Monday, February 24, 2014

Photographing an Oil Painting

I have spent hundreds of hours trying to get good photos of my oil paintings. It seems so little to ask...all I want is a high quality photo that accurately represents my painting. I've tried photographing them outside, in the shade, on the north side of the house, shooting them indoors using various types of lights, different angles, different distances, bounced light off of white panels, no panels...well you get the idea. Then it's downloaded into my computer where a whole new set of challenges pop up with Photoshop Elements.

A fellow artist, Jeff Hargreaves, took pity on me and offered to show me how he does it. It was very helpful and I want to pass on the favor by sharing with you what I learned. *Please visit Jeff's website at to see his beautiful still life oil paintings and drawings. They're gorgeous.

Jeff uses a digital camera that has all the "bells and whistles" on it. It's best to have a camera where you can adjust the settings instead of a point-and-shoot camera. This was mounted on a tripod to keep it steady. The light bulbs were photo flood, 500 watt and 3200 kelvin which defines how warm or cool the light is. I have a problem with glare on my paintings so a polarizing lens was placed over the camera lens and polarizing film was hung in front of each light. The lights were positioned about 6 feet away from the painting at a 45 degree angle with the camera slightly further back.

A gray-scale card was placed above the painting and will be used to correct color discrepancies when it's downloaded into the computer. Gray-scale cards can be purchased at a photo supply store. The setting on the camera was 200 ASA which I believe is the "film" speed but don't hold me to any of this technical stuff. I'm just looking for a procedure to follow when I photograph paintings.

These were measured so they were equal to each other: the distance of the lights from the painting, the height from the floor to the center of the painting and the height of the lights so they were lighting the center of the painting. Using a level, he made sure the painting was vertical to avoid any distortion in the photograph.

When Jeff was taking the photo, he kept a section of the area surrounding the painting visible in the photograph to include the gray card as a reference. As a side note, don't photograph your painting in its frame or with a glass cover. He shot the photo with an aperture setting of 11 but I know he uses a variety of aperture settings when photographing his paintings. Try several. I've found it makes a difference in how light or dark your photograph looks and it's nice to have a selection.

Here's the difference between what Jeff photographed and my original one. There have been adjustments in Photoshop on both to tweak it to be closer to the painting...not improve it. I'm sure you can see the difference. To my defense and detriment, I use a HP laptop screen to gauge the color and value to the painting. Jeff uses a nice Samsung monitor with his Apple computer. My next big purchase will be a new monitor and maybe computer. (I'm almost embarrassed to show the difference but, hey, this blog is intended to help everyone.)

My Photo

Jeff's Photo
In a future post, I will discuss polarizing filters and a few lessons I learned about Photoshop Elements.

So, was this helpful? What has been your experience?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Summer in the Middle of Winter

Heidi's Garden, 8"x10" Oil - Sold

One of the great things about being an artist is being able to create images that remind you of warmer weather. Living in Wisconsin, it gets really cold (we're talking -20 degrees with a -45 degree windchill on bad days) and you begin to think winter will never end. This little painting was started in August when it was hot, humid and required a thorough coating of bug spray to stand outside to paint. I painted for about three hours and quit when the elements and bugs became too much. Had most of the elements in but still some details to add. A couple of weeks ago I pulled this out to finish it and as I painted, I could feel the warmth of the sun and inhale the flower's fragrance.