Traditional Art Photography
In this beginners art tutorial I will explain how to take great photographs of traditional paintings even if all you have is a basic point-and-click camera. If you are an experienced photographer already with a five thousand dollar camera and a ton of professional gear, this tutorial is most likely not for you. But lets get to it and have a look at what you'll need to get a proper job done:
  • A camera (obviously)
  • A well lit room
  • A tripod or something serving a similar purpose
The Camera
Needless to say the more expensive your camera is the better results you'll usually get, but even with low-end cameras you can get quite good results. The key is proper lighting but we'll get to that later in this tutorial. Besides that all you need to know is how to operate whatever camera you've got.
A Well Lit Room
If you're not planning on shooting outside you'll need a well lit room to get the best results. The ideal time of day to photograph your paintings is during the daylight hours. High noon for instance would be an excellent time as you'll need all the daylight you can get. It's important that you do not take shots of your paintings with them placed in direct sunlight as the colors on the shots will become overly bright or saturated. What you need is plenty of natural in-direct (diffused) light, not direct light. Also, you should take the shots in a room with bright walls preferably completely white. Proper lighting is key for getting good results especially if you have a low-end camera.
Info: Light will exit the painting at the same angle it hits the surface as shown below. Please note that a highly structured painting will cause the light to scatter and exit at many different angles.
How Light Reflects
Use a Tripod Or Something Similar
Having a tripod will make things much easier but you can use something else as a substitute if you have none; a chair, a shelf, a stack of boxes or whatever you like. The important thing is that the surface upon which you place your camera, is absolutely horizontal and completely steady. If you have a tripod simply attach your camera and make sure it is adjusted completely horizontal or vertical depending on the orientation of the painting you wish to photograph.
Lets Get Going
With all of the above in place it's time to take some shots. Hang your painting on a wall or position it where it's completely vertical. If you have no tripod place your camera in front of the painting on a completely horizontal and steady surface. Whether using a tripod or a home made stand make sure to position the camera so the lens levels as close to the absolute center of the painting as possible.
Start taking some shots and experiment with the zoom levels and different camera settings until you find a combination of settings you are satisfied with. You should use a relatively low ISO setting (approx. 100-400) and try out different shutter settings if your camera supports this or simply use the cameras built-in presets. Remember to write down or save the camera settings yielding the best results. Also, the flash is not needed so turn it off if you haven't already. Below is an example setup viewed from the side.
The Basic Setup
Post Processing
Once you have taken the shots you need it's time to import them into your preferred image editing application (Photoshop, The GIMP or similar), and start adjusting things such as contrast, black/white level, colors and so on, to make the shots appear as close to the original art work as possible. If needed you can crop the image once you are done adjusting.
Wait, there's more!
There you go. The basic way to photograph traditional art. Should you want more advanced photography tutorials the web has plenty to offer. And with these words it's time to end this tutorial. I hope you enjoyed reading and good luck with the photographing.