by ʇolɐǝz ǝɥʇ qoq

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Please share your experience about:

  • Lighting
  • Objectives
  • Setup
  • Colorimetry
  • Photo-Editing
  • ...
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When you say "canvas" are you referring to a painting? If so, is it a watercolour, oil painting, or something else? – Maynard Case Mar 7 '11 at 17:33
This is kind of broad. You might get better answers with a more specific question. Some of the specifics are answered by other questions here, in fact. For lighting:… and for lenses… (although the last tilts towards-canon-specific). – mattdm Mar 7 '11 at 17:36
Maynard Case > yes I was refering to a painting. – Pierre-Jean Coudert Mar 7 '11 at 19:43
Did my answer answer your question? – Simon A. Eugster Mar 11 '11 at 9:53
up vote 30 down vote accepted

There is a good book which indeed does talk about photographing a canvas. It is the first book I would recommend someone who wants to learn about lighting. It is called Light: Science and Magic. (At this point: Anyone wants to have the previous edition of it? I think I'll get the new one. ;) )

The thing about the canvas is (I guess you have noticed so far already) that you've got tons of direct reflections, destroying all colour on the image. That's how this can look (I used spray paint in this example):

Polarizers parallel

Now what you can do is put the light source to your right/left/whatever (just not directly behind you), so that the directly reflected light (angle of incidence) does not hit your camera's lens but the wall next to you. This only works though when the paint is flat, oil for example might fail.

The trick I used below (and which is also described in Fuqua’s book) is a polarizer. In fact, two polarizers. One on the camera and one on the flash (which is a SB-900 — on camera). The polarizer on the flash must either be a linear polarizer (you can buy linear polarizer film) or a circular polarizer mounted the same way as if you would put it on the lens (front face facing the canvas). Then turn the polarizer on the lens until it is perpendicular to the one on the flash. How do you do that? Find a mirror, trigger the flash, and turn the polarizer, until you hardly see the flash anymore.

Then, without touching the polarizer (take care with lenses that rotate when focussing) (btw, is «rotate» the right word here?), take a pic of your canvas. This is the result in my example:

Polarizers vertical

The physics behind is really hard (if someone understands it, please tell), yet basically what happens is that the linearly polarized light from the flash does not change its polarization when reflected directly (and not changing its colour), but does change the polarization (randomly) when passing the paint layer, getting colourized, and leaving the paint again, passing the polarizer on the lens.

Ah, and regarding colour. The above images are directly out-of-cam. DO use a grey card. Some polarizers tend to introduce a colour cast. My images taken at 5500 K (Camera setting) and flash are white. With polarizers, they are blue. You will notice that in the mirror, when searching for the correct angle, at the correct point the flash will look dark deep blue, as here (I love autofocus):

Crossed polarizers

If not, then you are lucky and use very high-quality filters. In this case, please send me some :)

Regarding the rest — Try to use a tripod, makes life a lot easier. Close the aperture to where it is sharpest (see e.g.). If you shoot at full flash power, use a remote control since the flash duration rises upto 1/200 s and more. Use a longer focal length to keep distortion to a minimum.

By the way, you will notice the two tiny dots on the right of the image. These are magnets. I drilled holes above my door, put magnets in there, put some tape over the hole, and attach the paper with other magnets. Not the very best way since you see the magnets, but very convenient, and freaky :P

Have fun Simon

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Great job on providing a detailed description. The examples you used for the "wrong way" vs "right way" are terrific as well. Thanks! – Finer Recliner Apr 21 '11 at 23:49
One of the best answers I have read! – Francesco Jul 25 '11 at 11:28
Great answer, informative and helpful! – Global nomad Jul 25 '11 at 16:12

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