Photographing 2d artwork (part 2 of 2)

NOTE: part one of this article is HERE (opens in a new window), read it first for a discussion of equipment and available light techniques

PART 2
artificial light:
Artificial light comes in two predominant flavors: strobes (flashes) and continuous (sometimes called “hot lights”)  the main problem with both of these (from a “photographing artwork”) perspective is that they tend to be very directional and rather harsh – leading to the dreaded, detail destroying GLARE!

Basically what we need to do is *modify* the light to make it:
1. soft
2. diffuse
3. give even coverage to the artwork.

Now there are any number of ways to do this.  Photographic lighting is all about modifying light by bouncing, reflecting, diffusing etc… there are reflectors, umbrellas (reflective & shoot through), softboxes, bouncecards for flash… There is a whole world of lighting modifiers for studio lighting, and it is easy to get overwhelmed, so we’re going to keep it simple!
Now, If you already happen to have studio strobes, you probably *already* have various lighting modifiers that can soften the light – softboxes, umbrellas, etc… If you don’t, fear not!  You don’t have to spend hundreds (thousands?) of dollars on professional lights to photograph your paintings.

The cheapest (and arguably easiest) way to diffuse and soften your light is to bounce it off something.   The reflected light, will be *much* softer than the harsh direct light.  Even better, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to do it.  (note that for the following techniques, strobes with brollys or softboxes will work just as well)

For the DIY-er, you will need:

– 2 photoflood lightbulbs, available at any photo store – these are balanced to 3200k, so you know what color temp. your light is.  (there are also daylight balanced bulbs, they work just as well, just remember to set your white balance!)
– 2 fixtures with reflector dishes, available at a hardware store (you know, the ones with the spring clamp on the back, with the big silver reflector dish?)
– 1 or 2 large pieces of white foamcore (generally comes in 32″x40″ sheets, a good size)

First thing is to set up the artwork.  I like to hang it against a background of black velvet, as the velvet will cut down even more on extraneous reflections.  I got a huge piece of black velvet fabric from a fabric store for <$20.  once the artwork is hung and straight (use a level)  set up the lights.

You want to position the lights on either side of the piece, at around a 45 degree angle, both equidistant from the artwork.   The trick is to position your lights pointing *away* from the artwork, and use the foamcore to reflect the light back to it, creating a much softer, diffuse light.   I like to use a plain old straight-backed dining chair.  Prop the foamcore against the back of the chair (where your back would go if you were sitting in it) and clip the light to the front, pointing at the foamcore.  The light will reflect and give even coverage to the artwork.  Move around the position and angle of the setup until you get proper coverage.

Another thing to keep in mind, although it may seem counter-intuitive, is that the *closer* the light source is to the subject, the larger the “apparent size” of the light souce will be, giving softer light. (Check out Strobist’s explanation of “apparent size” here:
http://strobist.blogspot.com/2007/07/lighting-102-unit-21-apparent-light.html

in other words, put the light sources closer rather than farther to get more even coverage!

Finally, use a polarizing filter on your camera lens.  This will cut down any remaining glare from the piece and give you a perfectly lit photo with no specular highlights.  (to use a polarizing filter, attach it to the lens, and while looking through the camera, rotate the filter –  when you see the glare go away, stop rotating 🙂

with your setup in place, and your lighting ready, snap away and enjoy the fantastic results! (don’t forget that this technique applies equally to strobes, so if you’ve got a couple of speedlights or studio flashes they work just as well (if not better))

9 thoughts on “Photographing 2d artwork (part 2 of 2)”

  1. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article Photographing 2d artwork (part 2 of 2), but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

  2. very insightfull seems im doing almost everything right. my main problem is my choice of
    lens im useing 18×55 & 75×300. im looking at18x200 right now.
    i have 8 small can lights on 2 poles with 4each soft white & daylight bulbs that i can aim
    to diffuse. this seems to work well.
    one major problem is my art work, i do op art and getting the whole piece in focus is at times
    very difficult. i set my camera on macro but realized its not the same as a macro lens.
    your easy to understand article is greatly appreciated.

    thanks

  3. very insightfull seems im doing almost everything right. my main problem is my choice of
    lens im useing 18×55 & 75×300. im looking at18x200 right now.
    i have 8 small can lights on 2 poles with 4each soft white & daylight bulbs that i can aim
    to diffuse. this seems to work well.
    one major problem is my art work, i do op art and getting the whole piece in focus is at times
    very difficult. i set my camera on macro but realized its not the same as a macro lens.
    your easy to understand article is greatly appreciated.

    thanks

  4. Greg –
    Your 18-55 should work fine – if you are not getting the whole piece in focus, you may need to set a smaller aperture (like f/8 to f/11) which will increase the depth of field.

  5. Thanks for the article. I found it very informative and much more so than other articles out there because you address the bubble issue and the white balancing as well as the importance of the camera. Just wanted to say thanks for obviously putting more work into the article.

  6. I’m an artist that’s new to photography and have started researching how to shoot art work appropriately. Thank you for the information!

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