Photographing oil paintings in sunlight?

I recently received a painting I bought and noticed the color was way off. It had less brightness, hue saturation and contrast. So I took a photo of it and adjusted it with photo shop. I came closer to how the painting was displayed on her site but not exact. Then I took a photo where the painting was in direct sunlight, something I never do with mine. When I downloaded the photo it was very close. The artist said she scanned the painting so I would see the colors more exact. So my question: Can you photograph oil paintings in direct sunlight and display them that way? Was that the artist intent to have it displayed in sunlight? I was always told to never display an oil painting in direct sunlight. I love everything about the painting but the color. I am debating on sending it back.

1 Like

Whether by scanning or photography, artists generally do their best to reproduce the colors of their paintings as accurately as possible. They may also correct and enhance colors digitally, but the goal should be to match, not improve upon, a painting’s original colors. Unfortunately, there can be a great deal of difference from one monitor to the next in how paintings appear online. My scanner and monitor are fairly well calibrated, and I always check images I post on my iPad, which displays pretty accurate color.

Most paintings look best in good light, but you should not have to display a painting in direct sunlight to see the right colors. If you have purchased other paintings and been satisfied that the color displayed online was reasonably accurate (so you’re convinced the problem is not your monitor), and you think the color of this one was not accurately represented–and you’re unhappy with the original–I think it would be fair to return it, and say why. If the artist digitally enhanced the photo, it should be a lesson. Most artists don’t want people to feel they have to keep something they are not happy with.

I wouldn’t recommend displaying a painting in direct sunlight because the UV light can cause fading, especially if the artist used pigments that aren’t lightfast. If your windows filter out the UV then this might not be a problem.

The lighting that you view a painting under can dramatically change the appearance of the colors. When you view it indoors, what kind of lighting are you viewing it under?

I always hang my oil paintings where there is indirect lighting. That is how I photograph them too. I did contact the artist and she was super nice about it and refunded the cost of the painting.

Took me a long time to be able to edit a photo in order to make it look correct on my monitor.

Now I invested in a good monitor and believe it or not I use my iPhone 6 to take the photos. I used to have people all the time say it looks better than it did online, now they usually say looks just like it did online. So somethings working right.

And I agree that a lot of monitors vary in their temperature and saturation and brightness , so even if you get it just right on a very good monitor you have some people not be able to view it properly

The logical thing to do is to photograph the painting in light the same or similar to the light it was painted in, that way you see the image the way the artist intended. I agree with Sunny, the match of the image is highly dependant on the quality and calibration of the monitor it is adjusted on. It is also dependant on the client’s monitor. The variability and ambiguity of lighting was about to drive me crazy until I just decided to pick a standard lighting and adjust to it, hoping that the client’s monitor and the light where they displayed the painting would be similar. I chose lighting used in galleries which is around 3000K, using strong LED sources on my pallet and painting. I set the white balance on my camera to close to that and use adjustments in my computer to make it match as close a I can to the original. I have to admit that I am not always totally satisfied but it is what it is and the client’s monitor is still a wild card. At least I know that most homes have artificial lighting that is similar and the painting will be displayed close to how I saw it when I painted.

Thanks Gary, I know at the beginning I had to try different things too. I even would check my iPad and my sister’s monitor to see if they match. I do paint in the light where I take photos of my work. When it is a cloudy rainy day I usually wait til the sun peeks out. I have been lucky that my buyers are quite please and even some say it looks better in person. I guess I just felt so bad to have to tell another artist the colors did not match what I saw on my monitor and iPad. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

I was just so shocked at the huge difference. Even the thank you card had a photo of another painting she made and the colors looked just as bright and beautiful as I saw them on my monitor but not on her original painting. I wonder if she sells more prints than originals.

I am viewing it on a sunny day in a room with indirect light.

Thanks Connie, I needed to hear that. I am just so disappointed that it did not work out. Thanks for commenting.

Yeah, it sounds like it was way off. I knew someone who hit the contrast and saturation so much on the photograph of the work that it didn’t look like the real piece. It’s a good learning tool though, to then make the piece match your photograph! Haha.

If the artist used fugitive pigments. They will doubtless fade or change over time no matter how you try to protect them. Direct sun light will speed the process. Photographing it in direct sunlight should make no difference anyone could see. Displaying it in direct sunlight maybe an issue.
It is possible that the scan was done when the painting was first painted and the paint was not fully dry. It may not yet have been varnished. Many artists do not varnish to the detriment of the art in my opinion. A gloss varnish or any varnish will add contrast and bring back colors that may deaden in the drying (actually oxidation) process. It can be a rather dramatic change. Ask the artist if they varnished it.

1 Like

Thanks David for your input. She used a touch up varnish.

Along the same vein, winter is coming. I find I get the best photos in some shade from the house out my back door. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, I wait a day or 2. In winter, I’m afraid I’ll have MANY days of very poor sun, snow (besides the wet, too much reflection?), rain, and ice. This will be the 1st winter I’m posting regularly, and I’m not very savvy about photography. Is there a way to handle this indoors without lots of new equipment? I paint in oils usually and am currently using a relatively old digital camera. I do digitally adjust the photos, just to match my paintings as closely as I can. Thanks for any hints!

I too have recently began using my iPhone6 to photograph my paintings! My phone works better than my expensive Canon camera. I even bought one of those white fabric tents to approximate a sunny day in the shade - complete with two lights and neutral background fabric - in an effort to make my photos look like my painting. My photos look great on my camera’s screen but when I upload them to my computer they morph into madness. I have to spend a ton of time on Photoshop Elements trying to correct them. One day I snapped a photo with my phone to email a pic of my painting to my daughter. I was amazed at how well it looked on my computer- and kind of dismayed because I spent a lot of money on the Canon, white tent, etc. I still need to correct my iPhone photos with Photoshop but it is much easier. It seems the phone is more compatible with my computer. My computer is an aging Pavilion, which I have to replace soon.

I find the only corrections I need to make after the iphone 6 plus is a little less contrast, a little extra sharpening, and a little more saturation. And really, only a little of each.

1 Like

I use my IPad Pro to photograph my paintings. I do it outside in the shade with good results. During the winter is sometimes have trouble with some colors. I guess the outside light changes with the seasons. Sometimes in Feb. I just give up and wait to photograph some paintings when the light improves.

I decided a long time ago not to stress about perfect color because we not only have no way to control what kind of monitor or tablet or phone an image is being viewed on, but after the painting is hung on someone’s wall we have no control over the lighting in the room. So I just get the image as close as I reasonably can for posting on line.

If you are having prints made, then you have to be a little more particular, and if you’re not a skilled photographer, it may pay to have the painting professionally photographed or scanned - but you would only have to do that for the ones that you want to have printed.

I have a related question: I get pretty good photos with my Olympus camera, but no matter what lighting or settings I use, the digital image emphasizes the red tones. Anyone have an answer for that?

My best guess would be your white balance is off or if you’re shooting jpg, the picture style applied to the image is possibly causing the redness.

I’ve had the best luck when photographing outside in the shade. I compare the image on the screen to the actual painting to make sure it represents the painting. With small paintings I don’t sweat it more than that.

With large paintings that will be crated and shipped freight, I have a professional photographer make a color print, tweaking it until it matches the painting. I send the color print to the client for approval before shipping since the cost of crating and freight is so high.