Hints On Digital Photography of Paintings
Some guidelines on taking a digital photo of a painting:
1. get a tripod, and put your camera on it - it needn't be expensive, but it's much better than hand-holding it - make sure that the camera is square-on to the painting, and the painting fills as much of the frame as possible - most digital cameras show some barrel distortion of images on the wideangle settings - it is a good idea physically back off somewhat, and zoom in to at least mid-range optical zoom so that a square looks square, not like it's had too much to eat! (but not to the extent that digital zoom kicks in - for most purposes digital zoom is worthless, as it's just resizing the image up from part of the imaging chip)
2. turn off the flash, and choose manual camera settings - turn off auto.
3. digital cameras will work in low light levels, but the results will be bad - illuminate the painting from the sides, or better yet, take it outside and use daylight - overcast days with diffuse light are best.
4. read your manual, and find out about white balance settings - don't just leave your camera on "auto" - you need to either use custom if your camera has it, and set it by filling the field of view with a white sheet under the same lighting - or choose the preset value which is closest to the colour temperature of your light source ("auto" is set to balance correctly for the distribution of colours of typical snapshot photography - the more your painting diverges from this, the worse a job it will make of it.)
5. Some cameras with auto-focus have difficulty on finding the focus for flat surfaces - if this is so, if the camera finds focus by half-depressing the button (as many do), find something else at the same distance as the painting, focus on that, and holding the button to keep that focus, swing the camera back to the painting and photograph it.
6. If your camera is bleaching out light colours to pure white, or giving you greys instead of blacks, read the manual about "exposure compensation" settings, and use them (If you want to photograph showing a surrounding area, a neutral mid-tone is technically better than black or white - as they will force auto-exposure settings up or down respectively)
7. Take several photos, varying the white balance and exposure compensation settings, if unsure - at least one is likely to be usable.
8.In general, take photos at higher resolutions and resize them down in the computer. Be prepared to find your way around your graphics software!!
9. If you get odd banding patterns across the painting in the photo (particularly when resized down) do a slight gaussian blur, just sufficient to blur the canvas grain in the larger photo, before resizing down. After resizing down to wetcanvas-compatible sizes, it's often helpful to do a slight sharpen.
10. If you are still unhappy with the photo, you either need a better camera (though any digital camera with more than 2megapixels is likely to be well-enough made to give acceptable photos for posting here, used carefully, with the advice above) - or a decent piece of graphics software in which you can adjust colours, (eg using levels, curves, and channels)
Last edited by Rosic : 08-23-2008 at 03:24 PM.