Technical standards for photographing art
My extensive technical knowledge comes in very handy when photographing art. Many factors affect the quality of the final image. The choice of equipment is important, so I use the most reliable and stable light sources and a professional-calibre camera. Next, the light must be measured and adjusted to not only serve the object but to avoid any unnecessary reflections. Calibration is done using standard colour charts: all photos are provided with a specific colour profile. Thanks to all these steps taken on location and while editing on the computer, it’s possible to print the photos with a predictable result.
Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665) Mauritshuis, The Hague, photographed in extremely high resolution, (detail of her right eye).
The quality standard and approach were determined in close consultation with the Mauritshuis in The Hague: with the aim of making high-quality images that can ultimately be used for a variety of purposes. Photos I’ve taken for them can be viewed via their website.
Sometimes more than just standards and measurements are needed. A good example is when a painting is framed under glass. Ideally, we would like to see the artwork without shadows at the edges of the frame or bothersome reflections in the glass.
Cornelis Troost, There Was a Commotion in the House (c. 1739-1740) pastel and gouache on paper on canvas, 58 x 73 cm from the Mauritshuis collection in The Hague. Shot in the frame behind glass. In this case additional technical adjustments are required: so the painting appears in the photograph how you see it in real life.
Jan van Scorel, Haarlem Brotherhood of Jerusalem Pilgrims (1528) oil on panel, 114 x 275.7 cm, Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem.
This is an example of a challenge I often come up against: a very large painting is hanging in a rather small space in comparison, and there’s no possibility to move the work to another location. There is a risk that the light sources will end up in the image or cause dreadful reflections. But even faced with this problem, it is usually possible to come up with a solution and make a representative image.
In order to achieve predictable results colour management and greyscale charts are vital tools. Here you see the Digital ColorChecker SG which was used while photographing Rembrandt’s painting Saul and David during the restoration at the Mauritshuis, The Hague.