I'd like to photograph some paintings so that the photos can be used to make giclée prints. Any tips to getting the truest color? I heard that with regular film, a long exposure gives you the truest color. However, I think I read somewhere (can't remember where) that in digital, long exposures actually can give you less-than-true color. Anything else I should keep in mind?

Also — these paintings are NOT behind glass. They are currently unframed. Most of what I've seen on the web has been advice for paintings that are behind glass. Thanks in advance!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Gasp! Don't tell any artists! \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 18:52

1 Answer 1


To photograph artwork, you'll need as flat and uniform a lighting setup as possible. Ideally, four lights from each corner to minimize any variation. You should use an incident meter to verify that the the light varies by no more than 1/4 stop across the artwork.

You don't need to use softboxes - bare bulbs are sufficient, if placed far enough away to minimize falloff. Minor differences due to age and color of softboxes can result in varying color temperature across your scene. This is less likely with bare bulbs. Make sure that the flash tubes are not too different - you can test this by shooting images of a grey card illuminated with each light, in turn. You should have a white balance temperature variation no greater than 150-200K, 100K if you're lucky.

Once you have the lighting set up, use a Gretag Macbeth color checker to obtain a reference color image, which you can use to profile your camera for the specific lighting setup.

Export images to 16-bit TIFF and Adobe 1998 color space - this should be more than enough for clients.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! What about using natural light? I had thought about setting up outdoors in a bright but shaded area. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris123
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 18:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Natural light is fine, as long as you can ensure that it is even (with an incident meter, or by eye if you can tell these kinds of things), and that it will not vary during the duration of your shoot. The last part is important if you are to profile your camera - a step in which the illuminant should be kept constant. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 21:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ That "profile your camera" link is intense, wow. +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 18:42

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