Cross-polarization technique for taking photos of paintings.

Hello all. I'm here sporadically these days since I'm painting pretty much full time. I regret not helping painters more, especially here on this page. 

Photographing paintings is especially difficult because of the glare. Because of this, I've researched all over for better techniques. I've found a way to do this with cross-polarization. I bought a 20 dollar linear polarized film  from amazon and also a polarized lens for my camera lens (14.00). Obviously, you'll need a camera, a light source and also a tripod for the camera. I'm currently using a 5000K fluorescent bulb in a Ikea floor lamp. I taped the film onto the lamp. I made sure all my other light sources were blacked out or turned off. 

Situate the camera so that it is full frontal to the canva but out of view. You can fill the frame if you wish. I use a neutral gray card to balance out my white balance later. I put my white balance on my camera to 5000k. Turn the lens until the glare is gone.I do use a slow shutter speed and a remote since it's pretty dim. Then I do the rest of the editing in lightroom. I do have an example of the before an after. Those of you that follow me on instagram have already seen it. 

When I took photos before, I would put my lights at a severe angle, almost directly above it and then I'd put the painting in the lower part of the view finder. This did help reduce glare, but it made the light off balance from the top to the bottom. After doing cross-polarization, I realized it still lost some color and contrast in the glared areas even though I couldn't actually see the glare. That is the second example below. The first example is the same exact set up for both shots, just the lens turned (not polarizing). 

I hope this helps some of you get better photos of your paintings.


  • SummerSummer -
    edited October 2017
    Do you have an image stabilizer on your camera?  Did you use it or have it turned off in this experiment?  I'm trying to find out if I'm also looking at any camera shake or not.  To use the stabilizer or not to use is up to each photographer.  Stabilizer in the on position causes shake with some photographers using a tripod and cabled shutter release but not others.  I'm just wondering which one you are.  Do you think you got any camera shake in this experiment?  If you did, then you will have to use the opposite setting next time with your cross-polarization setup.  Great experiment.  I can see the difference.   
  • I currently do not have the stabilization on. I use the remote almost exclusively in conjunction with the tripod. There should be no movement whatsoever. I'm also finding out that having it in very sharp focus is not as important as having no noise, and saturation of the correct colors. Most of my pics are good enough for prints even if it's a bit soft on the focus. (You would have to look very closely to see it.)
  • Great idea @MeganS, I will definitely try this. Also agree about sharpening not being that important. In fact I think when photographing paintings the danger is artificially over-sharpening - resulting in edge artefacts (either intentionally, or just because that's the way it came out of the camera). 

  • Fascinating facts and ideas.
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