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Photographing Artwork

Dasha Kabanova , Jan 03, 2013; 04:09 p.m.

Hello all,
I was wondering if anyone could recommend the best way for a non-professional photographer to produce quality photographs of art.
I have been reading about lighting- I understand the best way is to have professional light equipment, but as a student, I have no resources for those kinds of things.

Visiting many websites, there are various recommendations about what kind of light bulb to use when photographing canvases. I have two fluorescent, soft white flood lights at 2700K. Could these produce respectable results?

Also, does anyone have any recommendations for more information about photographing different kinds of artwork?
I would greatly appreciate feedback! Thank you

Responses

Louis Meluso , Jan 03, 2013; 04:59 p.m.

Visiting many websites, there are....

Try visiting a library if there is one near you. Look for a book "How to Photograph Works of Art" by Sheldon Collins from Amphoto Press. It's an older tome but it will give you some good direction.

Joseph Wisniewski , Jan 03, 2013; 06:15 p.m.

Agreed. Collins is good. I have most of that Amphoto series, and many of the books are quite good. The product and still life one is excellent.

Light: Science and Magic by Fil Hunter and his buddies is another good read, it covers how to light just about anything, and how to understand what the light is doing.

(Just an aside, Louis, I love how you cut that line into a perfect Yodaism. Brilly!)

I will disagree on one point. There are some worthwhile reads online about photographing artwork online, including an excellent book in pdf form by Thomas Niblick with the silly title "How to Print the Perfect Giclee". It's more about photographing art, how to light it and how to square camera and artwork (harder than most people think).
I suspect the big problem is that you're not getting the answers you want. You want someone, somewhere, on a forum or on a web page or in a book, to tell you that what you've got will work. Sorry, the sad truth is that it probably won't.

First, in general, the CRI (color rendition index) of fluorescent lights is way too low for artwork. To oversimplify, CRI is a measure of the ability of light to produce a photo that can be easily adjusted into color correctness. A light with a CRI of 85 (about as high as you get with compact fluorescent) is only "85% right". If you manage to get the white balance right and make the greys neutral, other colors will still be off an average of 15%, and all in different directions. You may have a yellow that's too green, but you can't fix it by pulling some green from the color balance, because you also have a brown that isn't green enough, which you will make worse. A really cheap CF "flood" may not even hit that 85%, there's a lot of CRI 65 stuff at hardware stores, eBay, etc.
Large, linear fluorescents have more power, and better CRI. Philips makes CRI 95 an
d even 98 bulbs in 4 foot linear tubes. Linear fixtures are also natural strip lights, and we'll get to that in a second. The other kind of bulb often used for artwork is a plain old halogen, but a high power one, 500W or 1000W. Don't confuse "color temperature" with CRI. Halogens have a color temperature of around 3100K, which sounds close to your particular fluorescent (and there are other fluorescents that match Halogen and have color temps of 3100K). But while the compact fluorescent has a CRI of 65-85, the halogen has a CRI of 100. Once you adjust the colors, they're all perfect.

The second thing is the shape of the lights. You've probably hit enough sites to know that people usually recommend a "strip light", a reflector that's tall and skinny, usually about as tall as the artwork. This lights the art uniformly from top to bottom. A couple of floods just aren't uniform enough. That's why you use either halogens or really big CF in "strip light" soft boxes.

We won't get into things like polarizers. Basically, the "hard news" is that doing artwork acceptably is an investment in getting the right lights and acquiring the right skills. It's work.

Rodeo Joe , Jan 03, 2013; 08:43 p.m.

I agree that CFL lamps will probably result in poor or unpredictable colour reproduction, and diffuse lighting is the worst type to use for copying. IMO the most economical lights for starting out in copy work are four small hotshoe flashes or, if you and the artwork can stand the heat, four cheap tungsten-halogen lights of the workshop/security flood type. Obviously battery operated speedlights are more portable, but the drawback with flash is that you can't directly see how evenly the light is distributed. However, as long as the strobes are matched and you know their true output, you can set them up and gauge exposure by measurement alone.

Whether flash or tungsten, set the 4 lights at 45 degrees to the artwork, with one light at the same height as each corner of the artwork, and as far away as the diagonal of the artwork. Point each light at the diagonally opposite corner and make sure they're all exactly the same distance from the centre of the artwork. Once you've practised a bit and made sure the lighting's even, then it's just a matter of repeating the setup or placing new copy in the same position relative to the lights.

You'll also need a room or area you can darken and preferrably paint black. Make sure your tripod is obscured so that chrome legs etc. don't reflect in the artwork or its cover glass, or use barn doors/flags on the luminaires to keep light off the camera and tripod.

Squaring a camera to a copyboard is fairly easy. All you need is a small mirror placed flat and parallel on the copyboard at dead centre. Align the reflection of the camera lens in the mirror dead centre in the viewfinder or GG. Job done!

Tim Ludwig , Jan 03, 2013; 10:48 p.m.

Dasha, Your advice is getting closer to the mark, but if you plan to do a truly professional job with this, you need to go considerably further.

The small flashes will indeed be better than the previous equipment mentioned, but you must be working with flashes that have modeling lights and then buy sheets of polarizing material to place between each light and the art work. With modeling lights, you will be able to observe the full polarization effect. Without them, you are literally shooting in the dark in what you can observe and that is crucial. All four of the polarizing screens will have to be oriented the same way to avoid cross polarization and the camera will also need to have a polarizer to eliminate reflections. You will be able to observe the optimum results as you turn the Polarizer on the lens while watching through the camera.

Why is this important? The simple answer is to get rid of obvious reflections that will appear on textured media like oils or acrylics, and it does that well. Doing this will allow the details of brush technique to be seen without a surface shine that would hide much of that textural quality. However, even on relatively flat media like watercolor or prints, there will be a slight veiled effect on the tones that the Polarizing technique will largely eliminate allowing the purity and vividness of the actual pigment colors to glow through. This is true whether under glass or as the raw surface.

You also need power to those flashes for two reasons, one is that between the polarizing screens in front of the lights, and the subtractive effect of the Polarizer on the lens, you will lose about four f stops of light so you need the strong output power to build that back up. The second is that most lenses perform best for edge to edge sharpness in their middle f stops, usually from about f 8 to f16. Yes, if you are shooting digital, you can simply up the ISO setting to get there, but you have to also consider that unless you are using a true flat field lens such as a copy lens, you must have enough depth of field to conquer the curved variation in focus from the center to the edge of any flat piece of artwork that you are copying.

Obviously, there is a lot of technique involved in doing this well.

If you are shooting images of three dimensional works such a sculpture or ceramics, jewelry, etc., it is even more important to use flashes with modeling lights so that you can observe how your light placement effects the three dimensional qualities of the piece.

As a student, I understand that your resources are quite limited. Since you seem to be dealing with an art department, is there a chance that there is a photography program that you could join and thereby gain access to any real lighting equipment that the department might have on hand. If so, that would eliminate you having to invest in expensive electronic flash gear and give you access to tons of time to experiment with your technique.

Good luck.

Tim

If you

Gary Peck , Jan 04, 2013; 04:15 p.m.

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sherman peabody , Jan 13, 2013; 01:16 p.m.

I would just offer that for someone with no resources to buy lighting gear, there is always the option I used - cheating. I did the photography for a local oil painter, and in the end I found a good spot outdoors in the shade, and took each painting there to be photographed. You have to be careful about white balance, but in general the light is even, broad-spectrum, and omnidirectional, and the results were quite good. Of course that's not an option for some works, but when it is, it works pretty well, and costs nothing.

Getting the camera centered and square to the painting is more difficult than you would suspect. I think Rodeo Joe's idea of using a mirror is a great one.

Max M , Jun 11, 2013; 08:16 p.m.

Will a Canon EF 50mm 1.4 mounted on the 7D work with a good lighting setup shooting watercolors that are no larger than 18x24 yield good results for original size reproductions?

sherman peabody , Jun 12, 2013; 11:35 a.m.

I used a 50mm 1.8 on a T2i, so essentially the same setup as yours, and it worked fine for paintings about that size that were actually blown up a little larger than original. I would say, though, that to fill the frame on a work that size, you'll be fairly close to it, and the closer you are, the more you'll experience barrel distortion which you'll have to correct for in software. If I had it to do over again, I would use a longer lens so I could get further away from the subject.

And of course you'll be shooting at f8 or so, not wide open, and use a cable release or self-timer.

Max M , Jun 12, 2013; 01:27 p.m.

Sherman, what software did you use to remove the barrel distortion? Was it 100% successful?
Would investing in a macro lense remove the barrel distortion problem?
In order of price there are 4 options I could consider:
Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro Lens
Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

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