photographing artwork – the sopwith camel pilot

by Blake Robinson

January 31st, 2011    1 Comment     Add Comment
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Today, I spent an enjoyable morning with this wonderful early 20th century oil painting.

This is a portrait of William Y. Bogle, Jr. His son, William Y. Bogle, III, is a friend of mine. I’ve yet to meet WYB IV and V – number five is now in boarding school in Connecticut.

This portrait was painted in 1925, when Mr. Bogle was 30 years old.  During World War I, he had wanted to serve in the U. S, military, but was too young, so he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and had a distinguished career piloting the famous Sopwith Camel airplane, pictured here.  

 He did land a plane in a tree once, but walked away with just a few scratches on his face.  The portrait, to me, shows a sophisticated and dapper young man, war-weary yet wise to the ways of the world.

The painter was a Danish artist, with the distinguished name of Johann Waldemar de Rehling Quistgaard (1877-1962).  The artist’s name appears clearly in the bottom right corner.

This painting is very small, measuring just 5 7/8 ths inches by 4 3/8 ths inches.  The detailed brushstrokes are pretty amazing.

My assignment was to photograph the painting and make some prints.  Working with such a small painting is tricky.  My photograph appears above. I made several prints for my friend Bill, including one that is 13 inches by 19 inches – almost 10 times the area of the painting.   The print is tack sharp and shows Quistgaard’s skill with a brush, perhaps even more clearly than the actual painting does.

How did I shoot the painting?  Here was my setup:

I propped the painting up, placing it on a white foamcore background. You can see how small the painting is – note the arrow pointing to it. Using a very sturdy tripod, I aimed straight down at the image.  I shot “tethered” to a laptop, so I could check that the image was in sharp focus. See the laptop screen, zoomed in of Mr. Bogle’s face. The face in the painting is just over an inch tall. 

Two lights were used, set at about 45 degrees.  This avoided glare bouncing off the surface of the painting, but was a sharp enough angle to show the texture of the painted brushstrokes.   The camera was mounted with a pro-level Nikon 105mm macro (close-up) lens that provides absolutely amazing clarity and sharpness. 

I love shooting artwork.  Do you have an old family portrait – or any other artwork – that you’d like to have photographed?  I’m ready!

One Response

  1. […] been shooting a fair amount of artwork recently.  As discussed in this recent post, I photographed  a very small painting – less than six inches across. This painting above […]


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