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A method for

Archaeology Photography

What if all photographs of archaeological artefacts were done in the same way. Not just in one museum, but in all of them – then everything could be presented as one image. This is the idea behind PHOTARCH.

The problem

Before an archaeological artefact is either put on display in a museum or, more likely, sent to storage to be archived – a picture is taken. Often using different lighting set-ups, different camera gear and different methods of photographing, resulting in differently looking images. What if we did things differently?

A solution?

By adhering to a few key principles when taking the picture, using a method that can be easily replicable, at low cost, offering high quality and accuracy; then a unified image could be achieved. Making a combined collection scientifically useful whilst being publicly accessible.

A newly discovered agraffe button being analysed in the field.
that same agraffe button after conservation
White VS. Grey background

First, the end

We want an image of an artefact. That image is made up of all things within its frame. Without the frame we're left with the artefact. The background is not a part of the artefact - we have no need for it. How do we make it disappear while keeping the shadows?

There’s a common practice in photography of archaeology to place the artefact against a neutral grey background.

To agree on a percentage of “neutral grey” will differ from case to case. To make that grey consistent throughout the image is not easy. It is difficult for professional photographers and all but impossible for the average museum.

What is easy is 100% white. We can all agree that blown out highlights are 100% white, they are totally empty of information. We even have aids in both our cameras and our software to help us avoid blown highlights.

Instead we can use them to our advantage. By pushing the histogram to the right, and have the highlight warning tell us when we reach the shadow, we can make that background disappear.

Why does it matter?
Yesterday was print, everything was published on paper. Today it’s screens – white websites, databases and pdf´s. Tomorrow it’s VR where everything is placed in space. There is no need for backgrounds in either case.

In a future where AI will inform us what we have in our collections, an optical review of the artefact will be necessary. By making the image readable we can fast track that process.

Whatever method we end up using, we must start with the end usage in mind.

Making a case for

the Shadows of Archaeology

There’s something lurking in the shadows of archaeology photography. They are slowly being erased. When the grey images are sent for publication the editor usually asks for the background to be removed, and in so doing removing the shadows, leaving artefacts looking flat and shapeless. We need those shadows as they give us information about the object. If the image was delivered on pure white backgrund – with shadows – there would be no need to crop out the object, just drop the image on the layout and multiply the alpha channel.

Below are a few examples of information that the shadows convey.


The tint of the shadow tells us that the artefact is translucent.


We can tell that this object has great volume.


The shadow tells us that the object is wobbly.


The shadow tells us the intended presentation of the object.

Keeping it in


Everything is kept within the image – but no all is shown. We want to see what came for, that is the artefact. Next up, the information. Everything from the archaeological record concerning the object is stored with its metadata. Even the scale. If we want to see it we download the original file and open it un-cropped. However, when displaying the object in a database, we need only the object itself – that is: no scale, no ruler, no color charts, no backgrounds. But they’re all there.

The future of

a Curated Database

For everything to be displayed side by side, everything will have to be presented in the same style. This will make for an easy comparison and optically searchable result. Not only by scientists and the public but by AI.

The result being that we can upload an image to the database and have it tell us what we have; “a blue glass bead with green inlays” … ” from ≈450 AD” and have it show us related objects… on a map. Or, since we put in the measurements on upload we can choose to see everything side by side – or at scale.

For this to happen we need readable data, free from obstructions i.e. busy backgrounds.

Kalmar Läns Museum
Lunds Historiska Museum
Migration Period
Roman Iron Age
Sandby Borg
Let’s talk about it


PHOTARCH is a project by photographer turned archaeologist, Daniel Lindskog. Your interest in the project is vital for its survival. You don’t have to agree to its premisses but by signing up to the mailing list you show your support in the idea of a unifying method of archaeology photography.

PHOTARCH may not be that method, but we might get there by starting a discussion on the end usage: what’s the images intended use and how can we optimize our methods to that end?

Please have a follow over at Instagram @photarch and have a look in the Archive for free to use examples. For more information on the project, please visit – your support is much appreciated – thank you!