To make sure that things run as smoothly as possible in the Photographic Studio, we need to clearly specify what shots need to be taken of each object. This means that the photographers are comfortable with what they need to capture and can just ‘get on’ with what they do best. It also means that they can have a fair idea of how much time they may need to spend on an object – it may take just a few minutes to photograph a simple 2d print, but perhaps a day or more for some large pieces of furniture. Whilst it would be marvelous to have hundreds of details of every single object, there is a limit to how much time the photographers can spend on each object. There is also a limit to the digital storage for the extra millions of images. We therefore need to carefully consider the photography of each object. For each object we initially needed to decide on what basic shots were crucial to record its appearance and give a sense of it as a physical piece. Some objects, such as prints, may only require one single shot.
All of the photographs are taken at an extremely high resolution, meaning that it is possible to zoom right in to examine all the details, such as in this rather busy print depicting L’académie des Sciences et des Arts.
For 3-dimensional objects it may be necessary to include a shot taken at an angle to clearly convey their 3-dimensional form.
For those with movable parts, this may mean taking multiple shots demonstrating how they move.
We then needed to identify any particular parts or details of an object that should be recorded. These may relate to the person who designed or made the object, how it was constructed, how it was used or who owned it etc. These detail shots were noted following discussions with Collections Curators, Project Curators and Conservators – each of whom will be familiar with an object in a different manner. It is particularly important to consider which aspects of an object may not be clearly visible once it is on display. Details to record may include:
- The reverse (back) of an object
- Makers’ marks
- Customs stamps
- Internal views of objects which will be displayed closed
- Interesting or unusual elements of decorative designs
Having clear visual records of features such as these can be immensely helpful for individuals researching objects in the future.
When a lot of detail shots are required (or ones which are difficult to clearly describe in writing) it is preferable for curators to visit the photography studio to discuss them directly with the photographer.
Some objects may belong to a larger set or grouping which should also be photographed together in a manner that indicates or evokes how they would have been used or displayed. The guidance of curators is essential to successfully composing these shots.
Some objects provide particular challenges when attempting to capture their physical qualities and some creative thinking needs to be employed as to how to show them to best advantage when being photographed. The Polish sash shown below is a good example of a challenging object.
In 18th-century Poland, sabre and sash were the most essential elements of a nobleman’s attire. The sash was worn around the waist, covering the sword/sabre belt. The wearing of the sash in the Polish way involved folding the sash along its length before winding it round the waist. Our sash is over 5 meters long and 38 cm wide! It was woven with a double-sided pattern and when worn could be folded to display any of the four possible colour-ways that were produced.
To photograph all 5 meters of it simply laid out completely flat would result in a lack-lustre image that would not indicate the four different colour-ways, nor give any suggestion as to how the sash would have been worn. An alternative would have been to wrap the sash around a mannequin in an approximation of how it would have been worn in the 18th century, but this wasn’t possible as it would have risked damaging the object. As a solution to this, Clare (Textile Curator) and some of our Textile Conservators came up with the following methods of laying out the sash, in order to clearly show both the decorative design and the different colours-ways and to provide a suggestion of the shape the sash would have formed against the body.