Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Photographing Paintings

My methods of photographing paintings are a bit ad hoc.

To be honest, I'd appreciate any advice that anyone might be able to offer.

I have a Kodak point-and-shoot digital camera with 12 Megapixels to its name (but I'm afraid that you never get the benefit of all of those megapixels on here; I always crop, shrink and compress - just a little bit - to keep the file size down). Perhaps surprisingly, it is actually pretty much up to the job. I get good sharp image from it - with  a few caveats that, I think, may possibly apply to any camera, given my other equipment (or lack thereof).

The little Kodak can be used on a tripod, and I do have a tripod (a full size one, upon which the Kodak looks ridiculously small; it was intended for use with the 35mm Pentax)... but I have difficulty lining the camera up with the painting, mainly because the tripod doesn't do straight down. It will do straight ahead - but the paintings aren't very good at being vertical. They need to be propped up - on an easel or leaning against something - and then you have to find the correct height and angle to shoot at. I find it frustratingly tricky.

So, I don't use the tripod. Instead, I lay the painting down on the floor and hand-hold the camera over it. Even then, I often get shockingly wonky photographs (with rhomboid paintings*), but the method is quick (and dirty) and - eventually - I'll get something worth using.

I very much prefer natural light - domestic artificial light is rarely enough to negate the need for flash (and that results in reflections) - and I'm always worried about the colour of the light after the switch has been flicked to on (it's often quite yellow). I have found that really bright sunlight can be a little excessive. An indoor shot on a bright day - out of direct sunlight - often works quite well.

A section of "Botallack: Chimney"
Left: uncorrected photograph; right: auto white balance applied.
But even then, I sometimes find a noticeable blue cast on my pictures - caused, I think, by that precious daylight. I don't really like changing the photographs, but I have found that using the auto white balance function in Corel Photobook does a good job of removing it, and the resultant picture is closer to the painting than it had been (see right for an example).

And then there are the little acrylics. I don't photograph them; I scan them. They dry quickly and they're small. It works. Scanning impasto oil, though - even when dry - is a bad idea, because the texture gives the image too much depth for the scanner to cope with and the result will be blurry.

I use Photobook to rotate and crop the photographs, and then save at full resolution for my "master" copy. Then I import them into my "Watermark" file in Corel Draw, where I reduce the size and arrange the watermark text in a suitable position, before exporting as a jpeg. Which is what I publish on this blog.

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*As it happens, one or two of the premade canvases that I have bought have been sufficiently out of true that I'd be tempted to call the actual, physical, canvas a rhomboid - but the effect that I refer to above is due to a failure to hold the camera straight and level with the floor.

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