Photographing Paintings

Here is my unscientific, nontechnical, way to take photos of your acrylic paintings! Feel free to comment with the more technical ways :)

I've read about those technical ways, and I somehow still can't figure it all out! So over the years I've done lots of trial and error, and this is what I come up with... It's not perfect, but works well enough for my needs...

I use a fairly good camera, but not really pricey. Its a Canon PowerShot SX20. I liked it because it has a lot of zoom on it. You can do all the manual adjustments, but I don't know how and just use the auto setting.

So here is what I do:

  • Photograph before you put on any final glossy finish. Glare is a big problem to overcome with acrylics. Even outside in open shade I get glare
  • No flash (just more glare, washed out color)
  • Use a tripod and the delayed setting on the camera. I use 10 second delay. Don't move a muscle until it goes off. This is important because I shoot in the lowest light I can to avoid glare, so you can't have any wiggle at all.
  • I set my painting on my easel - raise it up above the lip of the easel with  a piece of wood under the canvas. Set against an interior wall as straight up as I can without it falling over. Choose a wall that gets no direct light at all.
  • I just use my overhead daylight fluorescent lighting that is in my studio.
  • Place your tripod far enough away that you can zoom in just a bit - otherwise the edges of the canvas will look rounded. The whole setup is usually pretty low to the ground - this seems to help with light coming in from any windows.
  • Adjust the angle of the camera to get the sides as straight, and bottom and top of the canvas as horizontal as you can.
  • Put a piece of white paper behind the painting - but still in the frame so the camera can see it. This helps the camera a LOT with the color but it also helps later when you are adjusting in photoshop. You can use it to correct the "color cast"
  • Experiment with your camera settings, I find the "landscape" setting on my camera works best.
  • Use your 10 second delay and shoot!

I know this is a total workaround. But I am the workaround queen. :)

The adjusting I need to do in Photoshop elements is usually just to:

  • increase the contrast
  • correct the color cast - using the white paper as the spot to click on. Some area of the white will usually bring the colors close to the original

That's usually all I have to do to be pretty close!


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Comment by Mark S Ward on March 31, 2017 at 5:05pm

Great tips Karen!

I'm certainly no photographer and glare is a huge problem because the oil is still wet. I take them outside under my covered porch (shade) with no flash and it helps. I only have an older inexpensive digital camera. Haven't tried delay (or if I have it or even know how to use it lol).

Your white paper tip is a good one too. I use the "levels" adjustment in photoshop. With the eye dropper you can click on either the lightest or darkest area and also adjust the mid tones to get it closer to the original. The "curves" adjustment also works, but I find it a little too techy and levels easier to use.

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