Lighting Canvas

A few weeks back, we went to Canvas Jam. It's a business and studio run by Cindy Leech that specializes in toddlers or young children painting on canvas without much guidance or inhibition.

There's a bit of guidance in terms of where to paint, and certain techniques such as using a spoon, but otherwise, the children just let loose with paint.

Cindy came out to our house before the studio session to identify where the painting was going to go, and to select a few colours that would match the decor and wall colours.

The shot at left is the final product hanging above our fireplace.

I wanted to take a picture of the final painting that captured the colours and the texture of both the paint and the canvas itself. I also wanted to tie in some of the room, but couldn't decide on a perspective that drew the viewer's eye to the canvas and away from all of the other distractions in the room. Plus, the room was a mess when the photo was taken

For lighting, I knew I wanted to light it from a shallow angle to capture the texture. I also knew that being four feet wide, I'd probably need to light it with two strobes, one on each side for consistency. Then I thought I'd use a softbox straight on to fill in some of the shadows above and below the canvas.

Initially, because of the softbox and gloss of the paint on the canvas, the shot had a lot of direct reflection and glare. Some of the lighter tones were also getting blown out because of the direct reflection. I eventually did away with the softbox, and just left the two strobes, however, ended up with this shot, which had nice texture, specular highlights on the wall from the strobes, but also prominent shadows above and below the canvas because of the position of the strobes.

The fireplace was also a little dark.

I thought about removing the shadows from the photo using photoshop, but found it too difficult to do properly.

To get rid of the shadows above the canvas, I positioned the strobes higher than the canvas. This left the shadow underneath, but removed the shadow on top. I thought about using a reflector for the shadows underneath, but from the perspective I was shooting from would have had a hard time keeping it concealed.

For the last iteration, I decided to live with the shadow underneath, but light the fireplace a bit more. So I used the softbox and pointed it slightly downwards to brighten up the fireplace.

The final shot was this one (setup shot included):

My brother suggested that I gobo or barndoor the strobes to cut down on the specular on the wall, and also use a ringflash or large light source from the front to eliminate the shadows, but the glossy paint makes that difficult.

We both came to the conclusion that polarizing the light source and using a polarizer on the lens might cut out the direct reflection, but only testing would confirm; he also suggested testing using a flashlight a two circular polarizers. I never got around to this.

So for the final shot, I just used the last shot, and the clone tool in photoshop to get rid of the highlights. I also ran the shot through PT Lens to correct for perspective distortion, and then the tonal contrast preset in Color Efex Pro to bring out the detail in the marble and fireplace as well as the canvas.

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