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Submitted on
December 11, 2013


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How To Photograph Your Paintings

Wed Dec 11, 2013, 12:20 PM by ArtByCher:iconartbycher:

How To Photograph Your Paintings

Developing an Idea by MrArtsy

In this article I want to discuss a common problem that some traditional artists have. That's photographing your paintings. Whether it be for selling prints or just getting your art noticed online the importance of having paintings look great is key.  If your fortunate enough to have a scanner for smaller pieces then that's great! But if your working on large canvases or paper then you can run into issues. The most common problem artists have are Glare, Blur and Color. All of which will be discussed in this article.

OFF - ON by cetrobo 

:star:Preventing Glare

Anyone who has worked with acrylics and oils knows what a problem this can be when your trying to take a picture of a painting. This is not as much a issues for a artist working with watercolors because of the matte of the paint and the surface.
Glare, as we know, is made from light bouncing off of a already hard, gloss/semigloss surface. This is most commonly caused when we have direct light hitting the surface of the paint. Whether it's a overhead light or flash you will almost always see the light reflect back when you view the photograph. 
:bulletred:Tips on preventing glare
A few of my own personal tips are:
:bulletblack:Take the painting outside on a cloudy day. The clouds are a natural filter.
:bulletblack:Never varnish/resin a piece until I have the perfect photograph. 
:bulletblack:When I'm unable to take the painting outside I 'set up' the piece by a large window. I want the light to be 'equal' throughout the entire painting so a large window helps with this. Then I place a light sheer over the window. Preferably a white one. It's worked wonders for me.

Some suggestions from artists and photographers in the community,

JenFruzz recommends:  "Try shooting from a different angle or try to figure out where the glare is coming from and make adjustments. If you can move the object you are shooting, just take it out of range of the glare. OR a polarizing filter can act like sunglasses for your camera.  Make sure your room is well-lit. Lighting is the killer for most photographs.  A well and evenly lit room will prevent you from needing to use the flash on your camera (in most cases) and therefore will reduce the odds of glare hitting the painting.  But NOT FAKE LIGHT! Natural light is best. So try taking the picture outside but in a shaded area to reduce glare."

Lou-in-Canada recommends: "I usually take it outside. Or go to in front of the sliding door and put it on the floor. But outside where it gets direct daylight (no sun) is best I find"

ukapala recommends: "I try to find a spot from where the amount of reflected light is the smallest. Photography is as much about a vantage point as the photographed object itself. If the flare is too obvious I try to reduce it in Photoshop and often I just don't publish the photo at all if I'm not 100% happy with it."

Trippy4U recommends: " Lens shade, circular polarizing filter. Its a photographic or optical filter that polarizes the light passing through it, used chiefly for reducing reflections and improving contrast. Two polarizing filters are often used together, such that rotation of one of them results in a neutral density filter of variable density. Expensive but worth the investment"

jane-beata recommends: "My own experience is the best light is always a daylight, scattered from the window, but not direct sunlight, it's very aggressive. Over the time I noticed how different daylight changes the color of my painting, therefore whenever a great morning light shows up, I take a camera and try to use it as much as I can."

EintoeRn recommends: "use a medium focal length (like 100 mm), maybe even fixed length, to avoid optical distortion." Zooming in can also prevent the glare if you do have to use a flash"

Workspace by CyrusMacleod

 :star:Preventing Blur

A blurry image to the viewer can be distracting. Images that are blurry also can take away the detail of a painting. If your planning to show your original work online and have prints made clarity is important.
The main causes of blurry images are:
1.The image is out of focus
2. The subject or the camera is moved while the shutter is open
3. Depth of field/Aperture is off for the setting.
:bulletred:Tips on preventing blurry images
A few of my personal tips;
:bulletblack:Spend the money on a tripod. You can get them reasonably priced. This has made all the difference for me.
:bulletblack:It's been ages since I had a photography class and I've had several camera's since. A piece of advice, get to know your camera. Try out different settings. Most cameras will have preset scenes. I prefer to do my manually. The important thing is to find out what works best for your particular art and environment.

Some suggestions from artists and photographers in the community,

ukapala recommends: " I just use a tripod... but when I don't, I use high shutter speed (you have to open the aperture more in that case) and try to keep my hand really steady.  The painting's surface should be orthogonal to the lenses optical axis and the axis should be in the center of the picture, so for example when the picture is hanging flat, the camera should be perfectly vertical. If the painting is standing on an easel or on the floor leaned against the wall, the camera should be tilted slightly forward and its height should be adjusted accordingly" 

xthumbtakx recommends: "preventing blur without a tripod - just use a high shutter speed + high ISO speed + low f/stop"

Trippy4U recommends: " You can place the camera on anything and then use the self-timer to trip the shutter. This will minimize camera vibration from the force of your finger pushing the shutter button"

phydeau recommends:  "First off, get a tripod.  There are really cheap ones out there. Professionals spend lots of money on their tripods.  You're not a professional.  Get a cheap one.  Seriously, they're like $15.  Get a tripod.  But if you're still not going to get one?  Use lots of light.  You can get faster shutter speeds, and you won't get as much motion blur.  That's once again a good case for taking it outside.  Also, when shooting without a tripod, a trick some photographers use is to hook the right elbow with the left arm and hold it close to the chest.  It helps make your hand a little more stable.  But seriously, get a cheap tripod."

WTek79 recommends: " A very simple technique is using the "burst mode" of your camera to take a series of pictures, it is something I do a lot. If you take 5-6 pictures in a row, there is almost always at least one sharp.  The best aperture would be between f/5.6 and f/8. But if it is a low light situation, do not hesitate to open more : the blur caused by camera shake or very high ISO is usually much worst than not using the optimal optical aperture of your lens"

Art is Life by naked-in-the-rain

:star:Keeping The Colors True To The Original

If your planning on or already selling your original art you want the colors to be very close, if not exact to what the piece looks like. If a client is interested in purchasing your art you don't want them opening a box and saying 'this looks nothing like the one I saw a picture of' It won't only cost you a potential sale but it can also prevent you from some further sales.
You may find when you upload your images onto your computer they just don't look like the original. There are many programs for 'tweaking' the contrast and color. If by chance you don't have one on your computer you can find some good online editors.

:bulletred:Tips on keeping the colors true to the original
A few of my personal tips;
:bulletblack:When the colors need adjusting I have the painting right in front of me. If I'm spending too much time playing with the color or contrast I'm better off taking a few more photos.
:bulletblack:Take several photos with different settings. With those of us not working with traditional film, you have nothing too lose.

Some suggestions from artists and photographers in the community,

JenFruzz recommends "shooting the painting with a piece of white paper next to it (crop it out after of course) is the best way to find the true colors of the painting. Take the picture as suggested above, with a white piece of paper next to it. In an editing program, adjust the white balance (that's a regular setting in most editing program, in case you don't know!) so that the white piece of paper is as white as it was in real life"

phydeau recommends: " Even professionals struggle with this one. There is no "best" automatic setting.  I recommended previously shooting outdoors on a cloudy day, in which case, the "cloudy" setting might give you the closest results, but the reality is that the camera sensor records the light it gets, and all the settings do is adjust to what the processor in the camera "thinks" 17% neutral grey is within the image (which can get really wonky if 17% neutral grey is not actually present in the image).  You will have to do a white balance in editing.  Professionals use those color cards and grey cards (along with very carefully calibrated monitors), but you don't necessarily need to be quite that precise.  If you take a picture of your painting with a white piece of paper over it, most photo editing software (even the free ones) can do a white balance off of that by selecting that as your "white".  Then just adjust your other photograph to the same settings in the editing software.  Some cameras will allow you to make a custom setting in-camera by doing the same thing.
The second part of getting true color is avoiding 'color cast.'  The color of the light used to illuminate the subject will affect the ratio of hues coming off of it no matter what white balance you use (for example, if you have a red item and a white item next to each other, and you shine a red light on them, they will both appear to be the same color).  Tungsten and fluorescent lights, and other light sources have a color to them.  If you're going to light an object for photography, there are compact fluorescent bulbs (they're kind of expensive but worth it) that are balanced to "natural white".  Or, if you don't want to spend the money, once again go outside on an overcast day.  The light coming from the sky will be close enough to natural white.

pagan-live-style recommends: "Use the 'natural' setting , correction/ processing is done afterward , and not in the camera . ISO 200 Max."

chriseastmids recommends: " take your first shot at F8 then bracket your shots do this by changing the aperture to f5.6. Change the aperture only; don’t change the shutter speed or anything else. Recheck the alignment and focus; then shoot. Now change the aperture—nothing else—to f11. Recheck the alignment and focus; then shoot. Now you have shot light, middle and dark versions of the image, improving the chances that at least one of them will be a good exposure."

WTek79 recommends: " Avoid, if possible, cheap fluorescent lights. This is the worst since usually not a "full spectrum" light. It can really mess up the colors"

In conclusion, find what works best for you. Play with the settings that you have on your camera. Stay indoors and create your own 'lighting' or go outside and make use of the natural light. Change the white balance or try some of the 'preset' settings your camera may have. Most of what any of us learn is through Trial and Error. And most importantly, HAVE FUN! :D

PE 2010 stamp by projecteducate

Here are a few outside links you may find helpful :)


Taking Pictures of Your Art 1 by lantairvlea  Photographing your art by kamicokrolock  How to Photograph Art by Jon-Snow 

I hope you enjoyed the article as much as I have writing it! A huge THANK YOU to all of the artists for sharing their suggestions! If you have any other Tips or Tricks on photographing paintings please feel free to share in the comments.

Add a Comment:
lantairvlea Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thank you for the mention! I am happy to see other people addressing this important and all too often neglected topic!
ArtByCher Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2013   Traditional Artist
Thank you :)
lantairvlea Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
You're welcome and thanks again!
Astrikos Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2013   General Artist
Shooting in raw is quite useful if you get white balance wrong the first time. :la: Lovely article!
miontre Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Good tip! :D :D 
Astrikos Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2013   General Artist
:la: I hardly ever shoot in JPEG anymore. 
miontre Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I always shoot in JPEG :iconlazycryplz:

Mainly because the one time I did shoot in RAW, and downloaded RAW processing software, it lagged my computer a lot :paranoid:
Maybe I should get a different RAW software which isn't so lagx0rxz :crying:
Astrikos Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2013   General Artist
I use Lightzone which is free for PC. 
It's not too bad, especially if you tweak the software and your processor can handle it. 

RAW is good because it's so flexible and editing the images doesn't degrade the quality. 
miontre Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I have Ubuntu so it's probs not compatible here. :C

I spent the other day downloading and installing lots of different RAW software, I found one which doesn't lag. :lol: But it doesn't really have many features :B As good as RAW is, I'll probably have to end up just sticking to JPEG until I get a better computer :XD:
Astrikos Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2013   General Artist
Oh I see! Ubuntu is cool I kind of want to try and dual boot it with my computer. RAW processors work well if you have something like intel i5Core and up. Or that ARM A7 or something. Hope you can find a way to use it because developing the images through RAW is really cool. :eager:Anyways JPEG is still good! :dummy:
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