Tips on photographing artwork

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by bill_derbyshire, Sep 6, 2011.

  1. My wife is a mixed media artist, working with acrylics and photographs on a variety of surfaces, mostly 2 dimensional. I have been photographing her artwork and now some of her friends with mixed results I am using two 500w incadescant lights, reflective umbrellas and shooting with a D-80 with a 28-80mm nikkor af lens. I have set the white balance to incadescant and am getting mixed results. I really want to do the art justice any ideas??
  2. When you say "mixed results," what aspect of the results is it that you're finding frustrating?
  3. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    You may need to polarize your lights and use a polarizer. There is plenty of history here on this topic, it's not at all specific to camera brand.
  4. generally the images seem dim, with low color vibrancy, I have tried bringing the lights close (3-4 feet) from the artwork and it certainly seems bright enough. I guess i'm wondering if I am using the correct kind of lights. there is a lot of info out there advising everything from shop lights to full professional set ups. I think I can do this on a low budget, just wondering if i"m going about it the right way
  5. If you are getting low color vibrancy, it could be flare. Are your lights in front of the camera? You never want the light source to hit your lens. Re-position the lights or use a lens shade.
    Take a picture of your setup, including the camera on a tripod (you should be using a tripod with continuous light) with a Point-and-Shoot. Post it and an example. You aren't giving us a lot to work on, it's like asking a mechanic what's wrong with your car without letting him see it.
  6. Try getting rid of the reflectors. The standard copy lighting setup is to use 2 or 4 (bare) floodlights pointed at 45 degrees to the artwork and on either side, or one at each corner if you have 4 lights. To get the lighting even you set a pencil on end in the centre of the artwork and check that its shadows are equally dark and the same length. Unless the artwork is under glass you won't need a polariser, and even if it is, you should be able to avoid reflections by preventing light-spill onto the camera and maybe additionally wrapping the camera and tripod in a dark cloth.
    Personally I wouldn't bother with tungsten hot lights these days. I'd just use little hotshoe flashguns and rely on incident flashmetering. As long as the strobes are all matched and set to the same output, you can pretty much rely on pure measurement to get the lighting even. And if you do need to use polarisers for 3D or shiny artwork, then small flashguns are easier and less expensive to fit with polariser gels.
    WRT exposure: Incident metering is the best way to get consistent exposures, regardless of how bright or dark the artwork is. If you don't have a separate incident meter then use a couple of sheets (double thickness) of white copier paper and meter from those through the camera by filling the frame with the white paper. Then open up by 2.5 to 3 stops over the reading the paper gives you. You're aiming to get the whites of the artwork just below the clipping point of the histogram, and once you've got that exposure, make a note of it. If you set the lights up the same every time you should be able to keep the same exposure settings.
  7. PS. I once worked in a commercial copying studio in London (one of the worst jobs I ever had) and the above described lighting setup is the industry standard for copying work. The important thing is to get as much light on the artwork as possible and as little light spilling onto the camera and the rest of the room. Umbrellas don't help in this respect. So invest in some black card to act as barn doors on your lights as well as all the above.
  8. Lw budget approach = low budget results.
    You have to use polarizers for the strobes and lens.
  9. Use two strobes with bowl reflectors, angled at 45 degrees on each side. Place polarizing gel over each bowl, oriented the same way, e.g., vertically. Use a circular polarizer over the camera lens oriented at 90 degrees with respect to the polarized light source. [You can check this with the modeling lights; twist the circular polarizer until the reflections from the lights off the canvas disappear.] Use a color card (e.g., the Xrite Passport) to calibrate color and to guard against color shift from the polarizers. If you don't use the polarizers, you will get glare off the canvas, and the resulting image will look like a bad snapshot of the artwork. With the polarizers, the image looks like the artwork itself, and is suitable for reproduction in all formats.
  10. You don't need expensive lights. I have gotten good results using two $40 used flashes from ebay with a homemade Y-sync cord. I either use a flash meter or a method similar to Rodeo Joe to set the exposure (don't use auto).
    You only need polarizers if you are getting reflections. Completely flat artwork will not reflect using lights at 45 degrees. Highly textured artwork, like oil paintings with big globs of paint probably will reflect.
    I bought polarizing sheets from Edmund Scientific, you don't need optical grade for the flashes (expensive), hobbyist grade is good enough.
    You say you are using incandescent lights. Are these photo lights? If not, you may need to do a custom white balance, plain incandescents have a wide range of color temperatures.
  11. Artists are peculiar about correct colors :)
    Using some color reference card like the color passport from Xrite will be helpful. Unfortunately you will need to know a bit about color processing workflow but you will find information here in the appropriate fora.
    Unless you shoot in a studio you will get colored light effects from light reflection from nearby walls and ceiling.
    Exclude ambient light as much as possible. Two or four flashes are a cheap and good start.
    The suggested use of pol filters is a good idea. Unfortunately cheap once are not color neutral. If you use a color reference card you can compensate most of this but still a good brand pol filter is helpful.
    A cheap and slow old AI or AIS macro lens like 55mm AI Micro Nikkor f 3.5 or 2.8 for larger objects or 105 to 200mm f 4.0 lenses are a good and cheap choice.
    If you can see the artwork again once you processed your images for saturation, brightness, contrast etc. then this is the way to go. Otherwise take some notes especially about saturation. This helped me a lot. But my memory may not be the best^^.
    If your output medium is paper then you need to read a bit about print processing and get the printer profiles for final settings before printing. A calibrated monitor is really essential.
    Of course for home use you can just go trial end error :) Some painters have low expectation from photography that can save one. But do not rely on this.
  12. You have to use polarizers for the strobes and lens.​
    I have read this a thousand times if I've read it once but when I shot my kid's portfolio I used two strobes into white umbrellas with no polarization and the results were exactly as desired. Careful light placement and accurate exposure are important.
    - henry
  13. AJG


    I do this professionally, and I recommend a couple of monolight flash units at 45 degrees and cross polarizing. Zoom lenses are usually not the best choice for this because of distortion and a higher propensity to flare (which reduces contrast). While you can fix some of this in Photoshop, if you do a lot of it a better lens (macro would be best) is worthwhile. You don't mention the size of the work--if the work is small, say under 16" x 20", you might be able to do this with a pair of small battery power flash units. If it is much bigger than that, by the time you compensate for the amount of light lost when the small units are far enough away to light the art evenly you may find that you are shooting wide open or cranking up the ISO. Both of these are bad ideas for photographing art.
  14. "Lw budget approach = low budget results.
    You have to use polarizers for the strobes and lens."
    Complete nonsense on both counts. Below is an example of a straightforward minimal copy setup using just two small flashes (Canon 540EZ units set at 1/16th power and 28mm coverage angle). The flashguns were mounted on two cheap lightweight stands fitted with plastic tiltheads and the copyboard was simply an offcut of white laminate board placed on the floor. Anyone familiar with the Kodak booklet that I've copied will know that the greyscale patches are printed on glossy textured photo-paper, and are an absolute pain to reproduce correctly. The whole book is printed on glossy finish card, apart from the grey card shown. To give myself a bit more of a challenge I've included an uncoated skylight filter as well. No polarisers were used or necessary. Total cost for stands, tiltheads and flashguns (bought used) was well under the equivalent of $200 US.
    I'll admit that the lighting is a bit uneven, but that could be corrected if I put a little more time into this quick setup. In fact I didn't even bother to meter the exposure and just used the histogram on the camera. All that's been done to the image straight off the camera is some cropping and size reduction.
  15. The polarized method of photographing flat art is essential for eliminating specular highlights created by the thick aggressive brush strokes of artists using oil or acrylic mediums.
  16. None of these methods addresses the most difficult challenge of photographing 2D artwork. Many 2D artwork have a prominent and important third D, e.g. the texture of the media and the depth of the brush strokes. A 2D photograph shot under a flat lighting would often lose these completely.
  17. AJG


    While it is true that you can often work cheaper as Rodeo Joe states, the art world is just as competitive as the photography market is. I have had many clients who weren't getting in to juried shows when they were photographing their own work, but get in with my photographs because they represent their work better. I'm not a genius at this nor do I own mega-buck equipment, but I do have a lot of experience and decent cameras, lenses and lighting equipment. Try working without polarizers with metallic paint or gold leaf--although at that point you don't fully cross polarize, or the metallic paint looks like mud!
    Back to the original poster--does your wife expect to make a career or a serious hobby out of this? If she does, then investing in a better lens and sufficiently powerful flash units to allow using cross polarizing for the increased saturation and reflection control would be worth it.
  18. Andrew: Nobody is denying that x-polarisers are necessary for some types of copying work. The implication by many posters however is that this technique is always essential . This is what's erroneous and needs to be disabused.
    The thing I see coming to the fore here is the needless use of diffuse lighting through the use of umbrellas. Combine the use of brollies, especially the white fabric ones, with continuous lighting and you've got a definite recipe for low contrast copies with poor colour fidelity.
  19. AJG


    I agree that umbrellas would be a terrible choice here, and I certainly don't use cross polarization all of the time. Maybe the real problem is expecting to find a formula that works all the time. A few months ago I was photographing artwork made on stainless steel blanks for road signs--the images were chemically etched on the sign blanks. After some experiments, I set up a lot of white reflector panels with an opening in the middle and lights aimed back toward them and shot the work from about 30 feet away with a long lens. I also lit the background (a medium gray) separately. When I was through, the artist was happy and so was I--the metallic character of the sign blanks was there along with the subtle details of the chemical etchings. Is that in chapter 1 on basic lighting? Probably not. But I have shot enough stainless steel machines on factory floors before, so at least I knew where to start.
  20. OK. Wow what a range of advise! I took some more images today with much better results.
    I lost the umbrella reflectors, set the iso to 400, preset the white balance with a gray card and used an exposure compensation of +1. also added some black cloth to the floor and eliminated all other light sources. Thank you all again for your advise and comments

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