Monday, June 28, 2010

How to Photograph Oil Paintings

Photographing oil paintings has always been tricky and I've struggled for years to get satisfying results. Problems in the past included uneven lighting, fuzzy details, and glare.This new set up gives the best images I've ever had so I thought I'd share.

I have four light stands each with a 33" white translucent umbrella, "premium" light sockets with 65 Watt 5000K UL listed florescent light bulbs. These are "continuous light" not "strobes". It's important that all the bulbs are the same so they all have the same color. Most of my equipment came from It costs about $100 for two stands, light sockets, bulbs and umbrellas. To photograph smaller paintings two lights may be sufficient.

The lights are arranged at the sides of the paintings rather than in front of them. This "raking" light minimizes glare. To be able to do this the painting is sitting on an easel rather than hanging on a wall. If light pollution from a window is a concern just draw the shades or shoot at night.

My camera is a digital Canon Rebel XTi. After some serious instruction manual reading I set it to Manual Mode, set the custom white balance (by photographing a white poster board under the lights) and set the f stop on 3.5 and Auto Bracket. I use an Ultrasonic 24-85mm lens 1:3.5-4.5. I also use a shutter release cable which prevents camera shake when I take the picture.

I use a tripod, determine the exact middle of the painting from the floor (involves math) and set the tripod so the camera lens is at that height from the floor. Adjust the tilt of the camera angle up and down so there is as little distortion as possible.

Finally I download them to my trusty iMac, perspective crop in Photoshop to crop out my messy studio. There is very little to do in color adjustments. Usually they can be adjusted using levels and channels.

I usually photograph the paintings a second time after varnishing and the results are even better.

I'm sure my photographer friends will see a number of things I could do better and I'm all ears! The process is eternally evolving.

That's easy enough, right?

Update: I've done another post about photographing particularly challenging dark paintings, Photographing oil paintings, Part 2

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Fast Lane" in Progress

"Fast Lane" in progress, a little insight into my painting method.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New Painting "Fast Lane" companion to "Call of Duty"

Two paintings from my Incognito Series. "Fast Lane", 47x32, is a companion piece to "Call of Duty", 30x26, both are oil on canvas over panel. Here is "Call of Duty"
These paintings have been in the works for about two years. I'm intrigued by the idea of a painting that looks at first glance like an old masters painting but deals with a pop culture or contemporary idea.
Here is "Fast Lane".

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Announcing The Incognito Project

I'm about the embark on a year long endeavor. The Incognito Project. It's an Art Event in two parts. The first is a photo shoot event where I have invited people to my studio to share their alter egos with me and the world. I'll do a series of paintings to be presented in a gallery showing in 2011 in Birmingham, AL, USA. Specific date TBA.

The first painting of the series is a self portrait titled "The Stake-Out", 16x16, oil on panel. It's the artist as human observer, why the cigarette when I don't smoke? Every time I thought about this piece and my paintings- they are "slow painting" exactly like a stake-out where cigarettes and coffee are required. I've always been inspired by film noir and in this reality I'm a cross between the hard-boiled detective and a femme fatale.

I've thrilled at the prospect of the interaction this is going to involve. This project has been percolating for about 3 years and I have been doing Incognito Series work for about 7 years and this will take it to an entirely new level!

Here are some quotes by others on this theme:
“So tell me what I see, when I look in your eyes, is that you baby or just a brilliant disguise?” ~Bruce Spingsteen

“Meet me in Cognito, darling, sure some may think it’s rash, but you’ll look chic incognito, with your fake nose and Groucho mustache.” ~Tom Robbins

“The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” ~Albert Einstein

“All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…” ~William Shakespeare

“Well, we all have a face that we hide away forever, and we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone. Some are satin, some are steel, some are silk and some are leather. They're the faces of the stranger, but we love to try them on.” ~Billy Joel

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” ~Oscar Wilde
“Most painting in the European tradition was painting the mask. Modern art rejected all that. Our subject matter was the person behind the mask.” ~Robert Motherwell


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