I enjoyed photographing this painting by Keith Minnion, my father-in-law and über-talented artist, who was commissioned to create the painting for a Neil Gaiman poster. There's pretty much nothing I can take credit for here besides taking the photo - I didn't paint it, I didn't do the graphic design, nor did I do anything else creative. All I did was set up the painting, light it correctly, and click a button.
Below is the shot I came-away with. This is really simple stuff and pretty much anyone with a camera and a light can do it.
Quick and dirty guide to photographing a painting:
- Use a prime lens to minimize distortion. Both pincushion and barrel are common in zoom lenses.
- Diffuse the light by bouncing it off multiple walls and/or a ceiling. Its not a portrait, the goal isn't to add light, its simply to capture what's on the canvas. Light illuminates and shadows define, all we want to do is add light and not shadows, which means our light must source must be unidentifiable. Basically, we don't want there to be a giant hot-spot on the upper-left corner of the painting due to our light source coming from the upper-left. That will ruin the look of the original painting, not something we want to do.
- Use your camera's guides in the viewfinder. If you dig through your camera's settings, you're going to find an option to add guidelines into the viewfinder. This will help you know what's straight and what isn't. I cannot stress enough just how important this feature is to a photographer who's trying to recreate an object with straight edges. If you line up two corners alone the guides, odds are you're going to be able to line-up the other two as well. If you don't turn those guidelines on, you'll be shocked to see just how far-off you were from being square.
- Edit the final file with the artist in the room. They know what each color is supposed to look like, so instead of exchanging 20 emails and doing it wrong a bunch of times, just sit down with them and do it right the first time. Just because you think the contrast should be stronger to make the browns and yellows play off each other more, it doesn't mean the artist wants it to look that way.
- Remove your artistic expression from the equation. Rarely would a photographer want to do this, but in this particular case, you aren't the star here, the artist is. People typically hire you to photograph people, places, things, concepts, etc because they want to see your visual opinion. But in this case, you're being hired for your technical abilities, not your creative abilities. For this one instance, your camera, your knowledge of light, and your skills in post-production are what you're being hired for, not your original thought. For every other project, the attributes mentioned are secondary to your creativity, but not this one.
Feel free to purchase the poster at www.whitenoisepress.com. Lots of other really cool products at his web store too.
In the spirit of Gaiman's 8 rules for writing, here are 4 of mine for photography:
- Shoot one picture after another.
- Edit what you shoot.
- Keep shooting.