Experience photographing paintings?

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by montresor, Oct 10, 2005.

  1. montresor

    montresor TPF Noob!

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2005
    Messages:
    289
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Cleveland Hts., Ohio
    I have received a commission of sorts to photograph over 400 oil paintings of various sizes, from 2x2 feet to 10x10 feet and even larger, all crammed in the artist's apartment. It's pretty much outsider art, and the artist seems to want the photos for insurance purposes. While they are all oil paintings, they are not varnished (so she can continue to work on them as the mood strikes her) and therefore not particularly shiny. Space and light (not much of either in the tiny, closed-up apartment) are problems, as are issues of film to use, lenses, etc.

    I would most likely be using three cameras: a Canon EOS Rebel (film) with a 28-80mm lens, a Mamiya C330S with an 80mm lens, and a Rapid-Omega 200 with 58mm, 90mm and 180mm lenses. And tripods. The only light I own is a dedicated flash for the Canon, but there is a stairwell in the building with a large skylight. I don't think the artist could be persuaded to allow her paintings to be taken outside, and in any event, this is Cleveland, where the sun officially stops shining the day after Labor Day.

    I'm not concerned with the monetary aspect of the commission; I'd do it for free just to be able to delve into one of the strangest (but amazingly delightful and happy) inner worlds I've ever seen. But I'm pretty new to photography and I feel a bit daunted by the scope of the task ahead.

    Advice? Suggestions? Caveats?
     
  2. craig

    craig TPF Noob!

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2003
    Messages:
    5,600
    Likes Received:
    20
    Location:
    Hermosa Beach, CA U.S.A
    Need less to say this is going to take some time and money. I would figure out (close to) exact times that each painting will take to photograph with all three cameras. Consider the film costs and editing time of three shots per painting. A good rule of thumb is "make sure everyone is clear on time and money".

    Challenges of space and lighting are fairly typical. Spend some time on set up. Keep in mind that the art will have to move through quickly. Try and organize the art by size. This will limit your camera movements and make things move along quicker. Bring a level to make the shots as distortion free as possible.

    Of course lighting may be the biggest challenge. The key here is even from one light temperature. The on camera flash could work in a daylight setting, but not in a tungsten one.
     
  3. Mike Jordan

    Mike Jordan TPF Noob!

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2005
    Messages:
    347
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Hillsboro, Oregon
    Since they are going to be static images, as long as your lighting is evenly lit from both sides, it doesn't matter if you have enough light to take shots at 1/500th of a second or half a second. Since you are shooting film, you can't set your white balance (can you borrow or rent a digital camera for a few days?), so you will either need photoflood type lights that you can use daylight or tungsten film or the appropriate filter to adjust the light to match your film. The best way to make sure they are even is to lay them on the floor and shoot down at them. That means you have to have a tripod that can do this. The second choice would be to have a bracket ont he wall where they can be flat against it. Third choice would be with them on an easel, but you have to watch for slant of the art.

    Take two equal lights and put one on each side. Having your lights shooting into a umbrella will give you a better spread of light and make it more even. A good choice would be two monolights, which would be daylight corrected. A second choice would be two Vivitar 285 or 283 flashes or equivalent. 3rd choice would be 150 watt photofloods. When you set up the area where the art is going to go, meter the light over the area that the biggest painting will be. Make sure the lighting is the same at the corners and several places in the middle. You don't want any hot spots or shadow areas. After you get it set up, shoot one roll of film and have it developed to test your setup. You don't want to find out after you have taken 10 rolls of film that your lighting was off or that there was a reflection coming from somewhere.

    Another option is after you have set up your lights, take a picture of a McBeth chart or a white/gray/black photo card (or minimum of a black and white card). Then when you have your film developed, have them scanned to CD. Once they are digitized, color balance can be adjusted. In fact, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a black and white strip in every picture anyway. That way if the images need to be printed, the printer can adjust the color balance perfectly from those cards. And it can always be cropped out if necessary.

    Remember, test, test, test before you get into full production... and then check a roll every now and then if this is going to take you more than several days to do and you have to change your setup any.

    Mike
     
  4. montresor

    montresor TPF Noob!

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2005
    Messages:
    289
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Cleveland Hts., Ohio
    Thanks guys, exactly the sort of advice I was looking for.
     
  5. Mumfandc

    Mumfandc TPF Noob!

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2005
    Messages:
    205
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    New York City, Chelsea
    I just happened to shoot some of my paintings over this past weekend at my school. :) Was doing this because I was taking slides for my other classmates who are applying to graduate school art programs at this time.

    I use two strobe lights set about 45 degree (arc) between the wall and camera. The film I prefer to use is Provia 100F. Sometimes Velvia 50 (don't like the 100f, haven't tried the new 100).

    My friend bought two 250 watt (3200K) tungsten floods, but I told him that he would need some sort of blue correction camera filter or gels on the lights. And tungsten film is much more expensive than daylight film. I don't think you would want to use the tungsten film option and do this task of yours for free (well, I certainly wouldn't!).

    A good option is to do it outside, but then there's your situation.

    Incident reading with a light meter seems to be the best way to go. Especially since it is slides you are dealing with. My collegues and I (all painters) had to take an intro-photography course in the past...we did lots of studio lighting work in taking slides of paintings, doing incident readings all the way through. Reflected light readings don't seem to work well in a controlled lighting situation like this. You must take a reading at every corner of the painting, and the center, to ensure you have even illumination. Especially so with larger paintings.

    One problem I experience are paintings with very glossy varnish coats. This will create light scattering/reflection on the surfaces in the slide, especially if you are going to be using a direct head on flash. A polarization filter seems to help reduce this problem.
     

Share This Page

Search tags for this page
photographing an oil painting
,

photographing oil paintings

,
photographing oil paintings reflection of varnish
,
photographing paintings in apartment