Canon Community Canon Community

New Contributor
Posts: 3
Registered: ‎11-27-2015
Accepted Solution

Which camera for photographing paintings and then printing postcards and greeting cards?

I currently have a PowerShot SD600 but I may need a new camera for my purpose.  Which ones would work for my purposes?


I paint with acrylics and the pintings come out to be anywhere from 1 ft x 2 ft to 4 ft x 4ft.  I want to take photos of them in order to have a professional printer create postcards and greeting cards to sell at museums.  The printer says he will use a 1200 dpi printer.  I really want the absolute best cards and image I can get.


What resolution should I take the photos in, how can I be sure that I am taking pictures in the correct resolution (or is that adjustable after the fact),  and which carmeras would work for this?  I have Adobe PhotoShop if it has any bearing.


I would use the camera for this purpose for about 6 pictures per year.


I also sell homes and could use the camera for a home's listing pictures.


As for price I'm willing to spend up to $600 if necessary.


Thank you.



Honored Contributor
Posts: 5,558
Registered: ‎06-25-2014

Re: Which camera for photographing paintings and then printing postcards and greeting cards?

You're a professional or semi-professional painter, and you're going to have a professional printer print the cards. Yet you're planning to rely on a poorly equipped amateur photographer for the crucial step of generating the image from which the prints are to be made. I hope you see what's wrong with that picture. (No pun intended!)


Photographing acrylic paintings is a very tricky process because of the way light reflects off of what is in reality a three-dimensional matrix. I once attended a two-hour lecture/demonstration on how to do it correctly, and I certainly wouldn't take it on unless I had a lot of time to practice. And I don't think $600 would even get you started with the equipment you'll need.


Do yourself and your business a favor by engaging a qualified professional photographer to do the job right.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA
Posts: 11,788
Registered: ‎08-13-2015

Re: Which camera for photographing paintings and then printing postcards and greeting cards?

I agree with Bob.  HIre a professional, or plan on investing MUCH more than what you are looking to spend. 


A quality lens capable of the results that you probably seek could cost twice your stated budget.  Plus, you would still need a camera body to use with the lens.  You would also need to invest in a good tripod and lighting systems.


I think what you are looking to photograph would best be done with a macro lens, not a standard lens.  You are trying to focus on an object that is a flat plane.  Most lenses have a curved focus plane, centered at the image sensor in the camera.  A macro lens focuses differently, on a flat plane like your paintings.


A macro lens can be used to take more conventional pictures with excellent resutls.  The reason why there is such a wide variety of lenses is that no one lens can do it all.  It's why photographers own and carry multiple lenses. 


"Doctor told me to get out and walk, so I bought a Canon."
New Contributor
Posts: 3
Registered: ‎11-27-2015

Re: Which camera for photographing paintings and then printing postcards and greeting cards?

Thank you for the explanation.  I currently exhibit paintings in shows and frequently win awards.  I was hoping to be able to take the pictures myself so as to save money and for convenience.  I did not realize the complexity or equipment required.


Thanks again.

New Contributor
Posts: 3
Registered: ‎11-27-2015

Re: Which camera for photographing paintings and then printing postcards and greeting cards?

[ Edited ]

Thank you! Can you recommend any macro lenses and appropriate camera bodies even if over my budget?

Also, what do think some ballpark prices would be for a professional to photograph one painting?

Thanks again.

Posts: 11,788
Registered: ‎08-13-2015

Re: Which camera for photographing paintings and then printing postcards and greeting cards?

I think you would want a full frame camera body like a 6D for taking macro stills, which is what I use and why I bought it.  The 7D Mark II is a more popular, and versatile, camera body.  It takes excellent pictures, and uses an APS-C sensor, which is smaller than a full frame sensor.


I take pictures of plates of food, and find that I can get excellent results without using a macro lens.  I think that you would want a macro lens for your larger paintings, though, to maintain sharp focus all the way out to the edges.  The best choice of lens would depend upon your choice of camera.  I think you could get near professional results with a T6s body and the EF-S 60mm macro lens, at a minimum.  I like the T6s because it has a built-in level function.  Anything else would be quite a bit more expensive.  I also think that you would not get ideal results using just one focal length for any size picture frame.


Don't overlook a good tripod, good lighting, and a good, light controlled location to shoot images of paintings.  I think the choice of lighting and tripod are at least important as the camera/lens setup.  The trick to getting tack sharp images is to gather as much light into the camera as quickly as possible. 


Some tripods have center columns that can rotate away from vertical, but most are too short to be very useful and require counter weights to balance the load.  I use an 18 inch extension arm with a ball head at the end, which then is mounted onto a very strong pan/tilt head, on a heavy duty  tripod.  The  long reach allows me to get lighting up close to the subject.


Picking a location to shoot your paintings is critical.  You would want a location where you have total control over the light at any time of the day.  You would also need to consider the orientation of the paintings when you photograph them.  Should they be in a horizontal, or vertical, orientation?  Each scenario could call for different lighting equipement to get the best results.  Most of my shots are looking almost straight down at a plate of food.


"Doctor told me to get out and walk, so I bought a Canon."
Esteemed Contributor
Posts: 3,854
Registered: ‎06-11-2013

Re: Which camera for photographing paintings and then printing postcards and greeting cards?

If I were trying to do this on a budget... 


The camera LENS is more important than the body... so I'd be looking at lenses.  For this type of work, a macro lens is going to work best because they have the highest detail resolving capability (even when you aren't using them for close-up photography).  


The camera BODY is less important.  You're work isn't in motion when it's being photographed (it's not sports or action photography) and that means features that are ideal for sports are not important for what you want to do.  You don't have to worry about ISO performance or noise because you get to control the lighting (and you will need to control the lighting.)


An image will generally look good at 300dpi or higher (even slightly under 300 dpi will still look pretty good.)  It wont look as good at 150 dpi and some labs will refuse to print anything below 100 dpi (even if you insist) because they are convinced you will hate it and demand a refund (even if you insisted that they print it at such a low DPI.)


If your postcards are 4x6" size then an 18 megapixel camera would print that at 864 dpi (which would look fantastic).   Even a 5x7 would look great.  An 8x10" size would be getting down to 432 dpi (which is still very good).   


If it's just 6 pictures per year and you'd shoot them all on the same day AND you don't think you'd use the camera gear for anything else THEN... either (1) strongly consider hiring someone for the job or (2) consider RENTING the gear if you can't find anyone to do it (just be warned that this will be tricky).   You can rent gear from places like or (and probably several others I don't know about.)




Being budget-minded, I'd shoot this with a Canon T5 (18 megapixel camera -- about $400 although if you get a refurbished camera you could get it for less).  A "refurbished" is about $200 but I see the Canon store shows them as not in stock right now.  You could also use a Canon SL1 (very slightly more expensive than a T5 but if you get a refurbished body it's $279)




A Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens.  It's the highest detail-resolving power at the lowest price point available in the line-up.  All the other macro lenses are priced higher.  It's $419 at most Canon dealers but I see you can get a refurbished copy direct from the Canon store at $319 (and it is in stock):




You will also need a tripod.  For light weight work such as a T5 and 60mm macro lens, a Manfrotto 190 series tripod would be ideal, but Manfrotto is a good name tripods so they wont be the cheapest thing you can find (but they are quality).  You'll be able to find budget-priced tripods from companies like Slik (not nearly the quality as Manfrotto but it'll be cheap.)  I normally don't advocate buying "cheap" tripods because they do break a lot and now you're buying a tripod to replace the broken tripod that you bought to replace the broken tripod before that one... and by the time add it up you would have been ahead by buying the quality tripod from the start.  Most camera gear is durable and needn't get the "white glove" treatment when handling it -- they can take a bit of a beating and are proud to show off their battle scars.  But if you buy a cheap tripod... they don't take beatings so well... be gentle.


Tethering Cable


I would also get a long USB camera tethering cable (the cable that comes with the camera wont be particularly long) and this will allow you to set up a laptop computer tethered to your camera so that while your camera is pointing at your painting, you can adjust the lighting while looking at your computer monitor.  Search Amazon for "USB tether cable" and you'll see lots of 15' cables that will work.  It needs to be "USB type A male" on one end of the cable (that's the most common USB plug) and "USB Mini-B male" on the other end.  You'll notice the "Tether Tools" brand cable (about $37) and you'll probably also see the "Monoprice" brand (about $7).  Guess which one I bought?  Yes indeed that $7 cable works every bit as good as the $37 cable (it's just not painted "hunter orange").  


One safety tip:  when tethering a camera, it's possible that someone (you, perhaps) might tripod on the tethering cable, yank it hard, and damage the USB port on the side of the camera.  SO... I use some gaffer's tape (gaffer's tape is similar in strength to duct tape... but duct tape leaves a VERY messy residue when you remove it and gaffer's tape comes off clean and doesn't leave a sticky, gummy, icky mess behind.)   Plug in one end of the cable to the camera, give yourself at least a foot or so of slack, and tape the cable to the tripod so that if anybody trips on it, it'll yank on the tripod instead of damaging the camera.




Normally you have to think of every subject that has ANY amount of "shine" to it as if you are photographing into a mirror.  If the flash would be visible to you while looking in that mirror then it's reflection IS going to show up in your photo.  For this reason the lighting is normally moved off to the sides (and I said "sides" (plural) because you'll need more than one.)  If the flash is only off to ONE side, then that near side will get stronger light than the far side and that'll result in poorly lit image.  So you'll need to balance the lighting by having lights on both sides.


These lights need not be photographic flash units (that would get expensive) but you probably do want to use daylight balanced lights.


Bob already pointed out the tricky part... most paints are flat on the surface (oils, watercolors) so as long as the light is off to the side, you wont see any reflections.  But acrylics have texture and you need to think of that "texture" (since the dired paint is shiny) as little micro-mirrors at all kinds of crazy angles.


I have never tried to photograph acrylics, but my dad was a painter and I'm familiar with the behavior of the paint and can well imagine the problems this is going to create when trying to photograph it.


Circular Polarizing Filter


If light originates from an angle (off to the sides), then usually a polarizing filter can reduce the reflections from that light.  The EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens has a 52mm diameter filter thread on the front.  That means you may need to buy a "circular polarizing" filter in the 52mm diameter size to deal with the reflections.


You can find low-cost circular polarizers, but these are sometimes very poor quality and create wonky color alterations.  The top names in thread-on filters are the B+W brand the Hoya "PRO1" series filters (Hoya makes budget filters too -- it's the PRO1 line that are the good filters by Hoya.)




BTW... if you want to go nuts with the camera resolution and you plan to RENT the gear instead of buy... my camera recommendation would be to switch to a Canon 5Ds and a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro USM lens.  The 5Ds is a 50 megapixel camera     The sensor resolution is 8688 x 5792 pixels.  At a 4x6" print size that's 1448 dpi (well beyond your printer's 1200 dpi resolution).  At 5x7" size it's still 1241 dpi.  A 5Ds isn't cheap (it's a $3600 camera for the "body only").  So I wouldn't buy one to shoot 6 images per year... but I sure would rent one for the job.


Tim Campbell
5D III, 5D IV, 60Da
powered by Lithium

LIKE US on Facebook FOLLOW US on Twitter WATCH US on YouTube CONNECT WITH US on Linkedin WATCH US on Vimeo FOLLOW US on Instagram SHOP CANON at the Canon Online Store
© Canon U.S.A., Inc.   |    Terms of Use   |    Privacy Statement