Photographing Encaustic Painting

This is a big subject, and one on which there has been much written (see “Read Up” below). I would not presume to say I am the authority on this subject, but I do have a little experience with photography. While I could hire a professional photographer, it is a costly option. However, if I could raise my own bees for wax, certainly I could learn to photograph my encaustic paintings? Right?

I started with a point and shoot digital camera and got nowhere fast. Issues of depth of field, distortion, shadows, lighting and glare were tantamount. It was clear that I could not do this alone.

I phoned my friend, Diane the photography enthusiast, and the two of us collaborated to get my work shot. It took a few relatively painless and affordable days to complete. Perhaps you have a friend who is a photography-enthusiast?

Equipment

  • An SLR camera (I have a Canon EOS 5D and think it’s a great camera; lots of folks use Minolta, Olympus, or Nikon cameras too)
  • A lens that can open up a lot (has an f/stop of 2.8 – 1.4) and close down a lot (max f/stop of 22 or higher.) You might also look into a macro lens based on the size of your art, the smaller the art, the more you need a macro lens
  • Tripods (2)

For artwork, you’ll want to diffuse light as much as possible, however that needs to happen:

  • Umbrellas
  • Soft box with boom arm
  • Fill cards
  • Clamps
  • Spot lights
  • Flash(es)
  • Seamless roll of paper or fabric or both and guides to hold the seamless
  • A table top

Environments

In shooting my art, I was looking to accomplish two things:
- shoot my work in context in an environment to be featured on Kara Brook Art and in sales materials
- to shoot my work against a seamless backdrop to show the detail in the work with no background distraction.

We started with a lesson from Piper Watson. She made it clear that there is not “one way to shoot artwork”. Piper prepared a stack of handouts of information including:

Camera Modes
Aperture
Exposure

Among other tips and sites to learn more about:

Lighting
Digital Photography
A photography Community to join
The best place to buy equipment

Next we got started in the studio. We set up a seamless backdrop; a couple of wireless flashes; made a snoot out of cardboard, a portable fill card, a soft box, 2 fill umbrellas and a task light in the studio and actually got some interesting results It took a couple of hours to achieve this shot.

On the next shoot, we decided to focus on using natural daylight, the easiest, fastest and most efficient method. A window covered by a sheer blind achieved optimum photographic results (rather than setting up a seamless backdrop). We used a tripod for most of the shots and experimented with depth of field, by “stopping down” the camera and checking images as we created them to determine what was working best. We shot everything in “RAW” format. This allows for easy “repair” with optimum image integrity in the post-production process.

To avoid distortion, Diane propped the artwork against a post and shot at an angle. I was surprised at how little work was necessary in Photoshop to adjust lens distortion on the image.

For works on paper, I actually went to FedEx/Kinkos and used their large format scanner for the best possible results, extremely cost-effectively.

Our last shoot, we went outdoors later in the afternoon, on a cloudy day and shot some beautiful environmental images.

Note

Encaustic paintings are often polished to achieve a high gloss finish (read: glare). I allowed all paintings and sculptures to “bloom” and did not polish anything in advance of the photo shoots. This helped in the “repair” process in Photoshop and Lightroom.

Post-Production

After all the photographs were shot, I called every shot into Adobe Lightroom. Piper gave both Diane and I a lesson in this application for approximately 1 hour. Lightroom allowed me to get organized much more quickly than Photoshop. I was able to batch “repair” images and adjust highlights and contrast without knowing much of the application. I do however have some experience with Photoshop (novice) and I am sure that helped me through this learning curve. I was surprised at how easy it was to work with Lightroom.

Read up

Photographing Your Artwork
How to Photograph Your Artwork
How to shoot paintings
How to photograph for a portfolio or Internet

Watch

Shooting 2D Art
Photographing your 3D art
Shooting outside

Encaustic Painting 101 Series


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