Digital Da Vinci — or — How to Split a Restaurant Bill for 13

My friend, Ria, was commissioned to paint a replica of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, 3 meters (9 foot) wide.

Ria’s painting, in acrylic on sanded aluminum board, took her about a year. By comparison, Da Vinci took three years. Then again, Da Vinci’s version was slightly bigger than Ria’s – 9 meters (27 feet) wide and 5 meters (15 feet) high.

Da Vinci used faces of actual people in his painting. When the monastery prior complained that the work was taking too long Da Vinci wrote back that he was struggling to find a suitably evil face for Judas, but that he’d be happy to use the face of the prior who had complained. After that, the complaints stopped.

I saw Ria’s finished painting a few weeks ago and it was impressive from all points of view – the perspective, the detail, the accuracy of the copy, the colours. An all-round great job on a difficult commission.

If you haven’t seen Da Vinci’s painting, it’s his take on the story of Jesus with the twelve apostles having a last supper before the crucifixion. The apostles are shown in various stages of anger, suspicion and dismay.

The Last Supper
The Last Supper

I did say to Ria that it looked like the usual argument about how to split the restaurant bill for any large group.

JAMES: I had 2 pieces of bread and one glass of wine

JOHN: I had what Jesus’s had

THOMAS: Teacher’s pet!

BARTHOLOMEW: Who are you giving the finger to, Thomas?

THADDEUS: Let’s just split it equally.

PHILIP: I didn’t get a fortune cookie.

MATTHEW: Hey, Big Guy, why does your Dad never pick up the tab?

ANDREW: I thought it would be all you can eat.

PETER: Their end of the table had more than our end.

SIMON: Is some eejit waving a knife at me down that end?

JAMES: I thought Judas had the money.

Ria didn’t comment on that; but a few weeks later, when her painting was hanging at its new owners, she asked me if I would take a photo with enough detail to let her make a one meter wide (3 foot wide) print. And that was the challenge.

Of course, if I was a commercial photographer, I’d probably have a medium or large format camera, perhaps a nice Hasselblad H6D-400c with resolutions about to 400 Megapixels. That piece of equipment would cost about $CAD 63,000. (Note to any donors: if you order it online for me, shipping is free, so it’s not as expensive as it may sound. Also, please send lenses.)

After my poor taste cracks about the restaurant bill, I didn’t think Ria would go halves with me on a Hasselblad. That meant I was stuck taking the photograph with my hobby Nikon. It’s a very nice, but modest D5300, with a modest 24 Megapixels that were never meant for capturing the fine detail needed for a meter wide print.

Fortunately, I’ve been tricking my camera to do meter wide prints for several years. The way you do it is by taking several overlapping photos of your large subject, and then joining the overlapping photos together to form the final image. I have a dozen or so forest and landscapes made for glorious detail a meter wide. Unfortunately, blogs like this don’t do those images justice. You can see most of the super-wide forest series in much better detail on

The trick to piecing together overlapping photos, is as follows:

  • Use a tripod
  • Use a special panoramic head on the tripod
  • Use software like Photoshop to automatically splice the photos together
  • Add two teaspoons of manual editing

So, I already knew how I was going to tackle Ria’s painting. The result? Instead of a single 24 megapixel image, I pieced together seven overlapping photos into an approximately 60 megapixel image. I showed Ria the first draft on screen, and told her it would be fine for a meter-wide print (3 feet). She was excited. A day later, she said, “We found a place in our living room where we want to hang this. Can you make it one and a half meters wide (five feet)?”

We did a test print – a small portion of the photo enlarged as though it was part of a one and a half meters wide print. Here’s a sample extract of detail from the test print, with the resolution unfortunately dumbed down by formatting for WordPress and social media. Not bad for a modest hobby camera. And of course, kudos to both Da Vinci and Ria for a great painting.

Detail From Last Supper
Detail From Last Supper

The test print showed up two problems.

  • There was a yellow cast – probably from the lighting where the painting had been hung. You can notice it above.
  • The paper we had test-printed on was also a problem. Meh. Too glossy. Ria’s husband didn’t like the texture either. Ria wanted to see the alternatives.

I suggested she visit two photo labs I use for printing, and ask to see their paper choices. At the second one, she found the kind of advice and paper options she wanted.

That was Toronto Image Works. They discussed papers with her. They printed a large test strip for her on her new choice of paper. Then a lab technician sat down at a computer screen with her, and together they removed the yellow skin tones before the final printing. Ria gave the input and the technician ran the tone changes. Ria tells me the process and technical wizardry was amazing. If she could have, she would gladly have spent all day there.

That was about a week ago. Today I heard that Ria has the final paper print in her hands. She’s off to the picture framers to have it framed. She tells me, “it’s amazing.” She’s very excited with the result.

Perhaps she’s even forgive me my wisecracks about the bill for the last supper.

2 Replies to “Digital Da Vinci — or — How to Split a Restaurant Bill for 13”

  1. I’m sure you know that the reservation for the last supper was for a table for 26. When only 13 arrived the owner asked why the reservation for 26. He was told that they all wanted to sit on the same side of the table.

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