Through my recent participation at the Whittier Art Gallery, I have gained better appreciation for the challenges of photographing 2D art (paintings, primarily) to be featured in artist websites and other online galleries. When capturing someone else’s (or even your own) art, we are no longer interpreting, but rather we want to capture as accurate as possible a representation of what the artist created. We are primarily concerned with two difficulties, perspective (as in, capturing the piece squarely), and color accuracy. We will deal with color in the next installment.
First, one must ensure that the plane of the camera and the plane of the 2 dimensional piece (canvas, etc.) are parallel. Don’t stand to the side, underneath or above the piece, but rather, ensure the edges of the piece’s frame line up (are parallel) to the edges of your viewfinder. This is relatively easy, and can become easier through the use of a tripod to incrementally adjust camera height and angle, and then fix it, with the added advantage that a tripod makes for a steadier, non-blurry photograph.
The next step is to select a lens and focal length that will keep the 2D piece’s edges not only plum, but also straight. The difficulty here comes when one discovers how most lenses, especially those in the consumer range, create either barrel or pincushion distortion. This next image, shot at a wide angle, shows barrel distortion.
The next two samples, shot with a lens that suffers from quite a bit of distortion, show the pincushion effect. While this effect can be removed with software, it’s best to minimize it as you capture the photo.
This next image tries a different, prime 50mm lens. Unfortunately, it displays quite a bit of barrel distortion.
In comparison, look at how this next lens does at the same 50mm focal length: much better, but with a tad more pin cushion effect than we would like.
Fortunately, at 70mm, it gives us an acceptable result.
Some take-aways from these samples:
- Play around with different focal lengths on your particular lens until you minimize barrel or pin cushion distortion.
- It’s difficult to generalize, but stay away from the long or wide end of your lens: usually the optimum point is somewhere in between.
The shot we picked above isn’t perfect, and part of it’s imperfection is that I didn’t properly make all the edges square. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to correct this in software, as shown here.
Then, we crop and re-size for the web, and we are ready for display in the online portfolio.