View Full Version : Lighting for Museum Photography

02-23-2012, 07:46 AM
Lighting for documentation photography:

There are two basic types of lighting used while photographing museum objects, continuous and strobe (flash). Each has its good and bad qualities but a well equipped photo studio has both.

Continuous lighting is simply lights that stay on all the time. They come in tungsten, fluorescent, LED and HMI. The most common (and usually cheapest) is tungsten lighting. It provides easily corrected color temp, good power for lighting large objects, and did I mention it is cheap? The big disadvantage is that the bulbs get very hot and can heat up objects and the studio. They shoot off quite a bit of UV too. Fluorescent lighting is cheap-ish, cool and lightweight. But they tend to be very under-powered, the bulbs change color temperature as they age and can be expensive to replace. LED lighting is pretty new in the photo studio, but has been used in movies for a while. I really donít know much about it, but Alex Koloskov seems to like them on his photography blog (http://www.akelstudio.com/blog/project-in-development-inexpensive-way-to-shoot-jewelry-next-turn-led-lighting/). HMI lighting has been pretty much exclusive to movie studios and Iíve never used them myself. But I know of at least one photographer who uses them for product photography.

Strobe or Flash lighting is what most museums use for photographing objects. They provide constant color temp until the bulb blows, the intensity of the flash can be modified rather than having to move the light itself closer or farther away (like with tungsten), the do not give off much heat, they often have the most selection of light modifiers (reflectors, softboxes, snoots, umbrellas, etc.) and they are powerful enough to use the optimal lens aperture. However, they can be rather expensive to purchase initially. But, used equipment is all over the place so you can save money there. I really donít have recommendations for one brand of lighting over another; I would see what you can find used and go from there.

For more information, B&H has a pretty good (but rather general) guide to studio lighting here (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/indepth/photography/buying-guides/studio-lighting?cm_sp=Resource-_-inDepth-_-Guide_to_Studio_Lighting_).

Iíll talk more about the various light modifiers when I write a post on how to light your museum objects.

T. Ashley McGrew
02-24-2012, 03:57 PM
Hey Jason,

Do you have an economical source for black and white dimensional scales and the grey scale and color patch thingies that folks tend to put in the frame when documenting some objects?
How about tips on their use?

I came across this link that shows some fancy ones that I think are specifically for use with photographs but I have only seen plain ones for general use.

T. Ashley McGrew

02-27-2012, 06:51 AM
There are a few ways to get correct color calibration. The most widely used is what used to be called a "MacBeth" color checker, now made by X-Rite (http://www.adorama.com/DKMCC.html). X-Rite also makes a complete color checking system (http://www.adorama.com/GHCCP.html) which can automatically check and adjust your color calibration (you shoot two images exactly the same, one with the chart and one without). Of course both of these are useless without at least a little color calibration for your computer monitor so you'll need something like this (http://www.adorama.com/ICVS4X100.html).

But, to be honest 99.9% of the people looking at your images (including curators) will not have calibrated monitors so if you are making photos of your collections for the web, I wouldn't worry too much about absolutely perfect color. The nice thing about the Macbeth or the X-Rite is that they are "industry standards" so even if your own monitor isn't perfectly calibrated if you include it in any images you send off for publication, the publisher can color correct themselves.

The easiest (and cheapest) way to color correct is using the "White Balance Tool" in Camera RAW and a grey card, see this for instructions (http://www.adobe.com/digitalimag/pdfs/ps_workflow_sec3.pdf).

As for scales, I usually make my own but a quick search turned up these (http://www.crime-scene.com/store/references.shtml).

If it was up to me, and it isn't in my case, I would save unprocessed RAW files (which include a scale and color checker in the image) as your "archival" image (and the one you would send out for publishing) and make smaller JPEGs or JPEG2000s (with the scale/color checker cropped out) for public consumption.