Among the myriad of projects you can take on as a photographer, possibly one of the most technical of them is making a photographic copy of an artwork. It can be challenging to reproduce all the colors and elements of a painting, for example, in the most faithful and accurate way possible. If you find yourself tasked with this mission, we may have just the right video tutorial for you.
Photographing artwork isn’t as simple as pointing a camera at a painting, taking a series of shots, and choosing the best to post-process. It actually involves a lot of technical mastery and attention to detail. Alastair Bird, who describes himself as a usually non-technical photographer, shows us exactly how technical it gets in his video below.
Some may not agree, but Alastair believes that photographing artwork is one of the most technical and objective disciplines for the, since you’re essentially reproducing an object as you see it. Another important thing he brought up is the issue of copyright — technically, you’re not allowed to just reproduce and display it. But if you’re commissioned to make a copy by the artist himself or his estate, like our photographer here was, it shouldn’t be a problem. When in doubt, you can always ask for legal advice, just to be safe.
Now, as for the process involved in photographing artwork, Alastair mentions three key things: hanging and keeping the painting level, positioning your camera in such a way that you avoid or minimize the keystone effect, and using a long macro lens like the Sigma 70mm f2.8 DG Macro featured in the video. Measurements for the placement of the camera are also necessary to make sure that the sensor of the camera squarely faces the center of the painting.
Next comes the lighting. This kind of project requires an even lighting, so two identical lights set to produce identical output are placed around the same distance as the camera. These are fired onto two V-Flats placed on either side of the lights to help make the lighting as even as possible. Use a color checker to set your white balance. Then, you’re ready to shoot!
For more photography tips and videos from Alastair Bird, don’t forget to check out and subscribe to his YouTube channel!
Screenshot image from the video by Alastair Bird