View Full Version : Two lighting setups for photographing museum objects

02-27-2012, 11:38 AM
Believe it or not, most people using PACCIN will have a leg up setting up any photo shoot of museum objects because of your handling and mountmaking skills. Just about everything I shoot gets "mounted" temporarily somehow for ease of photography. Below I'll show two of my favorite setups for shooting objects.

The first is shooting on a slant board:


Here I am shooting a tobacco pouch, but it works for many, many objects from quilts to clothing to works on paper. The above photo consists of essentially a slanted copy-stand (lights on each side at 30-45 degrees from the plane of the board). It is made of two sheets of foam-core covered by clean white paper and propped up. There is a small pin stuck through the foam-core that keeps the pouch from slipping down. The right strobe light is set up with more power than the left so I can get some texture out of the beadwork and leather. Other than that, it's pretty simple. The angle of the board can be changed depending on whether or not the object can be pinned up or needs to lie at a lower angle or even flat. This setup can be used with flash (like I have here) or with any continuous lighting source. The paper could be replaced with black velvet if the object you are shooting is light colored.

The second one shows one way to use a shooting table:


Here I have one light illuminating the background behind the drum (mostly for aesthetic reasons, I like a pure white background) and a single strobe with a softbox to the right. There is a foam-core reflector propped up on the left. That's it. The angle, height and strength of the main light can be varied as needed, the reflector can be moved as you need more (or less) fill light. The same type of setup can be used with anything that will fit on the table, but you can also use a large sheet of seamless (roll of paper) with larger reflectors to shoot big items on the floor. Shooting on a table will work with any lighting, but that trick of illuminating the background to make it white works best with strobes because they are easier to aim and control.

These are only a few tips to get you started, each object will demand different lighting. Just experiment and see what you like. Some people do not like the pure white background, a shiny object would necessitate a different setup, etc.


P.S. In case you want to know I'm using a Norman D-12 powerpack with Speedotron Blackline strobes and Chimera Softboxes. The strobes were here when I got this job and are probably 25 years old!

T. Ashley McGrew
03-02-2012, 09:12 AM
Though considerably less sophisticated that what you show here I thought I would mention one trick that I have done in the past (feeling a little embarrased at the time) that I have since discovered that a lot of other people do as well. When documenting very large paintings it can be very difficult to illuminate the entire surface evenly. Back in the day - there wasn't an option to photoshop anything in on your 4 x 5 transparency so it had to be right. What I ended up doing was bouncing light off of two 4' x 8' sheets of white fomecor - kind of like turning them into giant soft boxes. It seemed even things out and minimize hotspots pretty well and it didn't really cost anything. Also once set up it was pretty easy to swap out different sizes of paintings on the easel and reframe without a lot of adjustments in between shots.