Every day we receive numerous e-mails from people asking about their works of art, but rarely do they include an image. I, then, either call or e-mail the individual and ask for a photograph. The normal reply is “I tried to take a photo but the entire image was washed/glared out.” This glare (hotspot) is a common problem for people who have never tried to photograph a painting before. Have no fear; taking a decent photograph is not that difficult.
The main problem with most photographs is that the photographer usually stands directly in front of the work and snaps an image using a flash. Due to the direct angle of the shot, the camera picks up the glare caused by the flash bouncing off the front of the canvas. This, in turn, washes or glares out the image. An easy fix is to take the photograph from the right or left side of the painting (on a slight angle) … this will allow the flash to bounce away from the camera – preventing that bright spot on the photograph. The only problem is that now the image in your photograph is slightly distorted ... due to the angled shot.
In order for you to obtain proper images of a work of art you need to determine what the photograph is going to be used for. If your work is going to be featured in a publication, then I would suggest that you hire a professional photographer. They will have the right equipment to take the ‘perfect’ photograph.
If you need the images just for your records or you want to show the work to someone, then you can do the photography yourself --- here are some helpful hints to get the best result possible.
To begin with, you need to determine if the work can easily be moved from its current location (hopefully hanging on a wall), to either an area near a window or outdoors (on a bright day). The reason for this is that natural daylight will light the work evenly and allow you to take the photograph without a flash … an important step in removing the glare. Please note that you will need to position the work so that the sunlight does not cause any ‘hotspots’.
Next you need to decide what type of camera you are going to use so that you can make sure that your pictures will be in focus; a blurry photograph is just as bad as one that is glared out! The three standard cameras that are often used today are disposable, SLR (35mm), and digital. For those of you who do not own a digital or SLR your easiest option is the disposable; it can be purchased at a local photography, gift or drug store. If this is your choice, then please keep the following in mind. Disposable cameras have fixed lenses and cannot be focused or adjusted in any way. Make sure you read the directions concerning the recommended distance between the camera and subject; if you are too close or too far, the images will be out of focus. You must also be aware of the correct amount of light needed to operate properly without the flash. Once you have set up the shot, take a number of photographs from different distances within the recommended range – you will find that even within the correct range of distance, some images will be sharper than others.
Should you have access to a regular 35mm or digital camera, then you have more flexibility and your results will be far superior. Most of these cameras allow you to adjust the aperture, speed, focus and distance so that you can take the photographs from a variety of distances, even in lower levels of light, with sharp even results. It is advisable to take a photograph of the entire work (frame and all), as well as a full image of the back, and detail shots of the signature, important areas of the painting and any labels on the reverse ... the more information you can record, the better.
As I am sure you are all aware, the one great advantage a digital camera has over the disposable and SLR is ‘instant gratification’ – you will be able to see your results immediately and can determine if you need to make any adjustments. The digital camera also allows you to easily load the images to a computer and e-mail/print them if need be.
In the end, if you take a little time preparing for the shoot, your photographs will turn out pretty good!
While we are on the topic of photography, once again I suggest that you take photographs of all your valuable possessions and keep those photos in a safe place. Should anything every happen to something you own, good photographic records are hard to beat!
Since many of you are fans of Louis Aston Knight I thought I would inform you about a recent art theft in South Carolina that included a small group of Aston Knight watercolors.
In the early part of the 20th century, the financier Bernard Baruch had a winter home in South Carolina called Hobcaw Barony. While living there, Baruch invited Aston Knight to this home and Knight produced a number of works … three of which, were among the stolen works of art. The three paintings are views of the home and grounds and I believe should be somewhat difficult to sell on the open market.
Along with the Knights were a number of prints by Audubon and paintings by the British sporting artist A.J. Munnings. In total the works are worth in excess of $1 million … with no signs of forced entry, law enforcement believes it was probably an inside job!
Just a quick reminder that the Americans in Paris: 1850-1910 show opens at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art on September 4th. The show will not only feature the works of many American artists who went to study, work and exhibit in Paris (e.g. Daniel Ridgway Knight, Childe Hassam, Kenyen Cox, and Mary Cassatt), but also some outstanding paintings by the French artists, including Jean-Léon Gérôme, Julien Dupré, William A. Bouguereau, Camille Corot and Jean-François Millet, who were among their teachers and principal sources of inspiration.
In a last minute scramble the museum found itself short a few works and we were able to secure two additional paintings for them – Daniel Ridgway Knight’s Confidence, an important work featuring Maria and Madeleine in a garden at Rolleboise, and Emile Munier’s Essai de l’Eau.
If you cannot visit the museum to see the exhibit, I strongly recommend that you contact the museum’s shop at 405-278-8233 and order a copy of the catalogue. I am sure that once they are sold out, it will become a collector’s item. As we all know, books on this period of art are hard to find today.
Howard L. Rehs
© Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York City: September 2003
Gallery Updates: This month we have added paintings by the following artists to our site: Louis Aston Knight, Karl Witkowski, Édouard Cortès, Antoine Blanchard, and Sally Swatland.
Virtual Exhibitions: This month we have added a wonderful work to Rehs Galleries: A Visual History – Francis William Warwick Topham’s Young Girl on a Swing. This wonderful example of late British Victorian genre painting features a young girl on a swing under a flowering tree and was sold by the gallery in 1985. The direct URL is:
Francis William Warwick Topham’s Young Girl on a Swing
Since our last newsletter we have sold a number of paintings by many of our favorite artists. Images of most of these works have been added to their respective Virtual Exhibitions; among them were: two early Antoine Blanchards, two beautiful works by Sally Swatland, a wonderful pair of paintings by the British landscape artist William Mellor and a Eugene Galien Laloue.
Next Month: Still thinking!