Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ask Stape 3

Dear Stape:

I'm finding that photographs of my paintings are poor representations of the original, especially portraits, which tend to look flatter than the original pictures, and less subtle, as if transitional passages have been homogenized. I'm using a 6 megapixel digital camera and shooting with available light inside the studio which is decently lit with a skylight. The biggest difference between my portrait/figure painting and landscapes is that the portraits are painted employing indirect techniques such as scumbling and glazing.
In your opinion, what is the best approach for photographing paintings for one's portfolio?

Big D.

Dear Big D.

I am not an expert either, but I am able to take decent photos of my paintings most of the time. I have a black felt cloth that I shoot them against. I do my photography in the shade outdoors, but I also have a setup inside that is permanent and lit with floodlights. Recently I haven't used it much.
I set the paintings on a bench against the wall of my house, against the black cloth which I have hung with pushpins in the wood siding. Part of your problem may be that you don't have enough light in your studio. I take a couple of shots and recompose each one trying to get them square in the viewfinder.If I need to I lay a bright white piece of cardboard as a reflector in front of the painting to bounce some more light up into it.

I have a very ordinary Sony pocket camera that takes 7.2 megapixels. My wife waltzed happily into my studio a year or two ago saying "Stape! I got a great deal on a new camera for you! You don't care if its pink do you?" For my purposes it works fine.
The answer to the problem has changed since the old days of shooting slides and film. Now I open them up in Photoshop, I use then small version, Express, and I adjust them as best I can. I am beginning to wish I had the larger version so I could work in CMYK, and I may have to acquire that. My wife has it on her computer and is skilled in its use. I just don't think RGB. But for now that is what I am doing.You may have a different program for working up photos. I have friends who like different programs that they have and those often came with their cameras. I dont think they need top be very fancy to work, just logical.

I adjust the lighting, mostly I usually add a little contrast and lighten or darken the image as needed. The answer to getting your halftone right is probably here.The color adjustment is harder and I tweak it as best I can. Often the color is just off a little and I have but to back off the blue or something and it is ready to go. I used to have a pro shoot all of my advertising photos and it used to be 8 by 10 transparencies. I can't say that my work came out better then either. If you are uncertain of your abilities and working for reproduction in a magazine , you may want to go to a pro.For your own portfolio you should be able to take good enough shots yourself.

There are folks out there reading this who ARE expert photographers, I invite you to weigh in with your suggestions on this. That's the beauty of a ,sometimes it is a forum as well as my megaphone.

Dear Stape

How do I prepare previous canvases when I want to overpaint with a new painting (oil over oil)? And what about impasto ridges on the previous oil painting?


Dear Mick:

I don't think you should. Canvas, at least cotton canvas is not terribly expensive. I suspect that you are intimidated by the prospect of stretching your own canvas. Don't be. It is not very hard. You can't just keep buying stretchers and not reusing them, that's ridiculous!

But if you must paint over an old canvas here is how to do it. Slip a piece of masonite panel under the canvas and in front of the stretchers so that as you work on the front you don't emboss the stretchers onto your canvas. Hold your palette knife by both the handle and the tip, like a draw-knife and cut the ridges of paint off the surface. Then sand it a little, 150 grit should do. Then paint it white or off white with titanium and a shot of liquin so it will dry in your lifetime. Then let it dry for a few days.

It is hard to get a perfectly smooth job out of this, if you are painting a finely rendered thinly painted piece this may be a problem. If you are doing an alla prima out door piece it may not be. I sometimes use a stiff brush and deliberately leave a texture in the white I paint onto my canvas. That will hide a few flaws. But I wouldn't get too thick on canvas. This trick is better on panels,. Why not make some of those. Heres how I do that.


Philip Koch said...

Digital photography really has made getting decent reproductions easier. Nonetheless, in my experience there are always just a few paintings that refuse to photograph well. I suspect they were bad in previous lives or something. I recommend cursing and standing on one's head.

Deborah Paris said...

In response to Big D's questions, I paint in an indirect manner- using glazing, scumbling and a fair amount of transparent passages in my final painting surfaces. If you light these paintings with bright lights often you'll wash out the first couple of layers of glazes which may be why you find they look flat. Using polarizing filters on your camera lens and the lights is the "professional" answer but I have found using as little light as I can (just the ambient light in my studio rather than spots) putting my camera on a tripod to account for the slow shutter speed and taking them against a neutral grey background works best. I still have to adjust them in Photoshop. The Levels adjustment is the one I find most helpful. Every once in a while, I get one that just refuses to be photographed, but usually I can get a good quality image which works for print as well as web.

willek said...

I have had some luck dropping black drapery from the ceiling about6 feet from the wall the picture is hanging from. I light it from one side or both and stick the lens through a hole in the drape. It just about eliminates reflected light. One friend shoots the picture from the side, thus eliminating unwanted reflections, then correctes the parrallax in Photoshop. But lately, I just shoot it on the side of my shop that the sun is NOT shining on and it seems to be o.k. Not good enough for gicles, but OK for the web.

My poor departed, liberal, hunting friend would be spinning in his grave over your revelations of his ancestor, S. F. B. Morse's value system.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There really is an awful lot of stuff to know isn't there? We always need to be upgrading skills. Who knew I would have to learn to operate a computer? Do you remember what they looked like on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, with all those spinning reels of tape and bands of flashing lights?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks for weighing in.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Perhaps your friend didn't know, but that's unlikely isn't it? I think he he had to know, but concealed it from you.

willek said...

Hmmm. You may have something there. I once purchaced a book about S.F.B. at a yard sale and he refused it when I tried to give it to him. Hard to believe that someone in the legal profession would have refused some reading.