Photographing Oils

In an earlier post I mentioned that one new skill I would need was photographing oil paintings for show entries. I have some decent photography lights with stands, but they don't have soft boxes or any other light-diffusing accessories. They worked fine with my pastels using only a polarizing filter on my camera lens, but created way too much glare on oils. During the summer I successfully photographed my first [singlepic=88,320,240,left]small batch of oils by setting up under one of my art fair tents in the backyard, which provided a lot of nice diffused light but which made lining up the camera a challenge given the uneven ground in the yard. Setting up the tent also takes quite a while and now, with lower light and an eastern Washington winter approaching, the backyard tent method seemed even more daunting. So with my first show deadline approaching, my husband and I decided to figure out a different way to take the necessary photographs.  We took one entire afternoon, going to the fabric store and searching for just the right white fabric to diffuse the lights, then devising a method of hanging the fabric from a dowel attached

 to our house's picture railing in the doorway between living and dining rooms. We set the lights behind these, dragged out a few different easels until we had the one that seemed to work best with the various types of oil paintings I had (large canvases, small canvases, flat masonite panels) and I started shooting.  Each size of painting required adjustments to the lights, and focusing was difficult with the relatively low light levels we had. Needless to say, this took quite a bit of work.  And that night as I started looking at the files I still saw quite a bit of glare. Blerg. I thought I could deal with this, as I know my way around Photoshop pretty well, but it quickly became tiresome. Then the next day I ran on to a file I just could not use. It was early afternoon and sunny*, with the north and east side of the house completely in shade, so in desperation I ran out to the driveway with an easel, camera and tripod and re-shot the piece sans tent. I immediately ran inside to look at the file, and there was absolutely ZERO glare.  It had taken me like two minutes to set up the shot. I couldn't believe it. After seeing that photo, I realized it would be easier to re-shoot all fifteen or so paintings than to fix the glare on the others in Photoshop, so out they came. And although I had to do some color adjustments, there wasn't a bit of glare on any of the pictures. It figures. Sometimes the simplest solution really is the best.


*In later experiments I have discovered that cloudy days are actually the best for shooting oils outdoors. The light is slightly warmer and more evenly bright, but produces no glare at all.