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How to Photograph an Oil Painting

written by: Misty Faucheux•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 2/17/2011

Want to learn how to photograph an oil painting? Well, it's not as hard as you think. Learn how to photograph artwork in this tutorial.

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    Photographing Your Favorite Artwork

    Photographing an oil painting isn’t easy. If you use your flash, it reflects off of the oil or the glass, over-exposing your image. But, if you are a painter, or just like artwork, then you may have to take photographs of paintings. So, you are faced with a question: how to photograph an oil painting when you need to?

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    Keep Your Painting Straight

    If your painting is not hanging on a wall, you need to make the painting as completely straight as possible. If not, then your painting will by wizan, http://www.flickr.com/photos/wizan/3271501729/sizes/m/in/photostream/ look crooked in the photograph. But, if you can’t take the picture completely straight, then you will have to crop it a little bit using photo editing software.

    Use a tripod. If you are propping up a photograph on the floor, then you need to point your camera at a slightly downward angle. This is hard to do with just your hands, especially when you need to keep your camera steady.

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    Flash and Background

    Turn off your flash. No matter if the image is behind glass or not, you are dealing with a reflective surface. Natural lighting works very better than your flash. Take your painting outside, and put it in direct sunlight. Use a polarizing filter if it’s really bright outside, or try putting the painting a little bit in the shade.

    Always have a solid background for your image. You want to eliminate as much of the background as possible, but you may still have a little bit of it in the shot.

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    Museum Shots

    If you are taking a picture in a museum, then you are going to have to use the lighting in the museum. Usually the paintings are lit by both front and back lighting. But, you are going to need a little extra lighting. So, bring some photography lighting, and ask museum staff if you can set it up to take some pictures. Always get permission beforehand. Certain paintings are off-limits to begin with, and certain museums do not like you using any type of flash or lighting on the paintings.by HoskingIndustries, http://www.flickr.com/photos/benhosking/5347375931/sizes/m/in/photostream/ 

    If you have to use your flash, turn it down to half power. This will decrease the overall brightness of the flash, but still provide you with enough power to illuminate the painting. Always take a few shots with the flash to see how they look. If it’s not helping, then just turn it off.

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    Setting and Composition

    Change your aperture to between f/5.6 and f/11. This will sharpen the image and help bring out the details. Also change the white balance to manual, and experiment with it until you find the right setting.

    Composition is also important when taking photographs of paintings. Try to fill the entire frame with the oil painting. Try not to use the LCD screen for this. Instead, use the viewfinder because it will give a better perspective than the LCD screen.

    Make sure that the camera is completely focused on the center of the artwork. If not, then you’ll get really distorted pictures. The most common is that the bottom of the painting seems closer to the screen than the top.

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    Editing Your Images

    Finally, clean up the image a bit in a photo editing program, especially if the painting looks crooked in the photograph.

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    References

    Article References

    Dan. "How to Photograph your Artwork for a Portfolio or the Internet", http://emptyeasel.com/2007/01/19/how-to-photograph-your-artwork-for-a-portfolio-or-the-internet/

    BetterPhoto.com, http://www.betterphoto.com/exploring/shootingPaintings.asp.

    Photo References

    by wizan, http://www.flickr.com/photos/wizan/3271501729/sizes/m/in/photostream/

    by HoskingIndustries, http://www.flickr.com/photos/benhosking/5347375931/sizes/m/in/photostream/