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Friday, June 08, 2012

How I Photograph my Artwork

'A Midwest Bouquet'          8x10         oil on panel       ©Karen Margulis
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Photo taken with my old faithful Olympus C-5060 RIP
Yesterday was a sad day.  My old faithful digital camera finally died.  It served me so well over the last five years of daily painting and blogging.  I used it every single day to take photos of my paintings. It always took clear crisp photos with accurate color. I knew the day would come when it would just give up and yesterday it was time. It actually still works but the photos have thick lines running through them and the colors are washed out and warm. I changed cards, batteries, checked all the settings and still no luck. I may play with it some more but I might as well get used to another camera.

I am often asked how I take photos for my work. It is so much easier than you might think. I don't have an elaborate photo set up and I don't use a tripod. Keep in mind the photos are for use online so they are not high resolution.
  • For pastel paintings I photograph the painting while it is still on my easel. I use a point and shoot digital camera set on high quality. I do use the flash. I have had good luck with accurate colors (until the camera began to go south)  The lighting near my easel is two fluorescent ceiling fixtures with both warm and cool bulbs.  I don't use a tripod but my camera had a very short shutter lag so I don't have to be that steady. I don't zoom all the way into the painting. I get close to the edges but crop it in photoshop.  I load the picture onto my PC and open it up in photoshop where I will crop it to the painting's size.  Sometimes I will need to adjust the color or contrast but more often it is quite true to my painting.  If I need to take a higher resolution photo for a show entry I change the camera's setting to the highest quality and largest file size. I might even use a tripod.
  • Photographing oil paintings is a little trickier. The flash helps illuminate my pastels but it can't be used on wet oil paints without producing glare. I have experimented with a variety of set-ups and I have found a simple set-up that is working. I have a window in my studio with north light and this area also had a warm overhead fluorescent light. I set the painting upright on a table next to the window and the combination of light works well. I take the photo without flash being careful to hold the camera steady. If you tend to shake then I would recommend a tripod. I then load the photos onto my PC and crop it in photoshop. For the painting in today's post I used this set up. The paint was still wet.  
Have a look at today's  oil painting.  The top picture was taken today with my replacement camera. This is a Lumix DMC-ZS1.  I bought it a couple of years ago for the 12z optical zoom but I haven't used it much because the lcd screen is awful in bright light. There is no viewfinder so when I was using it outside I was basically shooting blind.  A serious problem for taking landscape reference photos!  But I think it will do just fine inside taking photos of my paintings.  The color straight out of the camera on automatic was slightly cooler than the actual painting  but I will be able to make some adjustments to get it just right. The Lumix actually took a crisper cleaner looking photo than the one I took the other day with my Olympus before it died. (see bottom photo)  So while sad for losing an old friend, I think I will be able to get used to a new camera!
How do you photograph your work? I'd love for you to share your tips in the comments!


Shinhuey Ho said...

I am quite new to pastel. Thanks to your blog, I was able to find some valuable information which helped me progress.

For oil, Photograph outside in the shade works well for me. But pastel is a different story. After experimenting, so far shooting indoor with flash produces the best results. I have florecent light in the studio. Sometimes I need to adjust the color in Photoshop but mostly the camera's AUTO setting works just fine.

I just got a new computer yesterday (the old one is dying). Unfortunately the Photoshop I had won't work on the new computer. Does anybody recommend any software that does editing similar to Photoshop but has a lower price tag? I actually only use a small fraction of the functionalities in Photoshop, such as cropping, color/brightness tuning.

Karen said...

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoy my blog. You can get a pared down version of Photoshop called Photoshop Elements. I had that on my old computer and it did everything i needed!

Kathye said...

I LOVE this painting! Absolutely beautiful! You are an amazing artist -- I have been following you for a while now, and I am continually in awe of your work!

Cindy Michaud said...

I lay my work flat on the floor (or concrete, stand above it and zoom in to eliminate those wobbly side lines. I find the shade of the afternoon in my carport works pretty well. I have had terrible luck indoors but may try again after your instructions. thx

Dee Sanchez said...

I have a Canon Sure Shot as my regular camera.I photograph my daily paintings straight on my easel. I don't use a tripod. I have north light coming in a window and only photograph in the morning. I use Windows Office Picture Manager for editing. It works pretty great. I carry a Sony Cybershot in my car, so I always have two cameras available.
For something needed for juried shows, I use a professional photographer.

Karen said...

Thank you so much Kathye! Your kind words made my day!!

Karen said...

Thanks for sharing Cindy. I don't have a flat place outside so I have had to make it work inside. I've had good luck with my set up so far.

Karen said...

Hi Dee. Thanks for sharing! My favorite take everywhere camera is a Canon elph. It is older and the screen had big spots but it still takes good pictures. I am shopping around for my next travel camera though.

Donna T said...

Gorgeous painting Karen! It's awesome to see the texture of the oil paint! I photograph indoors (sunroom) and if the light's not bright enough I use an aluminum foil covered piece of cardboard to bounce a little more light on my paintings. I use the dull side of the foil and place it at a distance from the painting so it doesn't reflect too much light. Cheap - but it works!

Karen said...

Thanks Donna! I am really enjoying the texture of the paint! Great tip about the tin foil to bounce light! I'll have to try that!!