light recommendation for photographing artwork

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by michael_joubert, Jan 22, 2004.

  1. I'm in the market for some light to use in photographing artwork.
    I'm new to LF and know very little about the different light options
    available. Most important is the color accuracy of my work so the
    lighting is a very ciritcal part of the the process. I'd like to be
    able to preview the light as well before capture and will most
    probably be working in low light conditions to avoide contaminating
    the color with ambient light so I'll need to be able to see how the
    light is interating with the pianting surface so that I can set them
    in the correct position prior to capture. I have been told that
    strobe lights provide the 'cleanest' light. What would you recommend?
  2. Although a people shooter by trade I shoot a lot of paintings for friends, What I do is set up a large diffused umbrella on each side of the work at about 45 degree angles from the painting to eliminate reflections and shoot away, I use dynalite stobes for this one on each side. If the painting is taller than my biggest umbrella (50 inches) I bounce the umbrella off a 4x8 foot white foam board to get large coverage. Gennerally depth of field is not an issue with paintings, I ussually shoot a bracket from 11-22 hope that helps.
  3. Electronic Flash (strobes), properly positioned on each side of the art work will give you the best and cleanest light source; check your set up with Polaroid - look for hot spots - you may want to place Polaroid filters over each light source to further control the light.
  4. Just a warning; you can still contaminate the color with flashes if the flash lights up something besides the art, which is pretty much guaranteed to happen since some of the light hitting the art and the wall next to the art will hit other things and then reflect back onto the art. How bad it is will depend on what's around the shot; I once made this mistake with a 5 by 7 foot painting with an 8 by 10 foot burgundy Pakistani rug in front of it. Got distinctly reddish results and had to reshoot with the rug rolled up out of the way (the carpet was a pretty neutral gray, so this worked---depending on the environment you're working in some neutral gray drop cloths might not be a bad idea).
  5. Your advice is much appreciated!
    Thanks for taking the time to write.
  6. Strobe or tungsten lights will work -- the main thing is to use a film matched to the color temperature of the light source that you are using (or to use corrective filtration), and not to mix lights of different color temperatures. Your idea of working in low ambient light is good re not mixing sources of different color temperatures.

    I think your idea of previewing the results of your lighting is also excellent, especially for someone learning. As Per says, if you use strobes you could do this by taking a Polaroid. If you have lots of time you could always develop a film before changing your setup -- this would be impractical for most. With lots of $$$, one could use digital capture.

    The other way to preview your lighting is to use continuous lights such as tungsten halogen. Excellent results can be obtained this way. You can look for reflections and shadows from the camera position. You can use a conventional incident meter to check the uniformity of the illumination. There are excellent tungsten balanced films.

    Pros tend to prefer strobes. The are cooler temperature wise, take less electricity and stop action. Stopping action isn't important for your application. A disadvantage of strobes is price. You might want to start with tungsten halogen. One model to consider is the Lowel brand Tota-lights. You don't want to use cheap photo-floods because the color temperature of these bulbs changes over their short lifetime.

    I don't know what the comment that strobes provide the "cleanest" light is supposed to mean.
  7. Used polarized light to avoid 'sparkle' from the brushstrokes etc. Its the only way to go, I had that job for about ten years and its the only thing guaranteed to work in all but the worst case scenarios. A ripped and badly repaired canvas will always be tricky to shoot but slight 'out of true'adjustment of polarizer alignment can save the day.

    CP Goerz
  8. Hi Michael

    I realise your original question was posted quite some time ago, but this response may be helpful to someone else even if you've already ironed out the bugs.

    I use strobe lights at 45 degrees, and I work in a studio that's painted a fairly light neutral grey.

    You'll almost certainly need a polarising gel over each light, plus a good quality glass polariser on the lens. Rotate the lens filter slowly until any glare/reflections disappear from the painting.

    If there is any silver or gold paint, it will very likely appear black if the full polarising effect is used. You will need to carefully observe the paint as you rotate the filter and judge when the best compromise is reached between having the silver/gold retain its proper color and possibly a little glare somewhere else on the painting. However, I've found that glare generally isn't a problem while doing this.

    If you have to photograph a painting that's framed and glazed, set up the shot and wrap your tripod in a black or very dark cloth, so it's not relected in the glass. Next, take a sheet of lightweight black cardboard and cut a hole in the centre of it for your lens to poke through. Make a grip of some kind on the back, near the top edge of the card. If you hold it by the top edge, your hand may be reflected in the glass. When you take the shot, keep behind the tripod and card, and dark clothing will also be useful - and keep your head down, too! Leave the room lights off while checking the polarising effect and shooting.

    I strongly recommend the book "How to Photograph Works of Art" by Sheldan Collins, a former staff photographer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York. It's available through Amazon. (Am I allowed to say that?) This guy has done it all.

    Good luck! Richard
  9. Also greatly depends on the work.
    With a heavy texturized oil painting you will want the smallest light source possable. The larger the surface of the light emmiter the more rays will reflect from the oil into the camera. Much can be done to remove reflections by the angle of your strobes. 45 degrees is not enough in some cases. try going for 30. Look at the falloff graph for your refector. Usually they peak just off centre and falloff uniformly towards the edges. So aim your heads centre just beyond the edge of the opposite side of the painting. Do this with both heads and then fire some tests all around the painting to make sure for uniformity. Within 1/3 stop is the min you should be aiming for. I go for +-.1 of a stop.
    This can sometimes take an hour to nail!
    Thats why you see photographers using softboxes and diffusers to get an even spread of light. But this is the last thing you should be using.
    As for polorisers set them at 90 degrees to the camera poloriser.
    some exemples here

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