Making Pictures With Professional Photographer John Enman

Are you using the wrong photographic tools?

Today I saw an awful photograph of a local painter’s work sitting on my landlord’s work desk when I went into her office to get some tape and saw that photo was under the roll.

I thought about it as I returned to my shop, and remembered when an organization asked me if I could save a picture that couldn’t be retaken and was also poorly photographed by someone that I will say was “using the wrong photographic tools”.

Using the wrong tool usually leads to unacceptable results in one way or another, for example, when a butter knife is substituted for a screwdriver.

A local artist group asked me if I could save any of the photographs taken of a member’s winning painting. The painting had been sold and couldn’t be rephotographed and they needed a good 8×10 print plus a JPG that could be used in their newsletter.

The painting was initially photographed straight on, but that resulted in a bright white reflection in the middle from the flash that obscured the painting. The photographer then tried several shots from the side to reduce the glare, but only produced unusable foreshortened pictures. By that I mean, the closest frame edge was large and distorted and the far frame edge was small.

The photographer tried several shots, always with unacceptable results then gave up.

A camera with an on-camera flash will produce glare on reflective surfaces and angled shots don’t make for a good documentation of flat artwork because things close to the camera lens appear larger and those farther away become smaller. It was the “wrong tool”.

The “right tool” would have been a camera using an off-camera flash (or better yet, flashes) set away from the painting at a 45-degree angle. Personally, I would have diffused the flash in some way, either by placing some translucent material in front of it or bouncing the light off a large white card or wall. In any case, the light needs to softly and broadly, not sharply, illuminate the painting surface.

The beauty of digital technology is how quickly one can review the image and retake the photo if needed. I also recommend taking several shots at different apertures and for that the “right tool” is also a camera that one is able to set to manual exposure.

When photographing oil paintings or other uneven reflective surfaces I prefer working with slightly under exposed image files. That way I can bring the detail up using a post-production program without loosing the highlights.

If there isn’t access to an off-camera flash, wait until the painting can be placed in “flat” daylight.

As I write this it is cloudy and overcast outside. Today would be a good day to have photographed that painting. Place the painting on any support that will allow tilting right, left, up, and down. Then as exposures are made and checked for reflection the painting can be moved around until there is no reflection.

With regards to that photo I copied and worked on. Many programs have the means to realign the diagonals of a painting photographed from it’s side, not perfectly, but good enough for the small website picture.

The 8×10 enlargement took a bit more effort for fear of distorting the painting’s subject matter. Again, that’s not perfect either as the outside frame looked a bit wonky, but the painting looked proper. However, The best outcome would have been to use the right tool and make a good photograph at the beginning.

These are my thoughts for this week. Contact me at or Stop by Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops. I sell an interesting selection of used photographic equipment. Don’t hesitate to call me at 250-371-3069.

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