Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

Techniques - How to take a picture of a painting without glare through glass

Q. Is there a way to shoot through glass without problem?

A. Of course the best photo will be one taken before the painting is framed and under glass. But, in the situation where there is no other go, there’s a solution. This method years ago from Deborah Christensen Secor, artist and contributing editor to The Pastel Journal, and have used it a number of times for  reference photos of small, framed paintings. It doesn’t work for paintings that have more than a 12×16-inch image area, however.

You’ll need an easel to hold the framed painting firmly in a perfectly vertical position, a tripod and camera, a couple of good lights, a full sheet of black Fome-Cor and a friend to help you.

Position the easel and tripod so that you have a perfectly straight view of the painting, and zoom in to eliminate as much of the mat and frame as possible. Make certain everything is squared so there’s no parallax or skewing of the image of the painting. Turn your camera’s flash off. If you’re shooting outdoors, no additional light should be needed. If you must shoot indoors, set up two light stands, one on each side of and a little behind the tripod, and focus the lights onto the painting. Focus the camera, but don’t click the shutter yet.

Take the sheet of black Fome-Cor and cut out a circle in the center that’s just barely big enough to allow the lens of your camera to poke through. Don’t be tempted to use a small piece of Fome-Cor; it needs to be about twice the size of the painting in order to block all the potential reflection. Hold the camera firmly in position, and have your friend hold the Fome-Cor in front of it, positioning it so the lens extends through the hole as shown in the illustration below, left. At this point you won’t be able to see through your viewfinder, so just shoot the image. The large area of black just in front of the painting eliminates the bounce and the reflection of light. The closer the camera is to the painting, the more likely you’ll eliminate glare.

If you’re using a digital camera, you’ll be able to see the results quickly and determine if an additional shot is necessary. If you’re using film, you’ll have to wait until it’s developed to confirm that you have a good shot, so snap a few. I don’t recommend this method for making slides to enter into competitions, as the glass will slightly distort or fuzz the image. For your own record of your work, however, it works well enough.


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