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10 Tips For Photographing Your Oil Paintings

10 tips for photographing your artwork:

I recently had an issue with a photograph of one of my paintings. The photograph was originally taken and uploaded in 2006 – 5 years ago – and it was too blurry and unable to produce a poster size high quality print. This reminded me of how much about photography I have learned in the last few years. I also can’t help but wonder if 5 years from now, I will look back and be surprised with how much I’ve learned in these 5 years. It is certainly a continual learning process. Here are 10 tips that I’ve learned about photographing artwork (particularly oil paintings):

1. Photographing artwork out on a deck or porch, generally provides the best overall natural light, unless you have heavy woods or trees that cause irregular shadows.

2. A generally cloudy or hazy day is actually better for photographing artwork on your porch or deck – it causes less glare and shadows than bright sunshine and the resulting shadows.

3. Direct lights/lamps on the artwork almost never work for me. They always seem to add shine and glare on the oil paints, which can misleadingly show up as a white area on the painting, even if it is actually a dark colored area of the artwork.

4. It may take some trial and error at the exact positioning of the artwork, to reduce glare off of oil paints (especially if you tend to paint with a lot of medium or have already varnished the painting). You also need to make sure there are no shadows affecting the surface of the painting.

5. Unless you are trying to show what kind of frame you’ve used, try to photograph the artwork without its frame. Photographs for show entries, print reproductions, etc, just need the artwork itself, not the frame used on the original. Also, the inclusion of a frame, even if cropped out of the final picture, will probably produce a shadow on the painting itself. It can take some time to properly remove (dodge) these shadows using Photoshop. Additionally, the accuracy of the photograph from the original will be reduced.

6. In my experience, no matter how hard you try, your photograph of a 2 dimensional artwork will never be completely squared to the photo. In the near future, I plan to write a post showing the step-by-step process I use in Photoshop to make the artwork look square in my photographs.

7. Do not use flash – once again, there will be problems with glare and incorrect coloring in the photograph.

8. Always use a tripod. The issue I had with that photo taken in 2006 was probably because of not using a tripod and the photo will be too blurry.

9. To reduce camera shake even further, use the camera’s self-timer or use a remote switch (either wired or wireless) to reduce the slight shake caused by pressing the shutter button.

10. Use a camera setting that has multiple focal points, such as Landscape or A-DEP settings, or adjust the F-stop to a higher number. You want the whole painting to be in focus, not just a portion of the painting.

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