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Photography Question 

How to Avoid Glare from Flash on Paintings

I am having problems photographing byzantine icons. These are either framed in glass or not, and they have golden or silver areas. As I cannot move them from their place (they are hanged in churches and some of them are 2m high and 1m wide), the natural light is not enough, so I use a diffuser and a flash to light them but there appear areas that are more lighted than others. Any idea how to get rid of them during the photographing? Which is the proper arrangement of the equipment (diffuser etc.)? I use a digital SLR.

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5/6/2005 2:34:36 PM

Laura Roth   I would perhaps suggest:
-Use a tripod
-Turn off the flash
-Set your camera on an aperture priority mode so that it'll set a longer shutter speed to expose for natural light.
That's about all that might help, other than setting up a large extra light (don't think churches would go for that).

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5/9/2005 12:13:31 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Greetings Dimitris: I photograph a lot of artwork for reproduction in books and catalogs - mostly paintings, both oil and watercolor. I'll offer the whole technique; then you can pick and choose what aspect, if any, you want to try.
To do this right, you first need the painting at camera level, set on an easel or some kind of table that you can make plumb, square and level to the camera lens. Likewise, the camera has to be square, plumb and level to the painting. A view camera works best for this, although I've pulled it off using 35mm and medium formats as well. A tripod, as Laura mentioned, is pretty much mandatory, as is a lens hood or lens shade. A tape measure, or some kind of laser-measuring device for checking distances, is handy to have too.
Your lighting has to be balanced, and equal. Remember that angle of incidence is equal to angle of reflection. I usually use two studio lights of 1000 w/s each, having UV coated flash tubes or UV filter on your lens. Organic pigments used in oil colors tend to fluoresce under UV light, and that fluorescence causes parts of the painting to appear as though they're glowing and color shift.
The lights are positioned at 45 degrees to either side of the camera, set equal distance from the centerline of the picture.
Using a diffuser isn't much help, because all that does is soften the light output. If it's not set at a proper angle to the work, you'll still see hot spots or glare, or some areas of the painting may be washed out. And to avoid that you need balanced lighting anyway, from two sources.
If either your lights aren't set correctly, (and doing this well with an on camera flash is nearly impossible) or if your picture is out of square to the camera, then chances are you'll see some kind of glare or unwanted reflection in the final image. If the painting is framed in glass, it's still doable but much trickier. Most of the time, I have the gallery or artist remove the glass. Even a polarizing filter isn't much help photographing art work because the colors or contrast are inaccurate.
Also, in at least one frame of each painting, I attach a color card and Kodak gray scale card to the tops of the frame to help the printer match the color or find the right contrast for reproduction.
In situations where you can't move the painting, then you need to go to it. In a church, that may involve using something like a rolling scaffold with lights clamped to either side of the support rail. We did that recently for a series of churches in New Jersey. It also included shooting all the stained glass for Dow Corning. YIKES!!! Compared to that, the paintings were a piece of cake. It's all about knowing how to use, what type to use, how much to use, and how to control your lighting.
Take it errrr ... light ;>)

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5/9/2005 1:45:07 PM

Kim Moyle   I read about a cool technique for getting rid of glare but never had a chance to try it, its pretty low tech and seems easy to pull off. Simple take a large sheet of black paper and cut a lens sized hole through it, then simply shoot through the hole, as long as the black paper is the same size or larger then the icon then there shouldn't be any glare. You will have to use off camera lighting, but the black paper should cut back on any ambient lighting that you may not be able to controll.

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5/10/2005 6:02:46 AM

Maria Melnyk   Hi, Dimitris. I am Byzantine Catholic and we have the same icons in our churches. No need for artificial lighting. I use Laura's technique (available light, tripod, no flash), and I use a blue filter to compensate for the tungsten lighting. I don't do digital yet, so I don't know much about white balance & stuff. I use an 80A for slide film, but for print film I use 82B and the lab takes care of any remainding color cast.

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5/10/2005 10:36:55 AM

Joe    I have shot a lot of paintings and I find that the best way is to use two softboxes (larger than the painting's height). Set them on either side of the painting pointing directly at each other (parallel to the painting). This will wash light across the painting and produce no glare since the angle of incidence won't point back to your camera. Put the camera on a tripod, use a long lens (I used to use a 360mm on my 4x5 view camera) and use a lens hood. Use black artboard to shield the lens from the lights if you don't have a hood. It also helps to shoot in a dimly-lit or dark room since the sheen of the painting (especially oil or acrylic) will pick up specular highlights from ambient light sources. Hope this helps. Using these techniques will yield very saturated colors. If you are shooting digital, invest in a $5 gray card to properly white balance the camera for the lighting used and you should come up real accuarate. Good luck!

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5/10/2005 2:03:34 PM

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