Best way to photograph paintings with iPhone
June 28, 2016 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Hey iPhonographers, I need to take a bunch of photos of paintings (6x4 feet) and drawings (18x10 inches) with my iPhone. How can I get close to taking professional shots? The setting for the large paintings will be outdoors, and I will have a helper to hold the art vertical. The drawings can be flat indoors, but domestic lighting. I can buy a few items (like a tripod) but not an expensive light kit. I have an iPhone 5.
posted by nologo to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can you be more specific about what your needs are for these photos? That will help determine whether what you're talking about is even possible. What do you want to do with the photos once you have them?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:58 PM on June 28, 2016

The photos are intended to be documentation of the paintings, as an artist might include in a portfolio. I realize a photog studio would be the ideal, but what is next best? thank you!
posted by nologo at 1:01 PM on June 28, 2016

Is borrowing a DSLR or other good camera from a friend an option?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:04 PM on June 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

So are we talking big, 18"x24" or so prints, intended to be examined closely by a trained and critical eye? That would be hard to do well with just an iPhone 5, a tripod, and cheap or natural lighting. I don't think I personally would be able to get that to come out at a standard I was happy with. If your needs are less critical though, then you might be able to make something happen. I'm short on time now, but your answer is going to involve some combination of a tripod, a timer, and a couple 500-watt halogen lights (or direct sunlight). Also Photoshop, to tune the colors, crop out the background, and correct for lens distortion.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:10 PM on June 28, 2016

Do you have even natural lighting in the studio? Can you build or buy an easel for art support?

If you need a clutter-free background, get a roll of white seamless paper. Buy, modify, or build a tripod that will hold your iphone, or better yet borrow a camera. You could probably also find a friend who will work trade for sketches or a small piece in exchange for taking the photos and cleaning them up for you if you're not confident in your setup or abilities.
posted by a halcyon day at 1:12 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

See if your phone has a document mode. This is designed to prevent rectangular documents (or paintings) from becoming trapezoids in pictures. Obviously you'll still want to make sure your phone is 100% parallel to the plane of the painting and that the lens is centred on the painting.

of course what the colour is like in document mode is anyone's guess, since it's mostly intended for text documents, I imagine.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:03 PM on June 28, 2016

Borrowing a better camera will give you better results.

You might build some homebrew lights using LED or florescent bulbs - the ones that are three to four foot long tubes. Joe Edelman has some good guides. One on each side might provide good, relatively even lighting.
posted by Candleman at 2:22 PM on June 28, 2016

If you're shooting a 6 x 4 oil painting without studio equipment, you're almost guaranteed to have glare/refracted light bounce off the painting, which is not correctable. I know! It's a drag. You either have to invest in equipment or have it done, if you want something reproducible.
posted by artdrectr at 5:40 PM on June 28, 2016

Do the photography on a sunny day but place the paintings in the shade (solid shade from a building or something, not dappled tree-shade). Hold the iphone so it's parallel to the painting, and position the iphone so it's in the center of the painting vertically and horizontally. Now use the edges of the phone's screen and try and make the edges of the painting line up with the edges of the phone screen. Do this ~20 times for each painting, hopefully one or two will be good quality.

For the drawings put them in the shade like the paintings, but put them on the ground. Stand on a chair or something and lean out over the drawings, do the same line up and multiple shots technique.

It's going to be hard to get these looking great with an iphone. The limiting factor here isn't a light kit or a tripod it's the iphone.
posted by gregr at 5:47 PM on June 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

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