Diptych by Jacqui Butterworth

I photographed Jacqui's high gloss resin paintings before. The first time was tricky, and exhausted my bag of tricks for managing reflections while still getting good light. At one point the setup was like a tent, with a black shroud around the painting, and that far from the correct answer. The ultimate solution prooved simple: two soft boxes one on either side, bang bang! On later shoots I repeated that setup and it worked every time.

This time it was different, and I had forgotten my hard won lesson. The day was comfortably warm and mostly overcast. My white walled studio was bathed in natural light coming in from a high translucent ceiling. Lots of nice soft light. My exposure settings and white balance were calibrated, and he sky looked stable enough to shoot both paintings without a cloud opening passing overhead and changing conditions halfway. I shot. I edited. I instagramed. I was happy. The following day I looked at the results again, but wasn't happy at all! This wouldn't do at all! The top edge had an unwanted highlight and other uneven texture related features. So I opted to redo. Started with natural light again, but noticed that the camera and tripod were reflecting in the painting. Pondered what was to be of all this, and cursed my beginner mistakes. Finally I went back to the proven solution, two soft boxes and no shortcuts. The takeaway is, when you find what works, stick to it.

Check out Jacqui's great work.

Here is the setup shot.

And this is what what needs to happen:
  • F 5.6 -- any less and you loose sharpness, any more and you get spots and risk surface texture and specular highlights
  • ISO 50
  • Flash power minimum -- there are 2 of them
  • Speed 160 -- any more and you risk uneven flash firing, any less and you risk reflections from natural light and over exposure
  • Histogram -- push exposure highlights to the right but leaving a small margin
  • Alignment -- with care, and fill the sensor (portrait in this case)
  • Post -- no lens correction (for 50mm 1.8f), crop with no rotation but with full keystone distortion to the painting's frame outer edge (zoom in to get it exact), base curve lifting the highs to match white expectation and pop, white balance should be fine as it is managed by the camera presetting.