Introduction to Object ID
  Project Team
  Part 1
  Part 2
part 2: choosing viewpoints

Choosing Viewpoints

Before an object is photographed, the first step is to choose the viewpoint, or viewpoints, from which to record it. In selecting the viewpoint, the aim is to capture the maximum amount of information about the object.

For two-dimensional objects such as paintings, the camera should be square-on to the object. Spirit and bubble levels can be used to ensure the precision of the camera position. Paintings, prints, and drawings are not easy to photograph, given the need for even lighting and correct alignment of camera and object. Subtle lines, tones, or hues of objects such as watercolors and silverpoint etchings may be virtually impossible to reproduce exactly using an ordinary camera, lighting, and film processing. Often the best that can be done is to aim for a good overall impression, although photographs of distinguishing features, such as details of irregularities and damage, are essential for identifying the object uniquely. Manuscripts can be recorded in much the same way. They must be treated with great care in handling; if they (or any other originals) are bound in a volume, photographs should be taken with the volume opened only to a 90-degree angle in order to avoid damage to the spine.

Objects made of fabric should be treated in the same way as paintings, in that the viewpoint should be exactly at right angles to the center of the piece. Not only will this show the details in their correct proportions; it will also capture any irregularities of shape, often an important feature with objects such as rugs. Such a viewpoint may be difficult to achieve with large carpets, as they may be too fragile to hang on a wall, and an overhead viewpoint would mean using an elevated platform or similar device. In all cases, the safety of the object and of the photographer should be the primary considerations.

Multi-sided objects such as pieces of furniture should be photographed from a three-quarter view, i.e., from above showing a corner, the top, and two sides. Important objects should also be photographed square-on to the front, back, sides, and top, all the photographs being taken from the same distance and in similar lighting (see figure 9).

figure 9a figure 9b

figure 9c

figure 9d

figure 9e

figure 9f

Figure 9:  Multi-sided objects should be photographed from a three-quarter view. Important objects should be photographed square-on to the front, back, sides and top, and, where applicable, to show the interior.

It is less easy to suggest the most useful viewpoints for photographing free-standing statuary of a less formal kind. Because a slight change of viewpoint may reveal the shape of one feature, but conceal another, the object should be examined carefully to select the most informative perspective. Ideally, a series of photographs should be taken from different viewpoints around the object. Where applicable and feasible, it is often valuable to take photographs to show any inscriptions, markings, or damage on the base of the object (see Distinguishing Features).

Carvings or castings in relief should be photographed from a frontal position in order to record the proportions, but additional photographs taken from slightly angled viewpoints will help to record the depth of the relief. Again, a photograph from below will record any inscriptions, markings, and damage.

For objects such as bowls, jugs, and vases the most informative viewpoint is gained by looking down at the vessel from a slight angle, so that the rim appears as a shallow ellipse (see figure 10). For such things as shallow platters or bowls with interior decoration, two photographs may be necessary: one from very slightly above showing the profile and base of the vessel, the second from almost overhead, showing the interior and the inside of the wall. If the vessel has surface decoration it may be appropriate to take several exposures, turning the vessel between each, but keeping camera and object in the same relative positions. Selecting the most definitive record shot can be done later.

Figure 10:  For objects such as bowls, jugs and vases, the most informative viewpoint is one looking down from a slight angle, so that the rim appears as a shallow ellipse.

Figure 11:  Objects such as paperweights and cameos should be photographed almost from above, with the viewpoint lowered just enough to allow the depth or relief to be seen.

With objects such as paperweights and cameos, the most informative viewpoint is almost from above, with the viewpoint lowered just enough to allow the depth or relief to be seen (see figure 11). If the object is in pieces, arrange the fragments in the same relative positions as they would be in if it were whole.

Scales and information labels
All record photographs should include a scale of appropriate size. The scale should be placed close to, but not overlapping, the object. It is important to make sure that the scale is in the same plane as the object, in the case of three-dimensional objects about halfway back in its visible depth. This position will not only indicate the size of the object most accurately, but (if the scale is focused sharply) will ensure that the object is centered in the depth of field. A scale should include the unit and length of measurement (e.g., cm, in.) printed on it, since a simple black-and-white stick of unknown length is of little value. In addition, the photograph should, if possible, include a color reference card that can used to correct the colors of an image when printing or scanning (see figure 12).

figure 12
Figure 12:  Photographs should, if possible, include a scale and colour reference card of appropriate size.

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