Shooting paintings and frames

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by vale_surfer, Jun 29, 2013.

  1. I have to shoot paintings and frames for the online catalog for an art gallery.
    I'll shoot with my Canon 5D mark II and the Canon EF 50mm F1.8 II and 17-40 L lenses.
    The gallery is basically a store and paintings and frames are stored in a relatively small area.
    I'll be shooting horizontal and vertical depending on the painting - what is a good light set up? How do I minimize reflection on the glass fronts of the paintings (for ones that are framed in glass)?
    What is a good ISO in these conditions (there will be store lighting, mostly bright white lights and some tungsten). What f stop should I be looking at?
    Anyone who has done this previously, are there any creative techniques or angles? To me, it appears these will have to be front-on shots but there could be other possibilities.
    Thanks in advance.
  2. Avoid a mixture of different kinds of lighting. Turn off the tungsten lights. I'm assuming that the gallery's "white lights" are decently balanced in color temperature. If that is true, and they give you sufficiently even light across the paintings with no reflections, use them. If not, turn off all the gallery lights and use a pair of side lights at a 45 degree angle to the paintings. Center the camera in relation to each painting, and make sure its back is parallel to it. Use the base ISO of your camera, and your 50mm lens's best aperture, probably f/4 or f/5.6.
    Unless your client wants you to take them, avoid "creative" shots of the paintings. The best copy photographer I know (who is contracted our local art museum and individuals) doesn't claim copyright for that part of his work, because he considers that the value in his copywork is not his creativity, but that of the original painter.
  3. I just know that somebody's going to suggest cross-polarisers. There's absolutely no need for them if the copy lights can be placed well outside of the frame area of the painting or artwork.
    As the previous poster said; two lights aimed at 45 degrees, one on each side of the artwork and outside of the reflection line of the camera, are usually sufficient. For very large artworks you might have to use four lights aimed diagonally at the opposite corners of the copy. Try also to keep the copying area as dark and reflection-free as possible - other than the copying lights of course. Flash is by far and away the best light to use for copying. It'll easily overpower any ambient light and has a consistent and predictable CRI and colour temperature.
    Here's the way not to do it - the lights are too close in!
    This is a better setup. The 30 to 45 degrees recommendation isn't really critical, but better to have a shallower angle like 30 degrees than too steep.
    PS. Ideally the copy area should be painted matte black, along with any tripod and lighting stands etc. This is usually not practicable, but you might want to consider wrapping any chrome or aluminium tripod parts in black cloth to prevent reflections. Note that a polariser won't remove mirror-like reflections from glass or polished metal surfaces.
    PPS. For a standard 50mm lens the EF II has horrendous distortion. You might want to consider hiring a proper copying/macro lens.
  4. The only possibility of problems I can see is the frames. If a frame is deep, it's going to cast a shadow inwards. Technically, that's an error, but it may not be important in this case. You might notice it less if the shadows are above and below, rather than from left and right, in which case you can shoot the art turned on its side, then flip it upright later in Photoshop or whatever.

    The normal way to check for even lighting is to put a pencil point on the center of the art. The pencils shadow on either side should be of equal brightness. Of course, I don't mean to literally touch the art! This trick reveals uneven lighting, but can be used only at the exact center.
    I'm usually wearing a black hoodie, and when I'm doing this kind of work I throw it over and around the camera and tripod to kill their reflections.
  5. All the advice is good but one minor detail was left out....what modifier do you use on your flash...My advice is to shoot direct with flash head with a stander reflector. You don't want any soft light. Hard light will be snappy and crisp which will show every detail in the image and make the colors pop. If you do find shadows caused by the frames you can do a second exposure with the lights moved closer to middle to eliminate shadows then layer them in photoshop.
  6. Agreed Michael.
    My first job in photography was in a busy copying house, where suggesting using an umbrella or any sort of diffuser on the open floodlights would have raised howls of derision. I later ran a 20" x 16" Littlejohn process camera, shooting both reflective and transmissive artwork. Again the lights (4 of them this time) were just open reflector floodlights. The 4' x 5' copyboard was fully glazed to keep the artwork flat and we never had a single issue with spurious reflections.
  7. One of my clients is a frame manufacturer. The solution is to make two exposures: one lit for the frame and mat and
    another for the artwork. And combine the two photos using layers and masks in Photoshop.
  8. I left out that I am choosing these frames+artwork and sometimes frame+artwork+glass for ads in consumer and trade
    magazines, also large scale trade show prints, as well as on-line catalogs.
  9. Typo correction: in my last post I thought I was writing "shooting" not "choosing."
  10. Here's what I do when shooting my work. I take it out of the frame. But it sounds like your store wants to advertise the paintings with the frames as sort of a package deal, so you're going to have to use lighting as Rodeo Joe suggested. I just drag the stuff outside and I'm done w/ it. Nothing better than natural lighting, but that isn't an option in your situation. Be advised that any artificial lighting is likely to change the colors, but you should be able to fix that in post. You aren't photographing slides to take to a gallery to try to sell the owner on showing it, you're doing ads, so perfect color match is not as critical. One thing I would stress is that you need to have your camera set up w/ perfect alignment or you are going to get weird shapes from the stuff. Everything has to be perfectly parallel.
  11. It would be great and also polite to get some feedback on these suggestions from "Vale Surfer."

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