Photography ranks near the top of the list of things I don’t like about my job. Getting good photographs of my paintings has frustrated me since the day I started painting. Unfortunately, the further I get in my career, the more important it is to have quality images of my paintings.
I used to have a perfect spot in my house to photograph my paintings – indirect light, no glare, just perfect. Then we moved (three times), and every time we moved I found myself scrambling to find a new “perfect” spot.
I’ve tried every spot in the current house with indirect light, shooting outside on a cloudy day, shooting outside on a sunny day, shooting inside the studio with my daylight flourescents, shooting my paintings at an angle, and whatever else you might suggest. No matter what, I seem to end up with glare on some part of the painting. I use thick paint, and I find it next to impossible to to take a photo without the light catching on some brushstroke, and it drives me insane. For big paintings, it’s not a big deal – hardly noticeable unless you blow up the painting full size. For small paintings, or paintings with a lot of dark values, it can make getting a decent image virtually impossible.
So, I started looking into having my paintings professionally photographed last year. Problem is, most photographers who know anything about photographing 2D art charge $50-$70 per painting, which adds up quickly if you’re at all prolific. Also, I live in the mountains, so add in the hassle of transporting my paintings two hours to a photographer in Denver, then having to make the same trip to pick them up. I’m cheap, so this doesn’t really appeal to me – I’ll probably only do this if I ever start to make giclees or prints.
A few weeks ago, Carole Marine recommended this new ebook called “Exposing Yourself: The Artist’s Guide to Digital Imaging”. It’s written by Jason Smith, a photographer who does all the photography for the Greenhouse Gallery in San Antonio, TX (if you want to see his work, just go click on the high res image of any painting on their website). Every year I’m impressed with the images of my paintings that show up on the Greenhouse Gallery website for the Salon International show, so I figured I could probably learn a thing or two from him and bought the book.
The book covers everything from cameras to lighting to computer editing and printing, but I was mostly focused on the lighting. Like most of the local photographers I’ve talked to, Smith recommends using polarizing filters on the lights and camera to eliminate glare. Unlike most of the photographers I’ve talked to, he actually explains how to do this in enough detail that I was able to order the equipment and try it myself!
So, long story short, it worked. I’m actually totally impressed at how easy this was after all my frustration over the past few years. The picture I put up with my last blog post is the poster child for all of my frustration.
Here’s the “before” shot:
If you click to enlarge it, you can see that I had some serious glare on anything resembling a vertical brushstroke. It looks okay small, but full size it’s fairly atrocious. And since it’s a small painting (11×14″), it’s really obvious that the photo is lacking.
Here’s my “after” shot (click to enlarge):
You probably have to see these images full-screen to really see the difference. First of all, NO glare – yay!! Second of all, more saturated color and accurate values. I took this photo and uploaded it to my computer and immediately felt that every penny I had spent on lighting and filters had been worth it (and wished I had figured this out two years ago).
Also, for the record, the “before” photo took me about half an hour and twenty photos to get the quality you see here. The “after” photo was my first shot after setting up the new lights – that’s about 29 minutes worth of frustration avoided! This is just an average example, but I’ve had some paintings with darker values that were a nightmare to photograph without having glare messing up the values, and I can tell just from this photo that this setup will solve those problems completely.
Overall, I had to spend about $270 on equipment. I bought a polarizing lens for my camera, an adapter for the lens since my camera isn’t an SLR, lights, bulbs, stands, polarizing filters for the lights, and filter holders for the lights. That cost translates to the price of having about five paintings professionally photographed, so I figure it’ll pay for itself quickly. Also, now that I know I can successfully eliminate the glare myself, I’ll feel more justified in eventually buying that nice new DSLR that I’ve had my eye on for a while!
Anyhow, I just wanted to share this, and say that if you have any questions about photographing your paintings or editing the digital files, I’d highly recommend getting Smith’s book, Exposing Yourself. It’s a simple upload, and worth every penny at only $19.95.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go re-photograph every painting in my studio!