Photographing glossy paintings

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by SusanV, Sep 9, 2007.

  1. SusanV

    SusanV Member

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    I've recently been having a lot of trouble photographing my oil paintings
    because of the reflections of the lights causing glare. I've photographed
    my artwork for many years with no trouble, but those were all works that
    had a flat (matte) surface, and reflections weren't a problem. Oil paintings
    are rather glossy. I could use some advice about cutting out glare.

    I've tried lights at a 45 degree angle to the picture plane, but here's
    the rub.... the surface of a painting isn't completely flat. Even using a
    rather smooth technique, the brushstrokes in an oil painting make for raised
    ridges that catch the light, throwing back thousands of little reflections. By
    the way, I'm using floodlights, not flash.

    I've read on some art sites that you can buy polarizing film to place over
    the lights, and doing that in combination with a polarizer on the lens will
    take care of the problem. Does anyone have any experience with that stuff?
    I'd rather not shell out the $50 for the film and then find out it doesn't work.


    thanks,
    Susan
     
  2. Craig

    Craig Subscriber

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    It sounds similar to taking pictures of fish in a tank, and getting reflections off the glass. The 45 degree angle usually does the trick, but the glass is a smooth surface, unlike your paintings.

    I'd try either using a softbox, or taking them outside and photographing them on an overcast day - not always possible I realize. You might be able to improvise a softbox but hanging some very lightweight translucent fabric in front of your lights to diffuse the light?
     
  3. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Cross polarization is the usual method for surfaces like oil paintings, when placing the lights at a 45-degree angle isn't enough. Of course it will depend somewhat on the painting, since there are surfaces angled in all directions, but if you polarize the lights and use a polarizer on the lens, it should improve things. It helps to do this with two people, so you can look through the viewfinder (or at the groundglass) while someone else adjusts the polarizers on the lights.

    This is the stuff you want--

    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/45130-REG/Rosco_730011_Polarizing_7300_Filter_.html
     
  4. msage

    msage Subscriber

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    Susan
    The best solution is to polarize the lights with the same axis of the filters. Then polarize the lens with the filter axis rotated with the best glare reduction. It is often a dramatic difference.
    Michael
     
  5. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    I've photographed many oil paintings professionally, often using a polarizer on the camera lens but never on the lights. Double polarization certainly works, it may work too well and kill the detail of the brush strokes completely. I would try with just a camera filter first.
     
  6. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    The effect is usually known as 'flashback' and as others have said, polarizers on 45 degree copy lighting is the normal route (I've done this for book illustrations). The most important thing is to leave some flashback in, so the brush-stroke structure is revealed, i.e. don't cross the polarizers fully or the picture goes 'dead'.
     
  7. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    I agree fully with Roger and David. The brushstrokes are there for a reason. It's part of the painting. Unless the artist didn't intend them (in which case - it's probably not a painting worthy of copying..!) - you should show the texture of the brushwork. If you use enough lights, and keep them lower than 45 degrees and keep them as far away from the painting as possible - they should fill in most of the objectionable reflections (i.e. like fill lighting).

    Also note: place your meter (while in incident mode) at the centre and each corner of the painting to verify evenness of lighting. Try to keep it all within 1/4 stop if possible.
     
  8. eddym

    eddym Member

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    I'd be careful with the softbox. I usually use two 24x36 softboxes for shooting art, but when I'm having problems with reflections, the larger surface area of the softbox just makes the reflections harder to eliminate. In those cases where I need polarization, I switch to round 10-inch reflectors.
    If the art work is large, however, you need to be careful that you are getting even illumination with the smaller light sources.
    Lastly, reducing the angle between the lights and the plane of the art to less than 45 degrees can help eliminate reflections.
     
  9. Ruud

    Ruud Member

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    Susan,

    you should try the following wshich are normally the rules for this.

    1. angle lightsource picture should be exactly 30 degrees.so not camera-picture
    almost flat so

    2 direction of the light source to the picture should be as follows
    left lichtsource is to be directed to the rightsize of the picture
    right source to the left half of the picture.

    now you can do the lightmetering in all the angles of the painting and they should be about the same,too much differenze needs slight adjustments.

    In this case the lightbeams cross eachother before the painting and not on the paiting

    \this should do even without polarizing this has to be tried out

    i do this way even with glassplate in front of paiting

    let us know how this works out for you

    regards
     
  10. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    The fun really starts whe you have to photograph a large (i.e. measured in yards) oil painting which is in a glazed frame and has just been dragged out a museum store. You obviously have to clean every square inch of the glass (which enables you to see more clearly any dirt INSIDE the glass). As with any glazed picture, the ideal situation is to set up in a darkened room so that no direct light falls on the camera and reflects in the glass, the extra factor which leads to many a merry chuckle (not to mention streams of obscenity) is that even setting lights at 45 degrees may cast a shadow of the edge of frame onto the painting (if the frame is of any appreciable depth). This of course gets worse with the lights at a shallower angle relative to the painting, while a sharper angle produces reflections in the glass. Fine-tuning a set-up of this kind provides hours of innocent amusement!
     
  11. kjsphoto

    kjsphoto Subscriber

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    Susan,

    the way I photographs my wife and my painting is use daylight. even and diffused. I have found it much better than strobes. With strobes I could just never ever get it right. Always a slight glare somewhere.

    If you goto my wifes site; www.jillsaitta.com click on galleries then people, all of those were taken using diffused daylight on my kitchen table in front of the window. I just used a white seamless background. I gave up on using strobes.
     
  12. SusanV

    SusanV Member

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    Thanks to each of you for all the good ideas! I appreciate the help.
    In the past my work has mostly had such a matte surface that I now
    realize I've been denied the joy of dealing with reflections. :surprised:

    I'll be working on this and will report back.

    Susan
     
  13. CBG

    CBG Member

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    Hi,

    A couple of quick notes.

    I photograph my and other artist's painting. My work has at times been very shiny, and at other times extremely textural, so I have tussled with the same issues as you.

    Ruud hits it on the head with his comments. He's dead on that the standard 45 degree to the wall can be tightened to 30 ish, so that the lights are almost skimming the wall. It is much harder for the light to catch an edge and bounce a specular reflection your way - but not impossible.

    A polarizer on the camera helps fix what remains of harsh reflections. I use one on all painting copy work. The shallow angle of 30 ish degrees helps the polarizer cancel reflections better - a double win.

    I'm not sold on the idea of keeping some reflections to show the physicality of the surface. The general effect is the look of a desatuarion of the color of the painting. I try to use slight shadowing to keep a sense of the texture of the work. I find that less intrusive than mini highlights. But that is a matter of taste. Either accomplishes the objective.

    Whatever you do, get the lights back as far away from the work as you have room for. Each light should be several times the width of the work back from the work if you possibly can. It will even out the strength of the light. If you can get really far away, the lighting becomes very even. I check center and corners with a meter that reads in tenths of a stop, and backing off the lights makes set up easy. Long exposures are a small price to pay for good light.

    Ruud also is right that the lights should each be aimed at a spot on the far side wall from the work to be copied. Eyeing it as you set up will help you see a good aim.

    If you are dealing with truly horrible reflections, crossed polarizers work very well. I doubt you will need them. Kodak and others published info on their use. The exposure factor was - my memory is sketchy - something kind of viscious - like 10 x or more. Testing is needed.

    Sometimes a painting has a set of brush marks that are the prime culprits for glare. The relation of the angle of the lights to those worst brushstrokes can be changed by rotating the painting or the lights till the brushstrokes no longer are picking up highlights.

    Best luck,

    C
     
  14. kjsphoto

    kjsphoto Subscriber

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    Also about showing detail, if you want to show of the texture, photograph the painting at an angle about 45 degrees. This will show all the textures in the work.
     
  15. rjphil

    rjphil Member

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    You might try bouncing your lights off of the ceiling. I do this when I have to photograph a painting that has a fair amount of texture (brushstrokes or knife work). Just make sure that the light is even across the painting.
    Typically, I use cross-polarization with glazed pieces or oils. The only caveat is to watch out that the shadow areas don't get too dark when polarized.
    Also, use a relatively low or neutral contrast film. Kodak EPN or Fuji Astia
    work very well. You may email or PM me if you wish - I've been photographing artwork for about 20 years now.
    Good Luck !!