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Photographing your paintings

I noticed a couple of recent posts about the best way to photograph a painting.

I have found the best way is to use the attached method which I downloaded from Mark's website.  I recently experimented with a couple of shots outdoors, and got lots of glare on the first shot, and a really good high quality result on the second shot.  Does anyone else use this method? And are they pleased with it? 

It's less complicated than it looks on the diagram, and worth the effort.



  • edited October 2020
    Hi, @Dianna. Yes, this is the method I use when the sun makes a rare appearance down here in winter and spring. Summer and autumn are great for photographing paintings outside in Tassie. The sun is strong but it is never directly overhead at this latitude. :)
  • Here's the method I use in Photoshop.  It's simple, quick, and effective:

    Removing Keystoning and Perspective Distortions in Photoshop

    Removing keystoning from a photographed rectangular work is not difficult in Photoshop. Use the Crop tool to get within a quarter inch of your painting, (but not too close). With the NAVIGATOR, ZOOM IN to at least 100%, or much more. Now SELECT/SELECT ALL. Go to EDIT/TRANSFORM/DISTORT. You will find in the corners, 4 small box buttons. Drag each of these out one at a time until you get each corner of your painting pulled tight to the corners of the image file frame. Press ENTER or RETURN (Mac), to accept these changes. Any perspective distortion present in the original image will be corrected now.

    To get the proportions or aspect ratio of your painting back on track, take measurements of your original painting, go to IMAGE/IMAGE SIZE, disable the CONSTRAIN PROPORTIONS checkbox, so you can alter them. Now type into the height and width dimension boxes, the actual measurements of your painting. Since this may increase your file size to something overwhelming, you can reduce the pixels per inch to something much smaller than 300dpi to something like 96 dpi, or 72 dpi. Press OK, and your painting will be flat, square, true proportioned, and looking good! Remember to go back and reset the CONSTRAIN PROPORTIONS checkbox in IMAGE SIZE, for the next time you use that function

  • Hi @Dianna, nice to see you're back on the forum. when you say frst shot and second shot what did you change? i've tried to do that and it didn't work at all for me. All shots got strong glare. i thanks :)
  • May I ask what kind of cameras people are using to photograph their works? This is a constant source of frustration for me, as my paintings (at least to me) always look much better in real life than photos.  For me, it's probably a combination of human error and subpar camera :)
  • I have a good Olympus but I usually  just use the camera on my cell phone. Good lighting and controlling glare are the keys to success. You can't beat photos in sunlight taken as per the illustration that  @Dianna posted above.  :)
  • I too use cell phone camera :)

    ·         I have been off the Forum for most of this year for health reasons. I’m still on strong medication and find it hard to concentrate --  So, sorry to have completely forgotten to give the difference between the two shots in my previous posting. 

    o   The first shot is a random shot of a painting when held in sunlight.

    o   The second shot is when a painting is held as per Mark’s diagram.

    o   Then ask the person holding the painting, still in the same spot, to hold up an A4 page which has bands of white to black printed across it and take a photo of it. (There must be NO color in the A4 sheet.

    ·         I then download and open the “good” shot of the painting (taken as per Mark’s diagram) in Photoshop,  and the shot which includes the A4 page taken in exactly the same spot.  (I use a Nikon DX camera and I make sure I take the photos are taken in NEF or Raw so the camera doesn’t make any adjustments)

    ·         Once I have opened the two photographs in Photoshop, I use the White Balance eye dropper in Photoshop to click on about the middle of the A4 page of banding. This should give an accurate color temperature reading.  Once you apply this temperature reading to the photo of the painting (minus the A4 sheet of course) you should end up with a high quality photograph with the right colors.

    ·         I did an online course run by Damien Symonds to help me to understand Photoshop, but unfortunately a year of being sick has wiped much of it from my brain, so I will have to slowly and patiently go over all my notes again and re-learn it.  More importantly for the moment, it limits my ability to explain it sufficiently for members of the Forum to know what I’m talking about – so I apologise – but if you ask specific questions I might be able to answer them.


    ·         Thanks Artgirl – it’s nice to be putting my toes in the water again


    ·         I never use a cell camera because I don’t like the results.  That might be just me because other people seem happy with the results.

  • @Dianna thanks so much for your explanation! i like the idea of using sheet of paper to get the temps right. will try.
    I'm  happy  to hear you're on the mend. got two family members who were seriously ill and know it's a long road but you'll get there! wish you full and speedy recovery and a lot of new beautiful paintings :) 
  • For people who want to stay indoors and use digital tools the following procedure can work quite well:

    1.  In the place you normally paint (nicely lit), arrange your easel (tilt) and put your camera on a tripod, so that it is perpendicular and zoomed properly.

    2.  With a reliable and repeatable physical reference measurement (using the edge of the canvas... and a distance to some part of the easel) take a photo of a spare blank canvas (before you stain it while it is still white) of the same size as the canvas you used for your work.  Using the same reliable and repeatable reference measurement to place the blank canvas in the exact same place.  Take a photo using the camera  in FULL manual mode (make aperture adjustments as needed)  Be sure to set a properly long exposure at lowest ISO, so that the brightest part of the blank canvas is almost but not blown out.

    3.  Replace the spare blank canvas with your work using the same reliable and repeatable reference measurement.  This ensures your work is in exactly the same position as the blank canvas was.  Take a picture with the camera using the same settings.

    4.  In a graphics program of your choice, take the photo of the blank canvas, crop it so only the canvas is visible.  Blur this image only enough so that the canvas grain just disappears. Call this the first image.  Duplicate the image to make a second image.  Then invert the second image values - i.e. generate a negative of it.  Then do a brightness stretch... sometimes called histogram brightness stretch.. (which linearly transforms the brightest value to white and the darkest value to black) on the second image.  Now make a copy of the second image and paste it as a layer above the first image, set the layer blend of that top layer to multiply.  Lower the opacity of the top layer to a level where the overall image has a relatively even brightness across the canvas.  Use an eye dropper to confirm.  Note: In some cases this level might have to be quite low.

    5.  Crop the image of your work exactly as you cropped the image of your blank canvas.  Copy the top layer of your blank canvas image and paste it as a top layer on your work.  Set the layer to multiply and opacity to the same level which worked to even out the lighting across the canvas.

    6.  Turn off the top layer in the blank canvas image.  Use a white balance tool to determine the proper balance for your white canvas in your studio lights.

    7.  Apply the same white balance settings determined in step 6 to your work.  Note:  This only works if your white paint is the same as the blank canvas or you otherwise want the same white balance i.e. to your eye the blank canvas is white and the color of the lighting should be corrected.

    8.  Make any final adjustments.

    Let me know if this works for you!

  • @CBG This is very helpful...can you also given an estimate approximately how many feet away from the painting you set up the tripod to take the photo? I know the larger the painting, the farther away from it you should stand when viewing it, but not sure how this interracts with taking photos of it, and relatedly how much you should zoom in with the camera. I know with the photos I've taken they look good on the smaller screen but when I send to my laptop they look very grainy and distorted.
  • CBGCBG -
    edited November 2020

    @Csontvary Camera zoom lenses can introduce lens distortion which is more pronounced when used in wide angles, but which is minimized when the camera is placed as far away as possible and zoomed in to fill the image with your painting.  At full zoom-in (optical zoom do not use digital zooming to go beyond this) your lens will have less resolution than in wide angle mode, and images can appear a little fuzzy (depending on how good/expensive your camera/lenses are), but this can easily be compensated for in software with moderate sharpening to restore the image to reality... just be sure not to over sharpen, as you will create other visual artifacts, such as ringing edges, which are not present in your painting.  Ideally, your panting's front surface should be perfectly vertical, mount it appropriately on a wall or on your easel but use a level to make sure the painting is vertical.  It is important that the surface of the painting is vertical, not just the back of some frame it might be in.  This helps you avoid doing math.  All you have to do is ensure your camera and the center of your camera lens is at the exact height of the middle of your canvas and is located at a point along the imaginary perpendicular line emerging from the center of your painting.  Do as many measurements as possible to place the camera properly along this line and at its optical zoom limit (space permitting).

    That should take care of any geometric distortions. 

    Your photo should not be grainy if you have a long enough exposure and moderately bright lights.

    Let me know if this helps!

  • @CBG Thanks that makes a lot of sense.  I will try these techniques out, and let you know how it works. 
  • edited November 2020
    @CBG Hi! I just took this photo of one I recently finished trying to replicate your methods...I was having trouble with glare when doing inside so I tried to place this one outside on a chair on my balcony.  It still does seem a bit too blurry compared to original and colors also look a bit off, but still better than earlier attempts I made before reading your advice!
  • @Csontvary Nice painting!  Well photographed.  Glad I could help!
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