Powerhouse Museum Photography Manager Geoff Friend offers tips+tricks on how to photograph heritage collections. Geoff has worked at the Powerhouse Museum for 26 years and in that time has built a photographic studio that would make any organisation envious. But in this article he offers suggestions on how to make-do with limited resources. It can also be downloaded from Sector Resources on the CAN website.
“Necessity is the mother of all invention” – Thorstein Veblen
Powerhouse Museum Photography Manager Geoff Friend
Ideally images should be taken with a digital SLR as they have better noise processing; which means the pixels do not appear rough when shooting in low light conditions. The digital SLR should have a full-frame sensor. A non-full-frame sensor has a multiplying effect so a 35mm wide-angle lens becomes a 52mm lens.
(Geoff uses a Canon 1DS Mk3 and Canon 5D)
If the budget only allows for a compact camera, it should have at least 10 megapixels to ensure high resolution images. These cameras are good for photographing events and exhibitions for the organisation.
(Geoff uses a Canon G10)
Most digital cameras have video capture which is great for the web.
Use a low ISO (film speed) such as ISO 100 to achieve the finest resolution.
Lighting set-up to photograph the chair pictured below
The Powerhouse Museum uses professional electronic studio flash equipment – Broncolour floor packs with separate flash heads. The team uses a 1m x 1m softbox with a diffusion screen placed 50cm from the flash head to create a soft yet directional light source.
When using lighting equipment, avoid bare heads pointing at the object. Pulling the light source back from the object reduces the intensity of the light so that the detail is not burnt out. Angle the light so that it picks up the texture and pattern on the object if desired.
When photographing two-dimensional objects, make sure the light source is even. For example, place two lights on either side of the item at 45 degrees. Make sure the plane of the camera lens is perfectly parallel with the object.
If an artwork is behind glass, it is preferable to remove it from the frame. If it is too difficult, then cut a small hole in a piece of black velvet and shoot through the hole.
If the organisation cannot afford sophisticated lighting equipment, then it is a good idea to use natural light with the camera on a tripod. In this case a cable release cord or self-timer function on the camera should be used so there is no camera shake causing blurry photos. Avoid using the tripod’s centre column extension because it is unstable.
Please email Geoff Friend at the Powerhouse Museum for any technical questions.