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Thread: Photographing oil paintings

  1. #1

    Photographing oil paintings

    Hello,

    I am looking to buy a digital camera to photograph my oil paintings. Any suggestions on which type of camera would best serve this purpose?

    Thank you.

  2. #2

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    Re: Photographing oil paintings

    We really need more information, particularly about the location; by which I mean, hanging on the wall in a gallery or in a proper photographic studio?

    Correct lighting will be the main problem. Also, will you be using a tripod?

    If in a gallery etc, will you have the place to yourself (outside of normal viewing hours) or have to shoot while mingling with other viewers?

    And then, what is your budget for photo equipment?

  3. #3
    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Photographing oil paintings

    IMO,camera is not a problem but, I would definitely opt for a DSLR, preferably one with live-view capability..

    As far as lens goes, just about any lens would work, you don't need a macro lens and if shooting on a tripod, you should be using f/11 so even the kit lenses will have enough quality for your needs. However, a macro lens would be appropriate because of the image quality achievable, not because you need the macro capability. I would want to shoot at a longer focal length, if possible, rather than using a wide angle lens from a close camera to subject distance. It would be easier to avoid distortion if shooting from a longer subject to camera distance.

    There are two possible problems when shooting paintings or any other flat art work.

    First, you want to ensure that your sensor is absolutely parallel with the artwork. You want the lens pointed exactly at the center of the art and not pointed up or down, left or right. You can usually eyeball this fairly well by looking at the back of the camera and ensuring that it is parallel. I am not a great fan of live view, however, this type of shooting is one occasion in which live view would be beneficial. However, IMO, a tripod is just about mandatory for this type of work.

    It would be best to mount the artwork in your shooting area absolutely perpindicular and without a frame, rather than have the artwork hanging at a slight angle which is commonly the case when art is hung from wires attached to the canvas stretcher or the fame..

    Lighting might be the primary problem. With most artwork, you want light sources at 45 degrees on each side of the camera to provide even lighting. However, oils have brush strokes which can catch reflections. You may need to move the light sources a bit to reduce the reflections. When I shot oils in a studio environment, we used cross polarized light sources which were large polarizing filters over continuous lights. This would minimize the glare or reflections from the brush strokes.

    I don't expect thay you would desire to go to the expense or problems with this type of equipment. But, either continuous lights or strobes with modeling lights would be the way to go in your case. In all cases, avoid firing on camera flash directly into the oil because you will end up with a hotspot. If you have softboxes or some other ype of light modifiers I would try them. However, the light shouldn't come from one source and be directed directly into the painting.

    I have recently purchased a softbox that uses four 100-watt equivalent daylight compact flourescent bulbs for my video use. A pair of these, one on either side, at approximately 45 degree angles to the painting should work quite well. The softboxes were purchased on eBay and were not expensive. However, you would need light stands also, so that would drive your price up.

    If you have an area that is lit by diffused sunlight, either window light or a patio in open shade, that would be great and you would not need artificial light. However you would want window light to be falling perpindicular in the painting, not hitting from an angle.

    Using either a white card or a color correction card in your first shots with any lighting setup will enable you to reproduce the colors accurately. I definitely recommend shooting in RAW.

    I have deliberately avoided talking about a CPL filter on your lens because I have not used one in shooting oil paintings. It should work if the angle of the light is proper, after-all it does reduce or eliminate reflections. However, I don't like to recommend any technique with which I am not intimately familiar. Perhaps someone else might chime in on the use of a CPL...

  4. #4

    Re: Photographing oil paintings

    Thank you! This really covers so many of the questions that come up in photographing oil paintings, much appreciated. I'm mostly looking to photograph paintings that are between 60 and 18 inches on any given side (www.josephsiddiqi.com). They do not have a lot of surface texture but do contain a lot of fine details. I can back up 8 to 10 feet from the wall, and would use a tripod in natural daylight. I noticed that many of the DSLR cameras contain features I don't need (video, sound, super high ISO) and am wondering if there is something more suited to my purposes in the $500 range?

  5. #5

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    Re: Photographing oil paintings

    Quote Originally Posted by rpcrowe View Post
    There are two possible problems when shooting paintings or any other flat art work.
    Just be aware that paintings are actually 3 dimensional, and that can cause issues with light placement; if the angle is too acute then you're likely to get direct reflection back towards the camera - but if the angle is too obtuse, then you can get excessive texture (including brush strokes) - so it does pay to vary the angle and see what works best for the particular piece of art. A CP filter can help with the first problem.

    PS: Timing is impeccable - I have one to do today for an artist (in the studio). For what it's worth, I normally use my 2m x 0.5m strip lights.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Photographing oil paintings

    This is the technique that I use for paintings and pictures that are behind glass. The diffusers that I use are actually softboxes using studio strobes. I work in a darkened room and will use a prime lens (ususually my f/2 105mm stopped down to around f/5.6 or f/8). No glare at all, so long as the softboxes are resonably close to the artwork. This is a great trick to use when the image is behind glass; no glare or reflections. The two light sources are at 45 degrees to the image; the camera is at the centre of the image and parallel to picture.

    I wrote this up for another site where a similar question was asked. Camera is on a tripod and I use a cable release.

    Photographing oil paintings

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