Pastel Q&A | How To Photograph Through Glass

Q. A friend of mine who works in both pastel and oil paints says she works “fat over lean” in both media. I don’t understand how to do that in pastel.

A. A better term for pastel users might be “soft over hard.”While all dry pastels are termed “soft pastels,”there’s a range of texture from hard to soft. One of the dangers of layering in pastel is that you may too quickly fill the tooth of the paper, leaving no room for another layer. Beginning with hard pastels, such as Nupastel, Faber-Castell or Rembrandt, allows you to place a layer of color without filling the tooth. As you progress with your painting, subsequent layers can either completely cover the one below, or be lightly applied, hold ing the stick on its side, to allow earlier layers to show through. The result is rich, varied color.

Some pastel brands are difficult to classify as either hard or soft. I’ve heard of people using Rembrandts on a soft layer, while I think of them as hard. Pastels Girault defy classification—they can be effectively used on any layer. Unison pastels, while being

closer to soft than to hard, also layer beautifully. The softest of the soft—Schmincke, Sennelier, Great American and Terry Ludwig, to name a few—are usually reserved for final layers and highlights. They’ll definitely fill the tooth faster than harder pastels.

I wouldn’t consider the “fat over lean” concept a rule in pastel, however. There are times when you choose by value and color rather than softness, and it’s certainly possible to layer hard pastels over soft. In fact, using a hard pastel over a soft one can be an effective blending tool. Experiment and you’ll find the method that suits you best.


Q. Recently I sold a painting, and just before the buyer arrived to pick it up, I realized I’d never photographed it for my records. There was no time to unframe it, so I shot a quick photo through the glass, but there was a bright spot from the flash and the image is nearly unrecognizable. Is there a way to shoot through glass without this problem?

A. Of course the best photo will be one taken before the painting is framed and under glass. But, in the situation you describe, there’s a solution. I learned this method years ago from Deborah Christensen Secor, artist and contributing editor to The Pastel Journal, and have used it a number of times for my own reference photos of small, framed paintings. It doesn’t work for paintings that have more than a 12×16-inch image area, however.

You’ll need an easel to hold the framed painting firmly in a perfectly vertical position, a tripod and camera, a couple of good lights, a full sheet of black Fome-Cor and a friend to help you.

Position the easel and tripod so that you have a perfectly straight view of the painting, and zoom in to eliminate as much of the mat and frame as possible. Make certain everything is squared so there’s no parallax or skewing of the image of the painting. Turn your camera’s flash off. If you’re shooting outdoors, no additional light should be needed. If you must shoot indoors, set up two light stands, one on each side of and a little behind the tripod, and focus the lights onto the painting. Focus the camera, but don’t click the shutter yet.

Take the sheet of black Fome-Cor and cut out a circle in the center that’s just barely big enough to allow the lens of your camera to poke through. Don’t be tempted to use a small piece of Fome-Cor; it needs to be about twice the size of the painting in order to block all the potential reflection. Hold the camera firmly in position, and have your friend hold the Fome-Cor in front of it, positioning it so the lens extends through the hole as shown in the illustration below, left. At this point you won’t be able to see through your viewfinder, so just shoot the image. The large area of black just in front of the painting eliminates the bounce and the reflection of light. The closer the camera is to the painting, the more likely you’ll eliminate glare.

If you’re using a digital camera, you’ll be able to see the results quickly and determine if an additional shot is necessary. If you’re using film, you’ll have to wait until it’s developed to confirm that you have a good shot, so snap a few. I don’t recommend this method for making slides to enter into competitions, as the glass will slightly distort or fuzz the image. For your own record of your work, however, it works well enough.


Have a pastel question of your own? Write to us at

Read more Pastel Q&As by clicking here.



Watch art workshops on demand at ArtistsNetwork.TV

Online seminars for fine artists

Instantly download fine art magazines, books, videos & more

Sign up for your Artist’s Network email newsletter & receive a FREE ebook

You may also like these articles: