Photographing Artwork - Archiving of a Museum Collection

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by holmburgers, Jun 15, 2011.

  1. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    I have the exciting opportunity to catalog and photograph a small museum collection. The items will mostly be prints, paintings and possibly a few photographs and sculptures.

    Some of the works will be framed and behind glass.

    I know that a whole career can be devoted to doing this kind of thing right, but I'm looking for some general tips & information that will help me get the best results.

    I'll need to bring a small lighting setup, and I'm wondering what else. The typical setup seems to be two lights at a specific angle to the print, to avoid glare. I'm slightly curious about "cross polarizing", but unfortunately I don't have polarizing filters large enough for lights.

    Any insight will be helpful. Thanks!
     
  2. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

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    I do this on occasion, I used to do a lot of it, including 8 foot paintings. Get this book, it will give you all the information you need. I get large polarizing film from Lee filters sold by many film and theater supply companies. Use a good glass polarizer for the lens and this film for the lights. I also recommend you get a color target like Kodak Q-13, Q-14, or a Macbeth color chart.
     
  3. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Thanks Greg, I will check it out from the library.
     
  4. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

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    A copy stand is nice for small items, but you can use the same set up you would use for large prints and paintings if necessary. If you are using 35mm or a DSLR, use a distortion free macro lens. MF and LF lenses don't have the issues the small format lenses do.
     
  5. Ian C

    Ian C Member

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    You should use a lens polarizer to eliminate as much unpolarized glare as possible. You’ll have to rotate the polarizer about to find the orientation that helps the most. You should eliminate as much straight-on light as possible, as that will create mirror-like reflections.

    It’s helpful to get a large piece of stiff cardboard and either paint it flat black on the side facing the art, or better yet, cover it with black velvet cloth which you can get from a fabric shop. You’ll make the anti-reflection board with a hole in it for your lens to stick through. You’ll have to hold the AR board or rig some sort of holder. The whole thing should be as light as possible for easy handling.

    It should be as large as needed to prevent reflections from the camera and yourself. It helps to wear dark (preferably black clothing). The AR board mustn’t block the source lights, of course.

    Exposure must be determined by gray card just in front of the art if a reflected-light meter is all you’ve got. An incident-light meter is more convenient. It must be just in front of the art to get an accurate reading.

    Two lights at 45° the same distance from the art usually works best for flat work. You might have to modify this a bit to kill as much specular reflections as possible. In some cases you’ll get better results with a broader light, such as bouncing off, or shooting through a white, translucent umbrella.

    Three-dimensional art needs some differential modeling light similar to what you’d use in making a portrait to bring out the three-dimensional shape.
     
  6. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Great recommendations all around. Particularly the AR board; that makes a lot of sense.

    Unfortunately I'll be doing this numerically (if you know what I mean) and that limits my lens options somewhat. What is the ideal focal-length for this kind of work, or does it depend.
     
  7. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

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    I use a 50mm macro on 35mm or full frame DSLR.
     
  8. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

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    There was a discussion here a while back about polarizers. There was also another about photographing artwork that I don't seem able to provoke the search into finding.

    There are a few photos of my latest setup toward the bottom of this gallery (we won't discuss the camera type, but it doesn't really matter). The details aren't well illustrated, but you can see the general layout. I built a simple stand that has legs that fasten on with wingnuts so it comes apart for travel. Some other shots for 3-D stuff are found here. (The last on that page shows my stand a little better.) I shoot the winners of shows my local art club puts on, so it's typically a twice a year event. And it's mostly for the web at intentionally limited size, so isn't as critical as "fine art reproduction".

    Including a gray scale and mayhaps a color chart as a strip along the perimeter can prove useful.

    I shoot through a dark baffle and find oil paintings which often have a shiny varnish over very irregular textures to be far more challenging to shoot than work under glass.
     
  9. Mike Wilde

    Mike Wilde Member

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    I second Greg's advice on the Kodak Copying and Duplication. The Amazon picture shows the back cover of this book. A lot of the films they mention are , as one would expect, out of production, but the techniiqes are not. You will understand a lot more about practical uses for better denitisitoimetry from this book. I used it to aid in calibrating some dupe films and an interneg film that I have a few hunded feet of in the garage freezer.

    You are in a photography course in college aren't you?

    If not, I would worry about how you are ever going to graduate in anything else with the great photographic learning curiousity you exhibit here.
     
  10. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    DW, those links to the copy setup are invaluable. I'm really glad I asked this question; I kind of thought I had it all in place but there's a lot more I hadn't considered.

    Gray scale, color chart; all good things.

    Mike, I am currently not in photography school, but my goal is to attend Ryerson in Toronto for their Photographic Preservation & Collections Management graduate program. This is exactly the kind of expertise I need to gain and be able to exhibit in order to get in, me thinks. Thanks for (what I feel are) your very kind words about my photographic curiousity.
     
  11. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    If you can, use a "bellows" lens such as the Minolta Rokkor Bellows 100/f/4. It is a lens without focusing helicoid, especially optimized for bellows use and for this kind of work. Just like any other macro lens, it is optimized for short distance work. Unlike normal macro lenses though, those bellows lenses are optimized for planarity of field and border sharpness (or, if you prefer, sharpness uniformity between centre and corners) which makes them particularly suitable for reproduction works - documents, stamps - which is their reason to exist.

    It might be that an enlarger lens is also quite apt to this kind of task.

    If you use a Sony camera I think you can easily find adapters between Minolta AF and Minolta SR. Maybe the Rokkor bellows lens was also produced in Minolta AF mount. As you are making reproduction work I don't think you care about diaphragm automatism, especially if the camera you are using has magnified live-view function for focusing, so you can use any make through any adapter. You don't care about infinity focusing so any "reproduction" lens will be perfect. Again, I suggest looking into the enlarger lens field and their adaptability to this kind of work, for which I suspect they should be quite capable.

    If your numeric camera has magnified live view I would use it for focusing, so that you can focus at the exact work aperture (if you focus at full aperture and then close the diaphragm a small focus shift can be produced, depending on the lens you use).

    Best wishes for the work
    Fabrizio
     
  12. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    Maybe it's too obvious to tell, but I'd think a B&W film with a polyester base should be the right choice for an archival use.
     
  13. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    I have heard the same thing about enlarging lenses making great macro lenses and that could be an option, given my current availability of gear. But how are they for copying a 1.5m painting, for instance? And what f.l.; 50mm, 75, 135?

    Your idea of using b&w film at first seemed impractical, but taking two pictures, one digital & one b&w film, would be an excellent archival asset.
     
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  15. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    Two things.
    1)Remember that flat disc that came with your light meter. you get to use it to check evenness of illumination from corner to corner.
    2)Won't the museum want color for their archives?
     
  16. aluncrockford

    aluncrockford Member

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    It was standard practice to shoot on 10x8 trannie using a macbeth colour guide in the first frame.

    As a rule the lights were polarised, you can get hold of the gel here

    http://www.polarization.com/polarshop/

    then cross polarise with a liner polariser on the lens, you can use a circular it makes little difference, use a spirit level and put the lens in the center of the picture using a slightly longer then standard lens, 100mm for Haselblad and a 240 for 5x4 would be a good starting point. To be honest a P65 on a sinar back is the most cost effective way to approach this but the issue of archiving will be a something to resolve. Shooting on black and white might not be the best approach
     
  17. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i have had to do this with blueprints and other things ...
    a flat field ( enlarging ) lens works well for flat-art
    fan your lights 45º and check for even-ness ...
    a friend of mine does this sort of work for a living ..
    he makes it look very easy !

    good luck ( have fun )
    john
     
  18. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    Yes and no. Prints and statues are normally monochromatic, and B&W is probably the best choice if on film. Documents are also generally photographed in B&W.
     
  19. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    I think the B&W could be very useful for things like that... statuary, prints, etc. At any rate, I'd be using both formats.

    Thanks everyone, I've learned a lot of from you all
     
  20. DanielStone

    DanielStone Member

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    if you're planning on shooting 4x5("5x4" for you euro folk :smile:), then I'd use a 10"(240mm) APO-Ronar, or RED DOT Artar. These were originally designed for flat-field copy work, and are apochromatic(all colors focusing on the same plane), imperative for digital work due to modern "flat" sensor designs, where as film is layered, long story...

    These lenses are easy to come by, and there were even some that were as small as 4-4.5" long(100mm equivalent). Using one of these on a Nikon/Canon bellows(originally designed for macro use) with an adapter board will allow you to use it on your digital camera, if you go that route. They're sharp as all get-out, and also quite inexpensive on the used market. This way you can use the shutter in your camera.

    A friend of a friend does this, with a similar setup as described above, only with a Hasselblad 555ELD, with a Leaf 33mp digital back. He uses strobes(Profoto) instead of a shutter speed(bulb, since its technically a "barrel" lens), and uses multiple "pops" to get the desired light output. Very simple, and very effective.

    He shoots tethered to his laptop, and usually can get a painting(up to 30x40") photographed, and his setup set up, and torn down, in less than 2hrs. He gets $300 for copy work, and can hand off a RAW file to his client(who usually have more than one painting to be copied anyhow) at the end of the job. Very simple setup(polarized strobes in silver-lined softboxes(more specularity vs a white-lined softbox), like the above link.

    Try your setup with shooting a flat couch cushion or something like a blanket(slightly textured) to test your lighting setup before venturing out on this. Better to know something than show up with no knowledge at all. Just sayin...

    best of luck!

    -Dan

    EDIT: remember that BRUSH STROKES add character(and reality) to copy work. They need to be sharp. It helps make a painting seem more "real".
     
  21. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Daniel, thanks much for the advice.

    I'd love to do this on 4x5", but as is the case, I'm just going to be using my D*. Truth be told, they were going to just "take some pictures", probably with a crappy point & shoot (and straight on flash no doubt!). I stepped in and said 'let me do this'.

    Unfortunately I'm not going to have the perfectly ideal gear. I'm going to be using my Panasonic GF1 (micro 4/3) and will have an adapter for my FD lenses. Unfortunately I wasn't able to procure a macro prime in time, so I've got to make do with what I've got. My choices are 28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 and 85mm f/1.8, plus a 35mm f/2.5 (FL).

    Any recommendation on which one might have the flattest field and best performance at the distance ranges I' looking at? How about the ideal aperture?

    And good call on trying out my lighting; I better do that tonight, as I'm leaving tomorrow!
     
  22. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Daniel, thanks much for the advice.

    I'd love to do this on 4x5", but as is the case, I'm just going to be using my D*. Truth be told, they were going to just "take some pictures", probably with a crappy point & shoot (and straight on flash no doubt!). I stepped in and said 'let me do this'.

    Unfortunately I'm not going to have the perfectly ideal gear. I'm going to be using my Panasonic GF1 (micro 4/3) and will have an adapter for my FD lenses. I wasn't able to procure a macro prime in time, so I've got to make do with what I've got. My choices are 28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 and 85mm f/1.8, plus a 35mm f/2.5 (FL). If this was a big gig I would've done things differently (and earlier), but I know that for their purposes, this will be more than sufficient. Furthermore, this is part "gaining experience" and part a favor for my aunt, who is involved with said museum.

    Any recommendation on which one might have the flattest field and best performance at the distance ranges I' looking at? How about the ideal aperture?

    And good call on trying out my lighting; I better do that tonight, as I'm leaving tomorrow!
     
  23. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

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    I would think the 85mm would have the flattest field and f/8 or f/11 to be the ideal aperture for sharpness.
     
  24. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Thanks Greg.

    The only thing that concerns me with that will be the distance from camera to subject. Considering the crop ratio, I might have to be across the room.

    But, that's good to know, and I can switch to the 50mm (same aperture range?) if a large piece pops up.
     
  25. DanielStone

    DanielStone Member

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    if you're using it on a micro 4/3, the 50mm will probably "translate" into more of a 60-70, possibly 85mm(35mm F/F equivalent) focal length.

    -Dan
     
  26. Iain W

    Iain W Member

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    I used to do a lot of this type of work. It was always shot on film. Professional Ektachrome, EPN and FP4. It was shot on 35mm or 120 depending on the final use. For collection records 35mm would probably be fine. We always included a Kodak colour scale on the edge or frame of each art work.
    Lens choice was usually a macro but a standard prime or short prime tele would work ok.
    You will need lots of space to achieve the best lighting. Two studio flash units and of course a flash meter to ensure that the lighting is dead even.
    I never used a polarising filter of any type, good lighting and plenty of black fabric to cut out reflections did the trick. Good Luck.