Thanks to previous advice, I'm going to start photographing my 2d artwork (not behind glass) using the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens.

I'm operating in a room with no natural light so I have complete control over lighting. Unlike this question, the artworks will not be behind glass. I currently have no off-camera lighting of any kind.

I'd like to know:

  1. What sort of lighting set-up should I attempt? One answer suggests studio strobes set at 45 degree angles from the artwork with polarizing filters on both the lens and strobes, the polarizing filters should be adjusted to reduce the glare on the artwork. This seems in accordance with how works behind glass should be photographed. Are there other setups I should consider? Should I reconsider and use another room that has natural light?
  2. What exact products are we talking about here? As someone starting from scratch and not loaded with cash, what do I need (e.g. lights, polarizers, stands, etc.)? Specific product recommendations would be greatly appreciated, as I know nothing about lighting.
  3. If I am using stobes or flashes, am I able to have tungsten ceiling lights on when taking the photo to aid focusing? Otherwise, how do I go about focusing in a dark room?

3 Answers 3

  1. The lighting setup depends entirely on the type and qualities of the artwork you're trying to photograph. If the texture is important e.g. you want to be able to see the brushstrokes then oblique lighting (e.g. 45 degrees) with a bare lightsource would be best. If on the other hand you want to avoid picking up texture a frontal lightsource with diffuser would be best. Also is the artwork itself shiny? If so you might need to follow the instructions for shooting behind glass.

  2. You don't necessarily need a lot of gear, if you're mounting the camera on a tripod a standard (non strobe) lamp could be used with a longer exposure (you'll want to stop down to f/5.6 for sharpness). Beware of fluorescent bulbs as these distort colours. Ideally you should be using a colour checker chart as part of a fully colour calibrated workflow. Using strobes would be more convenient as you can get shorter exposures and proper stands / accessories, but it depends on your budget.

  3. If using strobes you should be able to keep the room lights on to focus as they'll be a hundred times dimmer so won't show up in the photos.

  • I forgot to add that the strobes were angled at 45 degrees either side. I never shot with glass on unless I was doing a lith negative. 45 degrees will also kill off reflections from shiny surfaces
    – JamWheel
    Feb 16, 2011 at 14:27
  • By a standard (non strobe) lamp could be used with a longer exposure do you mean a non-photographic "continuous" light? I was hoping that might be an answer :)
    – fmark
    Feb 16, 2011 at 22:13
  • 1
    Yes I meant a continuous source. It's not ideal, it really depends on your budget. You want either an incandescent bulb (i.e. a non energy saver) or a florescent specifically designed for photography. More than one light is helpful for an even coverage, to do it with one light you need to place your lightsource a decent distance away which reduces the power output...
    – Matt Grum
    Feb 16, 2011 at 22:49
  • If I go down the continuous route, do I likely want a spotlight type light or something more diffuse? Or does this depend entirely on the art?
    – fmark
    Feb 17, 2011 at 13:04
  • It depends on the art, but most of the time a hard point source will be best.
    – Matt Grum
    Feb 17, 2011 at 17:14

I actually used to do this all the time as part of my day job.

We had a camera mount onto which we fitted a 5"x4" bellows camera looking directly down onto the artwork. Either side of the camera we had on stands 1 strobe (1 strobe each side angled at 45 degrees) with a cone around it to direct the flash. These were powered from a strobe pack which was linked to the camera.

The strobe equipment I can't really help you with (this was a while back - film and transparency :) and my memory has robbed me of power settings and the names of the flash units) but 2 normal remotely triggered flash units would do the job pretty well for reasonable sized art.

I had studio sized equipment but I was photographing huge bits of artwork and sometimes 300 hundred or more at a time (endless endless trips to load and unload 2 sheet film 5 x 4 film holders lol)


If your artwork is small, you could manage with small, portable flashes. They provide more than enough light for your needs!

I don't know much about modifiers, so I can't help you with that. I'm sure, though, that there are speedlight-fitting modifiers available that fit your needs.

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