Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO
If you want to control the shutter speed, you’ll have to learn about how to shoot in manual mode.
The basic idea is that a faster shutter speed will “freeze” the subject and make it appear sharp. If you take a picture of a car going 65 mph with a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second, the car will appear to be standing still. A faster shutter speed can reduce motion blur when taking pictures of your paintings.
The problem is that a faster shutter speed reduces the amount of light reaching the sensor inside of the camera. So you’ll have to compensate for the loss of light. You can do this by adding more lighting, using an f-stop that lets in more light, or by increasing the ISO.
This is starting to get into the basics of exposure, which is an in depth topic. There are numerous books and blog posts on the subject and I don’t think I could add anything to the subject by writing about it detail here. Instead, I recommend the book Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson if you want to learn about it in depth.
I recommend that you use the slower shutter speed and mount the camera on a tripod to eliminate the motion blur. You’ll also want to use a remote. This is more practical than trying to increase the brightness of your lighting setup.
See the section below on camera shake for more details.
Use a Tripod to Prevent Camera Shake
When you press the button to take a picture, the camera will move very slightly. It’s also nearly impossible to hand hold a camera and keep it perfectly still. Normally this doesn’t have an impact upon the image quality of your photos because the shutter speeds you use outdoors are fast enough to prevent motion blur.
You’re most likely photographing your artwork indoors where the lighting is considerably darker. Even if you think your lights are bright, they’re still much less intense than sunlight. Your eyes are good at adapting to different lighting conditions so you may not be aware of how dim indoor lighting is.
Darker conditions require a change to the f-stop and shutter speed to allow more light in to the camera. A slower shutter speed will allow more light to gather on the sensor which will create a lighter photo. The issue is that slower shutter speeds cause moving objects to look blurry.
These changes to the settings will happen even if you use the automatic mode on your camera. The camera has to compensate for the darker conditions by changing the shutter speed, aperture, or the ISO.
Slower shutter speeds will make moving objects appear blurry. Photographers use motion blur to emphasize the speed of moving objects. For example, a photographer may use a slow shutter speed to make the water in a stream appear soft and blurry. The water moves enough during the exposure to blur out some of the detail of the water. While motion blur has uses in photography, it’s undesirable when photographing art.
There are two ways to eliminate motion blur when photographing artwork. You can increase the intensity of the lights so you can use a faster shutter speed. Or you can steady the camera by mounting it to a tripod. Increasing the lighting to the point of being able to use a fast enough shutter speed to hand hold the camera is impractical. The more feasible solution is to use a tripod so you can use slower shutter speeds to compensate for the dim indoor lighting.
There are numerous tripods to choose from and most of them will work well for photographing artwork. All of them have controls that will allow to set up your camera at varying heights, tilt the camera, and pan it in any direction.
Use a Remote to Eliminate Camera Shake
One important point is the downward motion of pressing a button will still shake the camera slightly, even when it’s on a tripod. You don’t want to use your finger to press the button on the camera.
Some cameras have ports that will allow you to use a remote to take a picture. If your camera doesn’t have one then you can use the self-timer as I explain below. You can use the remote to trigger the camera to take a picture without shaking the camera.
Some cameras even have an option for wireless remotes. Most wireless remotes require you to point them at the front of the camera for them to work. This is somewhat awkward when photographing your paintings because you’ll be standing behind the camera where you won’t get in the way of the lights. For this reason, I prefer the wired remotes.
Use the Self-Timer Function to Eliminate Camera Shake
If you have a camera that doesn’t have the option for a remote, it probably has a self-timer function.
The self-timer function will wait a few seconds after you press the button to take the picture. This is so you can press the button and then run out in front of the camera to pose with your friends and family. The timer counts down and then snaps the picture.
It also works well for eliminating camera shake when taking pictures of your paintings. When you press the button, the camera will pause for a few seconds before it takes the picture. This should be long enough to allow any vibrations to dissipate before it takes the picture.