Photographing Paintings

SA0113 photographing painting

Many of you have asked about the photo setup we use to take high quality digital images of our paintings for reproduction and use on the internet. It’s really very simple. Daylight fluorescent lights are installed in the ceiling over our easels. These can be purchased at Home Depot or Lowes. For years, as we traveled from place to place, we just had double-tube shop light fixtures that we hung with chains from the ceiling over the easels.

SA0113 photographing painting closeup

Our camera is a 24 megapixel NIKON D3200. Jack surprised me with the RED Nikon a couple of months ago and I love it! But don’t faint, you don’t have to get this elaborate. For years we used an 8 megapixel OLYMPUS and it worked perfectly.  We’ve used those images from the OLYMPUS camera to make large giclees.  I must warn you though, images taken with a cell phone camera are not good enough for reproduction! The camera is placed on a tripod and set on the timer function. The picture above shows the setup. This is also how I take the step-by-step pictures for the blog. The 10 second timer gives me plenty of time to get back to the canvas and be painting when the shutter releases.

SA0113 photographing painting image in viewfinder

When taking the picture of your painting for reproduction, zoom in so the image fills the frame as shown above. This way you will get the largest possible file. Make sure your camera is set for the highest quality and largest file size. Set the timer, focus and take the shot! By using the timer there will be no jiggle like you can get when the shutter release button is pressed down.

SA0113 A Glimpse of Tuscany  38x48

Here is the final image after a little color correction in Adobe Photoshop. The Nikon has its own program but I’m so familiar with Photoshop I just use that. There is another option for taking pictures of your art that we have also used successfully. Take your painting outdoors into the shadow of a building. Lean it against the building and then, standing in that same shadow with your back to the bright light, photograph the art. We use this method when I do a painting demo at the galleries and don’t have our studio setup available.

Make sure to save the image in both JPEG and TIF files. The longest side of the JPEG images should be no more than 1000 pixels. This way they email easily and don’t take forever to download on the recipient’s computer. The TIF file should be as large as possible. We just save the largest size that comes out of the camera, when our printer receives the file he adjusts it for making our Giclees. Make certain to BACK UP your files. We have two external hard drives we keep all of the images stored on. I hope this has been helpful, please feel free to ask questions. Smiles and Hugs, Mikki Senkarik

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10 Responses to “Photographing Paintings”

  1. Tammi Vaughan Says:

    Thank you so very much for sharing this valuable information! I really needed this because I was at the point of giving up taking my own photos and hiring someone to take them for me. I cannot wait to try the lighting and timer suggestions!!

  2. Chuck Says:

    Thank you so much for the demo. I already have daylight fluorescent blubs in my studio. I just need to follow your directions on the camera use. Thanks again.

  3. Ivan Kelly Says:

    Thank you Mikki. Effective and simple. No gray cards or is it white cards, spotlights and diffusing umbrellas.
    One question please, How many overhead lighting tubes do you normally use for painting?
    Thanks, Ivan.

    • Mikki Senkarik Says:

      Ivan,
      The lights we have now over the easels are four bulb fixtures. We have the studio set up for two easels, therefore we have two 4-bulb fixtures mounted on the 15 foot ceiling. But for years we just used one 2-bulb shop light hung directly over each painting area at about 8 feet. Hope this helps. Mikki

  4. Ivan Kelly Says:

    Thank you, Ivan.

  5. David W. Mayer Says:

    This is more than a little simplistic. There are issues of setting the white balance or your camera, adjusting the lighting to avoid varnish glare, bracketing exposures, using Photoshop’s “distort” tool to correct a “keystoned” (un-square) image, and also using PS tools for color balance, contrast, brightness, and saturation.

    • Mikki Senkarik Says:

      David,
      I know you will be appalled but I don’t worry about the white balance or bracketing exposures. Jack and I make it pretty simple. The pieces are photographed before they are varnished so there is no glare. I use a telephoto lens and make certain the image is square in the viewfinder so I don’t have any keystone. I do use the Photoshop tools for cropping, contrast and brightness. We’ve used this method for photographing our paintings for many years and the images have worked perfectly for our giclees. Thank you for your comment and following my blog. Have a wonderful day.

  6. cabinart Says:

    Mikki, isn’t it wonderful to have digital photos? I remember trying to take perfect slides, but not having any idea how they would look until the film was developed.

    Have you considered online backup like Carbonite? That way if there is (heaven forbid!) a studio fire or flood, all your hard drives aren’t wrecked.

  7. rodicaluminitafont Says:

    Reblogged this on rodicaluminitafont.

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