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  1. #1
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    Best way to photograph paintings

    Hi,

    I recently bought a Digital Rebel XT (with the stock 18-55 mm lense) and am trying to take pictures of my wifes' oil paintings so that she can generate a webpage. Anyways, I looked through the archives and found some information about copy stands but some of her paintings are too large for them (3' x 4' is around the largest).

    It seems like the easiest way would be to take photos of them hanging on the wall, but I'm at a loss for the best way to light them. I've played with the White Balance and the pictures I got were all too yellow (the lighting was incandescent), or if I used the flash I got horrible reflections because of the texture in the painting.

    Any quick pointers?

    Thanks,

    -Derek

    P.S. Yes this is my first post, so be easy on me. :-)

  2. #2
    has-been... another view's Avatar
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    Re: Best way to photograph paintings

    Welcome! You don't need to be worried about us not going easy on you - it's a friendly group.

    Just to back up a minute, the point of a copy stand is to have the camera centered over the work, and have it parallel to the film plane (sensor plane?) so there is no perspective distortion. A good idea of perspective distortion is using a wide angle lens to photograph a tall building - pointing the camera up makes the building look like it's falling over. You can do this by haning the art on a wall, just make sure the camera is in the center of the work. You don't really need to get a tape measure out, but the closer the better. I've done something similar to this, and it's pretty easy. Take a couple of test shots to make sure the camera is centered, because it can look like it in the viewfinder but might not be when you look at the image on a monitor.

    Diffused lighting is the only way to go. Window light or maybe some incandescent light in the room (not a bare bulb, diffused by a white shade or something) will be the easiest way to do it. Set the white balance after the camera's set up - follow the instructions in the manual because it sounds like something was set wrong. Incandescent, daylight or any other full-spectrum light source should be able to be white balanced just fine.

    The other option is to shoot RAW instead of jpeg, and set the white balance in the computer, but you'd probably want to hold a white piece of paper in front of the art as a test shot for a reference point. If you haven't shot RAW, there are a lot of steps to it that I'm leaving out... But you should be able to do a good job with jpeg files and spending the time to get it right when you take the shot.

  3. #3
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    Re: Best way to photograph paintings

    Could someone say anything more on this,


    and/or provide links to the additional steps one would need to photograph paintings in RAW format(s)??

    We'll be using a Pentax K10d to try to get pix good enough to make prints of my father's paintings.

    Many thanks!!!

  4. #4
    Senior Member Medley's Avatar
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    Re: Best way to photograph paintings

    To avoid the yellow color cast, it's best to photograph paintings outdoors, in the shade if possible. If you can't, then definately shoot in Raw mode, as you will need to make some adjustments later.

    Never use a flash or direct lighting. Oils and some varnishes are highly reflective, and will create "catch lights" on the image. Diffuse any direct lighting with a white shade of some sort. The painting should not be behind glass for the same reason.

    Use a focal length of 50mm. This most closly approximates the viewing angle of the human eye, and will minimize distortion. Fill as much of the frame as possible with the painting, but be aware that you may have to take asecond shot, as what you see in the viewfinder may vary from the actual image.

    The trick in shooting Raw is not so much in capturing the image. That's really no more difficult than shooting in .jpeg mode. It's the fact that you'll be doing more processing after the fact. I personally use photoshop to process my images, but the camera should have come with some software to allow you to process Raw images that you can use if you don't have Photoshop.

    - Joe U.
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  5. #5
    has-been... another view's Avatar
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    Re: Best way to photograph paintings

    RAW would be the best bet. I think one of the most crucial things to get right would be the white balance. If this isn't right there will be a color cast (yellowish, greenish, etc) and the colors won't look right. You can (with most cameras, at least) set a custom white balance in the camera based on the light you're photographing with. Every camera is different so check the manual for how to do this. The other option is to set it later but you can only do this with RAW shooting. Once again, exactly how this is done depends on the software you're using.

    Let us know what software you're using (if Photoshop, is it Elements, and what version) and someone here should be able to help. I have used Photoshop CS to do this in the past but am currently using Nikon Capture NX so I'm probably not much help...

    PS - We do have a Pentax User Forum on the site which may be of more help with camera specific questions. Also, be sure to see the Welcome thread in Viewfinder.

  6. #6
    Senior Member freygr's Avatar
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    Re: Best way to photograph paintings

    Yes I have to agree with shooting in RAW mode. The camera I use has a RAW + JPG basic setting and that is the one I use. Use a Tripod and two or more lights and you can bounce them of large white paper/fabic or shine then through white paper/fabic to give diffused lighting. Also make sure you have a piece of white paper in the frame (to be cropped out) to set WB in post processing. If you have a covered area like a large pouch you can just shoot in the covered area, cloudy days give the best soft lighting.
    GRF

    Panorama Madness:

    Nikon D800, 50mm F1.4D AF, 16-35mm, 28-200mm & 70-300mm

  7. #7
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    Re: Best way to photograph paintings

    Hello all, your tips are very helpful!

    I also am going to photograph artwork with a Canon Rebel T3. My question is also about lighting.

    I am going to shoot indoors, and have read many different opinions about what kind of light to use. I have 2 soft white 2700K floodlights. Could these work to shoot acceptable photographs of artwork?

    Appreciate any recommendations!

  8. #8
    Captain of the Ship Photo-John's Avatar
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    Re: Best way to photograph paintings

    Quote Originally Posted by dasha007 View Post
    I also am going to photograph artwork with a Canon Rebel T3. My question is also about lighting.

    I am going to shoot indoors, and have read many different opinions about what kind of light to use. I have 2 soft white 2700K floodlights. Could these work to shoot acceptable photographs of artwork?
    Welcome to PhotographyREVIEW.com! I don't believe the kind of lights matter nearly as much as how you use them. The key things with photographing flat art are using a tripod to eliminate movement, making sure your white balance is correct, and eliminating reflections. Depending on the art, your biggest issue is likely to be reflections. I would use a circular polarizer but you'll also have to position the lights carefully. The best strategy is to move them out to the sides and bounce them off the subject at about 30 degree angles. The farther away from the art, the softer the light will be so move them as far away as possible.
    Photo-John

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  9. #9
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    Re: Best way to photograph paintings

    feel n capture them.....

  10. #10
    Moderator Skyman's Avatar
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    Re: Best way to photograph paintings

    I know this is an old thread but the "best" method is with a copy stand and three polarizers (one for each light and one for the lens) I forget which but I think you need linear polarizers on the lights and a circular one on the camera (but I could have that backward) the copy stand holds the lights at 45 degrees to the artwork and mounts the camera parralel to it. The polarizers cut all the glare from the lights so that the end result is a perfectly lit replication of the artwork.

    Failing that anything that will let you evenly and softly light the artwork and something to hold the camera parralel to the artwork so that there is no distortion to correct for.
    Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur


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