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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How I Photograph my Paintings

'A Midwest Bouquet'          8x10         oil on panel       ©Karen Margulis

Photo taken with my old faithful Olympus C-5060 RIP

I get this question all of the time so I thought it would be good to retrieve this post from the archives!

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!

Update: I have been using the Lumix since I wrote this post back in 2012! It is a faithful daily companion and I will be sad when it's time is up!

1 comment:

Mary Pyche said...

I love my Panasonic Lumix and when it finally bit the dust, and after I bought another camera that I didn't like much, I sent it to their repair facility and spent the money to have it brought back to life. In the meantime I got used to using my iPhone so now I use them both. For important photos, I use the setup with the white umbrellas, etc.
Thank goodness for Photoshop Elements for the finishing touches.
Thanks for all your illuminating posts! :)