and a suitable reflector to partially balance, excellent results that are NOT hard up for texture can be achieved. This can be important when rendering a heavy impasto style, for instance. However, I would personally prefer any directionality in the lighting to be from above and shining downwards . as that would be more 'psychologically neutral' in its effect. This can be achieved by rotating the picture through 90 degrees abd standing it on one side, as it were...

(see my next point below about positioning of lights...)

The standard setup is two identical lights (unless you have very large paintings) set at identical output. Use bare bulbs or wide reflectors. The lights should be feathered: the right light should be aimed left side and the left light at the right side. The lights should be at about 45° to the surface, should be measured to be the same distance from the work (measured horizontally and vertically).

When using two lights in small reflectors, preferred for paintings without heavy texture, it is easier to get them completely EVEN by shining them across the longer dimension of the artwork; less of the intensity is lost in feathering. With landscape pictures (horizontal format) this can be done by rotating the picture rather than trying to mount lights above and below the artwork.

Use a light meter if you have one; the centre and edges should differ by less than a tenth of a stop. If the centre is slightly brighter, that is ok because even the best lens will have some light fall off towards the edges. If you don’t have a light meter, shoot the wall behind the where the works are to placed, and use Photoshop’s ‘Info’ tool to check the light consistency. If the lighting is uneven, try moving the lights further back.

Yes. All good points.

Unless the works contain heavy impasto (relief caused by very thick brush work or a palette knife), then there is really no need for cross polarization.

Ahh... Sorry. I cannot agree with that!

In fact, cross polarisation works beautifully in almost every case, specifically to reveal shadow detail masked by diffused glare, even when that glare is not noticable, other than by using a pola filter --- to make it show by making it GO !

Indeed, polarization of any sort can cause subtle color sifts that cannot be fully corrected in post-processing.

Oh dear! That is not something I have encountered, not in film or digital. I wonder why you are having that difficulty.... [??]

If the lights are correctly positioned, it is even possible to photograph then under glass with no reflections showing – but it is much better, whenever possible to photograph them sans frames and glass.

Yes. Also, with glass it can help to hang a black cloth on the wall behind the camera, for the photographer to wear something dark toned, and stick black tape over any white reflective parts of the camera... like its NAME!

Cross polarization, if necessary, isn’t difficult and isn’t expensive. You need a circular polarizer for the lens, and linear polarizing gels for each light (very inexpensive). You do need to ensure that both linear polarizing gels are aligned in the same direction.

Yes, although it isn't necessary to use a circular pola. It's not as if there is any great need for auto-focus, and many of us believe that linear polas are more efficient at flare suppression.

Other points of note. The camera should be aligned dead centre with each work and the sensor plane parallel with the surface, otherwise you risk one side being more in focus than the other and also will have to deal with keystoning. If you shooting them on a wall or easel, use a tape measure for the camera/lens height and painting height. (There is a mirror trick that can be used if you really need total accuracy.)

Yes. I use a trick with a mirror that works very well. Basically you erect a mirror flat on the artwork and then centralise the mirror reflection of the camera's lens in the frame of the viewfinder...(Live View recommended as few OVFs show the exact centre point of the frame, which is crucial to the method.)

Macro lenses are best. Fixed focal length lenses are second best. Zooms are best avoided, but if used should be set at some mid zoom point where barrel and pin cushion distortion are minimized. Shoot at f/5.6 to f/8 and shoot tethered if you can.

Good point about tethered.... gets over any lack of Live View mirror alignment purposes, too.

Shoot raw and do a custom white balance. It is also good to shoot with a color card, something like a Gretag-Macbeth color checker.

Agree.

A lot depends on how accurate you want to be. You are clearly not dong museum work and if they are only ever going to be displayed on the web, then the sRBG color space is very limited to start with.

No quibble.
--
Regards,
Baz

I am 'Looking for Henry Lee ' (could be Lea, or even Leigh) and despite going 'Hey round the corner', and looking 'behind the bush', I have not yet found him. If he survives, Henry is in his mid-60s, British, and quite the intellectual.

What is it all about? Well, something relating to a conversation we had in the pub 35 years ago has come to spectacular fruition, and I'd like him to know how right he was.

If you know somebody who could be this man, please put him in touch with me. Thank you.

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