Taking pictures of paintings

Brian Edmonds writes:

I am trying to take pictures of paintings in my studio. I am having trouble with hot spots and dead spots. I have tried angling the lights but I get a little of both. I am using a canon digital camera that allows for changing settings but only has the snapshot flash. I would also like to take these digital pictures and turn them into slides. I know there are companies that do this do you have any suggestions?

I have read your blog entries but do not know which suggestion applies to me. I am an amateur photographer but I can usually manipulate things enough to get by. My studio has natural light fluorescent bulbs. Should I try to use these lights in combo with the angled lights or should I try to use only the angled lights?
Thank you in advance.

Truly frustrated,

Brian Edmonds

Hi Brian,

Taking pictures of paintings is a tricky subject. While it looks simple when thinking of it, going into the practical setup can be rather tricky.

There are a few setups you can use to take picture of painting. I think that the easiest way is to take your pictures out side to a shady location and take the shots.

If you insist on taking the shots in a studio (and I can see a few reasons for insisting so) here are my recommendations.

  1. Use a tripod. Even if you are using a flash, and can go to high shooting speeds, using a tripod will help you verify that your camera is completely parallel to the painting.
  2. You can use the setup up suggested in the diagram below. It has two strobes with umbrellas. If you don’t have two strobes you can use continuous lighting, just make sure you use the correct white balance – use a gray card.
    I have left angle "A" as a "variable" as it depends on the size of your painting. For small painting I’d go with "traditional" 45 degrees. For larger paintings I’d use a wider angle. When playing around with angles make sure that the strobes are not angled too wide. This will cause the light to skim your painting, reducing brightness and creating uneven lighting (brighter on the edges). Also make sure that both strobes are set t the same output levels and positioned in the same distance from the painting.
Taking pictures of paintings diagram

Best of Luck,



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