Tripping The Light Fantastic
The thing that is more important than any camera is the light source.
Once you have a consistent light source (and nice artefact) you are well on your way to successful artefact photography.
With flash photography I find that direct flash can be a little too severe and not as manoeuvrable. Bounce or diffused flash may be a little softer but the flash unit would have to be quite an advanced model.
The system I use to capture the images used for PAS recording and Flickr are 2 daylight lamps fixed to an adjustable tripod and boom. The bulb is centred in a dome and covered with a white diffuser. The diffuser eliminates most harsh shadows and allows you to "get in there" with the camera. All artefacts are photographed against a white background and close-ups are photographed on a sheet of frosted glass supported over a white sheet at a height of three inches or so.
The Fancy Bit Between Your Eye & Artefact
OK...so there are far more cameras available than light sources so this bit is easy......or is it?....
The camera you have must be able to photograph an image in "macro" so the camera has to have a macro mode setting . Macro is a photospeak term used for a camera set-up that's able to capture an image in extreme close-up. There should be a macro symbol that looks like a flower on the camera.
Now this is the very technical bit... the closer you are to the artefact the harder it may be to get all of your precious find in focus! The technical term for this is "Depth of Field" A.K.A. "DoF".
Coins present less of a challenge as they are flat and usually thin. Artefacts with more depth and detail such as a Roman fibula may be a little trickier. Parts of the fibula will be in focus and... annoyingly, some of it may be blurred or "soft"!
On some compact cameras there should be an "A" (aperture) setting amongst the other letters on the dial such as "P" and "S". Yes, that does read PAS.
By selecting "A" you can that alter the diaphram (a fancy bit inside the camera that acts like a human iris) to the largest number such as f8. This is known as "stopping down" in photographic circles.
Selecting f8 unfortunately cuts the light down (yes, that important bit at the beginning of this blog). This means that you'll have to be very careful as the shutter speed will probably be about 1/30th of a second instead of a faster 1/240th of a second! At 1/30th sec you will need a very steady hand ...or tripod. I shoot by hand as it allows me a little movement to tweak what is actually going to be 'on-screen' and you can check out that DoF too.
If your dial has both the "A" and the macro symbols you'll have to use the macro mode alone as the dial can only be in one place at once... and you may have to move further away from the artefact to ensure that all of it is in focus. Take as many photographs as you like so that when you upload them to your PC or laptop you can choose the best ones for editing later.
The Fun Bit
Now that you've beautifully photographed your carefully recovered artefact you may want to upload it to a photosharing website, or indeed, a forum.
Remembering that cameras are nowhere near as good as the human eye, your finished result may not look like you imagined it to be.
First of all, the image may be darker than you would like and secondly there may be too much of that white background/tabletop/settee in the shot.
This where a photo-editing tool comes into play. There are quite a few of these freely available on the net such as GIMP. There are other great software packages out there too.
If the image has too much background that detracts from the artefact you can easily crop it to your satisfaction. Also, if you need to lighten it up a bit, thats easy too. Just follow the instructions on either the software website or watch one of the myriad of YouTube videos that can show you the way.
- A stable and consistent light source
- A camera with a 'macro' mode or lens
- A photo editing software package
- A nice artefact
Hopefully I may be able to do a blog on how to create the perfect montage image for a Portable Antiquities Scheme record.