How to take a photograph of your own mystery picture

It’s not too difficult with a digital camera

(If, after reading this, you lack the confidence to take a photograph of your picture then don’t give up – consider asking a friend to lend a hand)


We’d love to help you identify the landscape scene in your picture but first we need a reasonably good photograph. Assuming you don’t own a posh camera (and professional lighting equipment with release cables and tripods) here are some important tips to ensure you make the best record possible to attract maximum interest from our Landscape Detective members.

Step 1 – Before you begin, consider where best to photograph your picture

You can photograph your picture in situ on the wall if necessary but it’s best to give yourself some flexibility and transport it to a place where you can take advantage of suitable lighting. You need as much natural daylight as possible but not bright, direct sunlight as this will cast shadows which we definitely do not want. If possible take the picture outside to photograph, but if this is not practical, a room with 2 or more windows may be the best option.

We don’t recommend you use flash to light your picture so remember to TURN OFF your automatic flash function. (If you can’t turn off the flash then put your finger over the centre of the flash to minimise flash reflections).

If your picture is behind glass (and you cannot remove the glass) then you will have to experiment to eliminate the possibility of the glass causing reflections. You will find that the glass will reflect nearby objects or even YOU taking the photograph – try moving the picture to different locations where the light is softer.

And before you start, take care to ensure the glass is clean as smudges or dust will show up.

Step 2 – Now consider how you can square-up your camera so it’s pointing directly at the centre of the picture.

You may have to experiment a little before you decide whether to prop your picture upright on a chair or table, or to lie it flat on the floor.

If the picture is upright, the camera lens should be held at the same height as, and aimed exactly at, the centre of the painting.

If you lay the picture flat on the floor you will need to shoot from above looking down. This works best for small pictures as the larger your picture, the higher you will have to elevate yourself either with a chair or step ladder.

Tilting your picture or your camera will distort your picture and this should be avoided if possible. This isn’t necessarily a problem as we can sometimes correct this. (Unfortunately we cannot correct photos that are not in focus or have lost detail because of poor lighting.)

Step 3 – How to avoid poor focus from ‘camera shake’

Ideally you need to keep your camera absolutely still which is why professionals use a tripod for still and close-up shots.  But don’t worry, it’s possible to achieve good results without a tripod by taking a bit of extra time and trouble as follows:

• Hold the camera with both hands close to your body with your upper arms firmly wedged against your torso. Your hands need to be free to aim and shoot but your arms need to be static. Hold your breath, relax and click the shutter.

Step 4 – Checking and saving the image on your computer screen

Most cameras have various settings for taking photographs e.g. fine quality, standard quality etc. The higher quality the image the larger the file size. We don’t need a huge file for posting on the web and so we recommend that you use the ‘standard’ setting if you have that option.

When you have taken your photo you can check the quality on your computer and if you can tick these boxes then you have done a good job!

• Does the image look sharp (focus-wise)?

• Is it evenly lit (no dark shadows, bright flares or reflections)?

• Does it look reasonably ‘square’ (i.e. not badly distorted due to lens being at an angle to the picture)?

Now all you have to do is send it to us with any information you have about the picture. It may help us to know where and when you acquired it as well as any clues you have about the subject and location depicted by the artist.

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