Insurance Photography - Pain!



More of a complaint/discussion than questions and how-to. I'm back home for Thanksgiving ... at least for another 12 hours ... and my parents surprised my brother and me by saying that we needed to go through the house and figure out what artwork/jewelry we want as line-items in their Will (since apparently they're updating it). And then my dad came into my room this morning and said that, in addition, he wants me to photograph all the art (well over 40 paintings and glass sculptures) to "unambiguously" identify them.

I've tried to photograph some of their stuff before and developed some techniques, but it's a pain! Paintings are horrible to do for two main reasons: (1) Ones with glass in front are incredibly prone to reflections, and one was so bad I had to wait until tonight to do because of reflections. And (2) paintings up on walls (like 10 feet off the ground) have the trapezoid effect where the part near the top is smaller than the bottom, and it will be stretched in height that takes physical measurements and lots of skewing in PhotoShop to fix.

Sculptures are easier, at least the glass stuff my parents have. The biggest pain there is this glass cube (about 8" on a side) that is optical glass - incredibly clear - with nested cubes inside that have beautiful rainbow refractions when lit. Problem is that it's clear against a white wall. Sigh.

I'm not even bothering this trip with my mother's jewelry. I may actually pack my light box or try to rig something up next time I'm home (next Thanksgiving, probably :confused: ) to re-do the smaller glass or to do the jewelry.

I guess I'm trying to do a better job than I need to. A simple snapshot is good enough to "unambiguously" identify the items. But the perfectionist in me won't quite let me settle with that, so I guess this is more of a rant about photographing paintings than much else. ;)
Photography can be used for many reasons.

Art, documentation, memory, news. Composition is more important in some area then others.

The type of photography you're doing is documentation purposes, composition does not matter as long as an object can be identified, so I'm not sure why it bothers you.

CSI TV shows use the camera for photography ALL the time. I recall one episode where they had a 600mm nikon lens on a camera body... and they were taking a picture of a broken window, about 1 foot AWAY from the broken Window. I assume the CSI took a picture of the vase across the house. ;-) Stupid shows..
Look at it this way. If you can handle that photographic challenge, you are good for all most any still shot. :)

I might try under lighting the cube against a black back drop, I have not seen any thing like that let alone try to photograph it, but it's an idea. As for the paintings tell your brother to go up bring them down, get them level with the camera. As for reflections put the camera lens through a hole in a large black (paper or cloth) sheet to avoid or minimize reflections.
skieur - Yeah, it's definitely a new challenge that I'm not used to. And it's teaching me a few new things.

battou - Unfortunately, I'm back in Colorado now and won't be in Ohio for another year to try again. But I may try that for the cube if I remember. Most of the paintings are huge - as in several feet on a side. There're also several on high cathedral ceilings (seriously, I don't think my parents could buy anything else because there's no more wall space) that would be incredibly awkward to get down (and my brother's something of a klutz). I think it would be less painful to correct in PhotoShop than to move the paintings to a more advantageous locale.
Maybe I'm simplifying things too much, but if you need to do this again, wouldn't a ladder for yourself be the easier solution? That way you can get up to the paintings' level, and avoid distortion.
Maybe I'm simplifying things too much, but if you need to do this again, wouldn't a ladder for yourself be the easier solution? That way you can get up to the paintings' level, and avoid distortion.

That might've worked for some, but not for others. The issue was that I often needed a tripod because - even with an f/1.4 lens - I was shooting sometimes at 1/15th sec due to the low light (turning on the lights caused too many reflections).
if you try the ladder position it so that you can put the camera body on the ladder and use it as the tripod.
If this is for insurance reasons, you don't need to get artsy-fartsy. Take the pic and if it is god enough to distinguish what it was, the pic is good enough.

I've seen an insurance agent of a major and well known company photograph multi-million dollars worth of an owner's personal posessions using nothing more than a 3.1 MP Kodak P&S. If it was good enough for them, it will be good enough for your insurance company's needs.

If your heart is not in it, no need to make it any harder than necessary. I this case it clearly seems that lightboxes, multiple strobes and ladders and what not are a waste of time and effort.
Heh - not sure if it's a curse or a blessing that the perfectionist in you won't let you take a standard insurance shot without causing you mental anguish! A good quality circular polariser might be a bit of fun. It can help take some reflections of glass although it's not a cure all. You might get some more striking shots when you're photographing glass thingies with it though if you play around a bit.
Wow, you REALLY got into it! I would have just shot it all with my wife's p&s with on board flash probably. It's for insurance, not for art or profit!

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