Capturing the beauty of a painting in a photograph is a quick and easy process. For best results, take the painting out of the frame, place it on a blank wall, and then place your camera and tripod in front of the painting. Optimise your camera for the shot and then use the timer to take the shot. These methods are appropriate for all kinds of paintings, including water-colour, oil, and acrylic. Use your beautiful photographs for websites, fliers, or for your own memories.
EditSetting up for the Shot
Remove the painting from the frame, if possible. The glass or perspex in frames causes reflections and glare in photographs. This can make it difficult to see the details and colours in your painting. Place your frame in a safe place whilst you take the shot to ensure that the photo gives the truest representation of the painting.
If possible, wait until after you have photographed your painting to varnish it, as varnish also creates reflections and glare. If your painting is already varnished, simply follow the rest of the steps to optimise the quality of the photo.
If you are unable to remove the painting from the frame, follow the rest of the steps to minimise the glare.
Place your art on a blank wall to photograph it. A blank background helps to make the painting the central focus of the photograph. Place sticky-tak on the back corners of your art and stick it on the wall. Try to make it as straight as you can so that it looks even in the photographs.
If you don’t have any stick-tak, place a large piece of white board or cardstock onto an easel and then lean the painting on top of it.
If you are having trouble getting your painting straight, use a bubble level to help get it even.
Put your camera on a tripod. This is one of the best ways to ensure that the photographs are of high quality, as photos lose a bit of resolution when they are taken by hand due to the slight movement that occurs. Attach the camera to a tripod to ensure the camera is perfectly still when you take the picture.
If you don’t have a tripod, use a stack of books or boxes instead. Ensure that they are really stable so that you don’t risk your camera falling off. This is also a great option if you are taking the photo on your smartphone.
Align the camera so that the painting fills 90% of the viewfinder. It is important that the photograph is in the middle of the viewfinder, otherwise, the photo may not show the painting proportionately or accurately to scale. Position the tripod and camera in the middle of the painting and then move them back until the painting fills about 90% of the screen.
Avoid leaving too much blank space in the photograph, as this makes the painting harder to see and will reduce the resolution of the image if you have to crop it later.
If your painting has a portrait layout, you will need to rotate your camera 90 degrees in order for the painting to fill 90% of the screen.
EditUsing the Best Settings to Take the Shot
Set your camera to the f8 aperture setting. A higher aperture, such as f8, creates a smaller depth of focus which makes the image look clear and detailed. Move the wheel next to the shutter button to the f8 position. This wheel will generally have “+” and “-” buttons beside it. Look through the viewfinder or on the screen to check the aperture number. The number will change as you move the aperture wheel.
If your camera won’t let you change the aperture, ensure that the camera is on the manual setting. Do this by rotating the dial on the top of your camera to the “m” position.
If you are taking the photo on a smartphone, tap the painting on the screen to auto-focus the image. This has a similar effect increasing the aperture settings.
Adjust your ISO to 100. The ISO affects how much light is in your photo. Higher ISO levels create bright photos and low ISO levels create dark photos. An ISO of 100 is generally appropriate for photographs taken inside or in studios on cloudy days. Use the ISO settings to change the ISO to 100.
If you are taking the photo in a dark room, increase the ISO level. If you are in a really bright room, decrease the ISO level. Experiment with different levels until your photos reflect how the painting looks in real life.
Read your cameras instructions manual if you are having difficulty locating your ISO settings, as they vary between cameras.
If you are using a smartphone, tap on the painting on your screen. This automatically sets the camera to the correct ISO level and can help to minimise the glare in the photo.
Take the photo indoors in a room with windows on a cloudy day, if possible. Cloudy days reduce the amount of glare and gives even, natural lighting. Avoid shooting in direct sunlight as this can cause the camera to capture the colours in your painting inaccurately. If possible, shoot the photos in the middle of the day to avoid the shadows that come with the low light in the evenings and mornings.
If you have to photograph a painting in a room that doesn’t have windows, leave the ceiling lights on and position extra lights under the painting at a 45-degree angle to avoid as much glare as possible.
Whilst it is preferable to photograph paintings with natural light, if you are taking a picture at a museum, simply take the photo with the existing lighting.
Adjust the white balance settings on your camera to the cloudy mode. The white balance affects the colour temperature of your image. If it is on the wrong setting, your image may look too orange or too blue. If you are shooting on a cloudy day, set the camera to the cloudy option in the camera settings.
If you are shooting with artificial light, use the studio or inside option.
If you are taking the photo with your smartphone, the camera will most likely automatically adjust the white balance for you.
Turn off the flash. A flash will overexpose the colours of your painting and will make it difficult to see the details in the image. Hold down the flash mechanism to stop it from popping up or turn the flash off in the camera settings.
If the camera displays any warnings about low-light, simply ignore them and leave the flash off.
If you are using a smartphone, either turn off the flash in the camera settings or hold your finger over the flash to block it from hitting the painting. This helps to minimise the glare in your smartphone image.
Set the camera to auto-focus. Auto-focus is one of the easiest and most effective ways to get a clear and glare-free image. Adjust the camera to auto-focus in the camera settings. This gives the camera permission to chose the best depth of focus for the shot, which helps to avoid fuzzy pictures.
If you are using a smartphone, the auto-focus setting will already be operating.
Take the photo with a self-timer to make the shot perfectly still. The motion of pushing down the shutter button can slightly shake the camera and make the image a little fuzzy. For optimal image quality, place the camera on self-timer mode in the camera settings. This will cause it to take a photo by itself after the specified time.
Set the self-timer for at least 3 seconds to give it a chance to stop wobbling after you have touched it.
Don’t take photographs in museums if there are signs warning against it. Breaking the rules can result in fines or penalties.
Check your photo once you have taken it to make sure that you are happy with it.
For professional shots, place LED lights on the ground on either side of painting and point them towards the art at a 45-degree angle. This helps to accentuate the 3D nature of the painting.
Any lens can be used to take the photo; however, the lenses on DSLR cameras will tend to take higher quality photos than smartphone lenses.
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