Oct 11, 2005

How to use a Camera to Duplicate Art

The Art of Copying
By Kenneth Hoffman

Your grandma just left you an oil painting and you need a few copies; one for appraisal purposes and two for your siblings who would love to have a copy, too. A trip to the professional photographer involves a set up fee, print cost, and a negative that is unavailable for sale. The painting is too big for a flat bed scanner so digital copies are not feasible. One solution is to copy it yourself.

A good 35mm SLR camera with a normal lens will probably focus to two and one half feet. Even better is a six or eight megapixel DSLR or EVF camera. Use an ISO setting of 100 or slower. Critical is the correct use of lighting. Allowing the surface texture to show in your copies prevents displaying the true color and values of the picture. Ideally, two identical incandescent lamps in reflectors angled at forty-five degrees will minimize surface reflections. Place the painting vertically and line up the camera on a tripod exactly perpendicular to the painting. An alternative is to use the sun at a forty to fifty degree angle. Any other unbalanced source (single) is to be avoided.

Fill the view finder to about 80% of the viewfinder and check to see that all edges are parallel. The circle of light cast by the lamps determines the distance from the lights to the picture. Make sure all of the painting surface is evenly lit. Use an 80B filter with outdoor film or set your digital white balance at incandescent. A filter is not needed if electronic flash is the source of light. Electronic flash must be metered with a flash meter or calculated using the guide on the back of the flash. Equalize the distance from each flash to the center of the painting and aim the center of the cone of light at the furthest edge of the painting. Bracket your exposure one stop over and under the recommended F stop. F8 or F11 are the sharpest F stops.

The resulting proofs are NOT a good guide to choosing the negative with the best quality. If a digital camera was used then print a small test picture before making the enlargement. When viewed over a well lit white surface, it is not too difficult to choose the negative with the best color and contrast. A slight increase in contrast is generally considered a plus. When done properly, it is difficult for the average person to tell the difference between the copy and the original when viewed from a normal distance.

The digital world changed only the tools.