You kind of have to go through the process of shooting and putting them in matte paintings over and over to get a sense of the kind of shooting that is good for matte painting. There are several different styles of shooting, most of which are not good for matte painting: the typical VFX team on location shooting (not sure why but always bad), texture artist shooting, vacationer shooting, professional photographer shooting, etc.
Your photos should have kind of a “raw photo” look. You want them to be kind of “vanilla” if you know what I mean. You will be adding all the magic in your matte painting so it has been my experience that photos that have the magic already in them (like professional photography) are a little hard to work with. Point and shooting quickly to get a lot of photos is better then setting up the perfect shot for only a few photos.
Typically you will want to shoot as far away from your subject as possible to minimize the extreme perspective. Shoot from all angles and sides. You never know which one will work for you later so get them all. That is what is wrong with “vacationer” photography—they may take a great photo but there is not enough of them. Also try to take photos of hard to get to angles—think, the reason they did not shoot it onset was it was too hard to get. That is why they use matte painters, right? High places, looking down, large vistas, from a helicopter, that kind of stuff.
Instead of shooting a lot of different random photos you can shoot one set of photos that gets everything. Most of all my shooting is done for panoramas. To shoot panos all you need to do is stand in one place and turn as you shoot pictures. You do not need to use a tripod for this, just point and shoot. You do have to make sure that your images are overlapping so there is enough information to stitch all the images together. You can use Photoshop to stitch all your photos together using “photomerge”. Using panos, you can get some really high resolution images.
Shoot for Textures
When you are out shooting you should also shoot for textures. That means try to shoot your subject in “plainer” views—that is, flat on. And take pictures of details like rock or brick patterns. Do not zoom in too close however. Matte Painting textures are different then “texturing” textures. Texture artists will zoom in super close to get textures--good for them bad for us. Matte Painters need large areas of texture like a whole brick wall, where a texture artist will take a picture of a section of 3x3 brick.
Generally you will want to shoot textures when it is overcast so there is even lighting. This way you can put the textures on geo so you can add the lighting in a 3D package. But if you are using the textures in 2D paint, it is great to have some lighting in there. So both have their value.
Sky Domes and Image Based Lighting (IBL)
While you are out you will want to shoot for sky domes. A sky dome, in the 3D world, is a half a sphere with a sky texture mapped to it. It is usually used for long sequences in film where the whole sky is getting replaced. It is so the 3D the camera can look anywhere and see the sky dome.
You can also use your sky domes for an IBL (Image Based Lighting). IBLs are used in 3D packages to light objects based on an image of a sky—that is, it generates the key and fill lights from the sky image. So lets say that you are taking photos of buildings and putting them into a painting. Now you need to light 3D objects that are next to the building. You can light your geo with the IBL and it should match the lighting of your buildings. This is because the same sky that lit those building you are using to light your objects.
You will want to make your photos of your sky into a “Lat Long” image. A Lat Long is one image that is the whole 360 degree sky that can be mapped onto a sphere. To do this properly you will need a tripod and a rig but there are way of not having to do that. The whole process is quite in depth so I will dedicate another post to just sky domes and IBLs.