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New challenges in photomodeling

You know how some days/weeks just do not go the way you thought they were going to? New things pop up, projects that need immediate attention come to the forefront, and the plans you had change. Last week was that way for me, but in the absolute best way!

After a presentation that caught her eye at the recent American Institute of Conservation (AIC) Conference, Paige, the Museum’s Assistant Objects Conservator, approached me with a photo modeling project unlike anything I’ve previously attempted. She is working on a beautiful eagle stern board carving that will soon be going out on loan. To better photo-document the piece, Paige wanted to create an overview shot of the back of the board. Not so complicated, right?

Eagle Stern Carving, front

Wrong. Hanging, propping, and laying the more than 8-foot-long piece face down were all less than ideal. But, at AIC, another presenter spoke about using photogrammetric modeling software to create orthomosaics. Photomosaics, in and of themselves, aren’t inherently complicated to compile as long as the photographer can get the right photos, but an orthomosaic orthorectifies the images to prevent distortions the subject’s shape during compilation.

Eagle stern board ready for photography

The software the Museum uses for 3D modeling does othromosaics, of course, and I’ve used the feature to export perfect flat images from the 3D models we’ve created in the past, but never have I taken photos solely for the purpose of an orthomosaic.

But, that’s not all. How do you photo-model the back of an artifact when you can’t flip it over or prop it up? Paige concocted a brilliant, but complex solution – shoot the photos from below, through plexiglass! This caused major lighting and glare issues during capture, but with tweaking here and there, lots of black boards and painters tape, and patience I didn’t know I possessed; we were able to create the perfect photo set-up in about half a day.

Our set-up to photograph the stern board’s back

If you’re thinking, “that’s not so long”; please remember, I am normally photographing and modeling our industrial, wet archaeological materials. Meaning, I get a brief window to take my modeling photos and I have to shoot the artifacts in whatever orientation I find them in. So, having the time and ability to fiddle with our photo set-up was refreshing, and still really frustrating.

Paige captures the stern board’s back side

Our results are absolutely stunning though! All the time spent in set-up, on the floor taking photos, and at the computer editing were totally worth it. I can’t wait for the opportunity to work with different materials and new challenges in the future. Thanks, Paige!

Completed orthomosaic of the stern board!

Wanna know more about this piece? Check out the Museum’s collections catalog, online:

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