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I want to photograph about 200 acrylic paintings done by a family member who now has dementia. It's meant to be a tribute in the form of a self-published book. She had painted as a hobby her entire life and had won multiple awards over the years, and had some paintings on display in the City Hall at one point.

I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10 for this purpose. I have two floodlights that are about 5300 K.

I was following the setup and settings in "How to Photograph Artwork, Step by Step" on the Artists Network website, but the images are black:

Manual mode. RAW format. ISO 125 (lowest it can go), f8, 16000 shutter speed (fastest it can go).

I interpreted this from the guide to mean that I should set the fastest shutter speed possible (but still not clear on how everything links):

The shutter opens for a fraction of a second. The shutter speed is usually expressed as numbers such as 8, 15, 30, 60, 125, 500 and 1000. In this system, 60 means one-sixtieth of a second and 1000 means one-one-thousandth of a second. The faster the shutter speed, the better you’ll be able to freeze motion. If the camera isn’t on a tripod, don’t use a shutter speed below 60, or the motion of your body will result in blurry photos. Even with a tripod, don’t go below 30.

On (Intelligent) Auto the pictures come out fine, and the camera sets itself at 400 ISO, f2.8, and says "125" which might be the shutter speed, but I'm not sure.

Am I missing something or misunderstanding something?

UPDATE: In "P" or Program mode, the camera sets the aperture and shutter speed automatically. At 125 ISO it used f2.8 and a shutter speed of 1/30.

In "A" or Aperture-Priority mode, the camera sets the shutter speed automatically given an aperture setting. At 125 ISO and f8 it used a shutter speed of 1/4.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What makes you think f8 at 1/16000 of a second shutter speed is correct? Shooting manual doesn't mean any setting is right? Assuming you are using a tripod (you should), I don't see why you would pick a shutter speed faster than say 1/60 of a second. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eric S
    May 22, 2023 at 19:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ If the guide you were reading really says that "faster is better" (particularly for this kind of shot), it's trash. Throw it away. Not joking. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    May 22, 2023 at 19:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PhilipKendall I included the quote from the guide. My interpretation, wrongly I now suppose, was that faster was better. \$\endgroup\$
    – E2R0NS
    May 22, 2023 at 20:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ "The faster the shutter speed, the better you’ll be able to freeze motion." This does not mean always use the fastest shutter speed the camera is capable of using. It means use the fastest shutter speed you can get away with and still have proper exposure. But it's also assuming you are either hand holding the camera or shooting a moving subject. With a tripod mounted camera and a stationary subject, though, motion blur will not be affected by the shutter speed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    May 22, 2023 at 22:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ "The faster the shutter speed, the better you’ll be able to freeze motion." This is theoretically correct, however... the paintings are not moving. \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    May 23, 2023 at 10:45

3 Answers 3

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There are two things to unpick here:

  1. Why were your pictures black? The short answer is "because you didn't let enough light in", the long answer is very well covered in "what is the exposure triangle?"

  2. Have you misinterpreted your guide? Yes - what it is saying is that a faster shutter speed is better if your subject is moving as it prevents blur. If your subject isn't moving, there's no blur to prevent and you can choose your shutter speed more freely, allowing you to get enough light into the camera.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If your subject or camera is moving might be better. Likewise: "If your subject or camera isn't moving..." \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    May 22, 2023 at 22:31
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Somewhat not the question asked, but well...

Two things that are important, and you have better make a few test shots and check them before doing the full series:

Even lighting

You need to have an even lighting over you paintings. Lighting follows a square law, a part of your subject which is 20% farther from the source receives 45% less light. So your light sources have to be sufficiently far away to make these difference negligible.

Geometry

Ideally your camera lens should be exactly perpendicular to the painting. If it is not the painting won't be rectangular. This can be corrected later but you can also take a proper shot. If the painting is vertical on a wall, you can

  • measure the height of the center of the painting, set the same height for your lens axis,
  • make a line on the floor which is perpendicular to the wall, and goes through the center of the painting and put your camera over it
  • aim at the center of the painting.

There is also the mirror trick:

  • Find a small flat mirror and apply it on the center of the painting (an assistant can be necessary).
  • Aim the camera at it, and move the camera until the reflection of the camera is centered in your viewfinder.
  • Remove the mirror before the shot.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Given that the OP wants to image 300 paintings and then self publish, I'd be tempted to invest in something like a zig align, which seems to be a step up from a simple mirror. I've thought about getting one for my own tasks of capturing paintings, but the mirror trick works for me right now. \$\endgroup\$
    – Peter M
    May 23, 2023 at 13:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ One thing I'd add, is that if the painting is hung on a wall, depending on how it is hung it may not be vertical even if the wall is. A local professional I know whose offerings include digitizing artwork (in a town that is a high-end art destination in itself) uses what is effectively a gigantic copy stand with a 4' x 6' table that is known to be perpendicular to the 8' vertical camera rail \$\endgroup\$
    – Peter M
    May 23, 2023 at 13:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Lighting. The camera is 42" from the painting. The light sources are 42" behind the camera (so 84" to the painting) but 42" to the sides of the camera. The goal was to direct the lights at 45 degrees to the painting. \$\endgroup\$
    – E2R0NS
    May 23, 2023 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Lighting cont'd. 45 degrees I thought was optimal as per the guide, but on closer reading it appears as though the lights should instead be situated in line with the camera so that the lights and camera are colinear. I will try that today. \$\endgroup\$
    – E2R0NS
    May 23, 2023 at 16:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ "so that the lights and camera are colinear" No, please don't. Keep them at an angle. And the photographing process is more important than RAW conversion. If the first is done right, you barely need the second. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    May 23, 2023 at 19:09
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I did a similar project so here are my suggestions.

  1. Pick the base ISO of the camera. Generally around 100 to 200. If you don't have good lighting this will probably need to be raised, but I wouldn't go above 400.
  2. Pick an aperture of around f5.6. If lighting is marginal, you can pick a lower number, but most lenses work well at f5.6.
  3. Pick whatever shutter speed is correct for exposure. If you use aperture priority mode, the camera will do this automatically. If you get an exposure you like, you might want to use manual mode to fix the aperture and shutter speed for the rest of the images.
  4. Take one image with a Kodak Gray Card or its equivalent in the middle of the image. This will help determine exposure and color correction later on.
  5. Use a tripod. Really. For every exposure. A remote shutter release is also a good idea.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Kodak gray card is a reliable option, but far from the most cost-effective one. I like to use a QPcard and there are other good options available too \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    May 23, 2023 at 11:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ To be pedantic, the gray side of the gray card will help with exposure. The white side will help with setting the white balance. But as per osullic, nowadays there are better things than simple gray cards \$\endgroup\$
    – Peter M
    May 23, 2023 at 13:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ The gray cards are sold out. Is there an alternative? \$\endgroup\$
    – E2R0NS
    May 23, 2023 at 23:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's on a tripod leveled with the center of the painting. \$\endgroup\$
    – E2R0NS
    May 23, 2023 at 23:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ #3 How do I know if it's an exposure I like? After I take the pics in RAW I thought I should hire someone to process them correctly for the book. What's best do you think? \$\endgroup\$
    – E2R0NS
    May 23, 2023 at 23:52

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