View Full Version : Making photos of pastels

Eleonora Manapova
03-10-2009, 07:34 PM
Hi! Does anyone has a problem when photographing pastel artworks with changing saturation of colors?
I have a Nikon DX and I've noticed that it made colors of specifically pastel artworks are so bright, like crazy. Its definitely color compensation and I'm trying to manage it but I didn't find how.
If will reduce contrast or saturation in Photoshop - it just flattens color and makes looks very bad. When I taking photos in cloudy day it goes even worse.
any advises will be really appreciated!

03-10-2009, 08:16 PM
Nandia, try adjusting the levels, separately for R, G, and B. That is the first thing I do with a photo. Sometimes you may need to mark one area and work on that alone. Likewise, you may need to adjust saturation separately for each colour. For me, magentas and blues are always too intense and bright, for example, so I routinely lower their saturation and lightness/darkness.

Different brands of sticks reflect light differently, too...

Sometimes it helps to not zoom in on the painting, but leave plenty of margin in the photo, as margin can be cropped off in PS anyway.

Experiment with your camera, and with different kinds of light, and different kinds of white balance in camera, and you'll find what works well enough, and deal with the rest in PS.

Good luck,

Paula Ford
03-10-2009, 08:58 PM
I have a Nikon P80 and find it does better if I adjust the white balance and then I still have to tweek it in Gimp or my photo program to get it to look like the painting.

03-10-2009, 09:03 PM
I'm surprised that the problem is worse on cloudy days, for that is how I take the best photos of my artwork, by far. As Charlie, has mentioned, the best thing to do is experiment. Check your camera settings, as well. Many cameras have settings for color or saturation (usually something like 0, +1, +2, etc.).

I have a Canon, which always exaggerates the reds. I try to keep track of what I need to do in photoshop to make things better, so that I remember next time.

Another method of trying to get the color balance right is by using a gray card. Here is a tutorial by WC's very own mrking that might help in that area:



03-10-2009, 09:55 PM
Thank you for posting this thread. Looking forward to the responses.

03-10-2009, 10:24 PM
I have a Nikon D40X - I haven't learned yet how to use it on mannual yet, however, I set it on no flash and put my painting on an easel on my porch (shade) and take the photo. It comes out pretty close to the same colors. The natural light seems to be the key I have even taken photo's in the same place on a clowdy day with no problem. Hope to take a camera class soon.

Eleonora Manapova
03-11-2009, 04:08 AM
Thank you so much Charlie , ya.. magenta and blues are jumping out from my images. Surprisingly pastels are so difficult to catch properly. auto levels/auto colors in Photoshop - simple can't help.
Thank you Paula (Paula is my favorite name, so my daughter's name too!)
I have to learn about White Balance, I just got this camera and using it as cavewoman on Auto Setting. Even with other mediums it was OK.
Thank you Don for link, about cloudy days was really strange so I suspected it compensated color. I'll check saturation and will post here my experience
Carolyn, I tried not use a flash.. getting yellowish, probably the room wasn't light enough ... I'll try it outside

I have to find time to learn how to use this camera, it gives me not a bad size - about 8"X12" image with 300 pix resolution.

At least an illusion you can take pastel's photos so easily is gone. (seemed so easy cause it has matte, no glare surface :-|)

03-11-2009, 08:53 AM
Thank you so much Charlie , ya.. magenta and blues are jumping out from my images. Surprisingly pastels are so difficult to catch properly. auto levels/auto colors in Photoshop - simple can't help.

In my experience, the auto levels and auto colors, or anything with "auto" in it are essentially useless unless when taking photos of artwork. You have to use the "slider bars" and work on it manually. Good Luck!


03-11-2009, 10:37 AM
I'm really more of a photographer than a pastelist, at least in terms of experience.

One of the differences between the way we see and the way a camera "sees" is that we see a much larger dynamic range than your camera does - that's photography speak for the length of the scale of values that we see. A typical camera can expose for 4-5 stops of light, whereas most of us see a much larger range. Also, a camera's light meter exposes for an average of 18% grey, so a high-key painting will look darker than IRL and a low-key painting will look lighter.

In addition, you have the whole color of light issue (aka white balance) to deal with, although the Auto feature on most cameras does a pretty good job of dealing with this for most scenes. Not sure about it for photographing a painting, so grey card may be a good choice.

In my limited experience with photographing paintings, the photographs needs the contrast and the saturation adjusted, as noted by others. With Photoshop, both Elements and CS3/4, you have 3 choices for dealing with contrast (assuming you're not shooting in RAW format which is another dissertation): Curves, levels, and Contrast. Curves in CS3/4 is your best choice as it gives you the most control over which parts of the dynamic range to adjust. Curves in PS Elements is OK if you use it in Advanced mode as it gives you sliders for 4 different parts of the dynamic range. Levels in either CS3/4 or Elements is a good second choice. Simply move the little triangles on the scale so that the left-most one hits the first black pixel on the histogram and the right-most one hits the first white pixel. Adjust the middle triangle (mid-tone adjuster) until the picture looks best to you. My advice is to avoid using the Contrast adjustment because it gives you very poor control over the change.

For saturation, use the Hue/saturation tool. As someone else said, it's best to adjust different color channels separately to give yourself the maximum control if your camera consistently puts on a color cast.

Did I mention that your monitor can also distort the colors that you see if it's not calibrated? That's another dissertation as well.

This is a difficult thing to do - photograph a picture and have it look the same as the real thing. You can spend months studying this and working on it, as I have done, and still not get a picture exactly the way your eyes see it. I suggest settling for good enough after taking care of the most obvious issues.


03-11-2009, 10:41 AM
Nandia, photographing oils is worse because of the glare.

Pastels are tricky because of all the different pigments react differently. Some are opaque, and others are transparent.

It has taken me about 9 months to find out how to photograph and photoshop...

In my camera, a Fuji Finepix S1000fd, (whatever that means), there are different programs and also manual and semi-manual settings. The best photos are taken on automatic... :-D But the white balance affects the automatic. I find the white balance in the Manual program, and it has nice little symbols for sunshine, cloudy day, and different types of fluorescent light and also ordinary incandescent bulbs. Setting that program right is important, with my camera. Then I turn back to Automatic, and shoot.

In PS (Elements 6), there is also a section with photo filters, under Filters drop down menu. You can make a whole picture bluer or more orange. But otherwise I use Adjust Light, and under that the Adjust Levels, manually and separately, plus Adjust colour, Adjust hue/saturation, manually and separately.

If I want to adjust just one little (or larger) part of the painting, I mark it with the brush marker or the quick magic marker, and then adjust colour and levels just within that area.

Clear blue skies will make blue *glow*, so taking a photo under a roof is a good idea, that makes the glow a bit less.

Good luck, it takes time to figure it all out.


03-14-2009, 01:11 AM

Great Thread!
Thanks Luana and Charlie! Both of you said some things that I know will help me!

04-19-2009, 09:31 PM
In the no. 5 post it gives a link to a pdf file on gray card use. When I download this, it is unreadable. I can see the pictures but the text is all empty blanks except for a lot of "s"es. Can someone help me here - I really need to learn this gray card thing. Thanks.

04-20-2009, 01:46 PM
Whoops - that would be post no. 4. Thanks again :o

Phil Bates
04-25-2009, 02:10 PM
From what you said about the blues and magentas, the problem could very well be white balance. I agree with Don that the auto white balance in cameras is virtually useless for shooting paintings. It's worth learning how to do a custom white balance using a white piece of paper, then bracket your exposures. With proper white balance, shooting on a cloudy day should yield excellent results.


05-03-2009, 06:09 PM
I found my problem and now have access to this file. Hope my problem didn't cause anyone any sleepless nights.:)
ps. It has very good information.....Thanks