As part of the behind-the-scenes process, the Collection Imaging team was tasked to photograph the whole of the Firearms collection.
The large Firearms collection includes a wide range of pieces from waistcoat duel pistols, flintlocks, shotguns and ornamentals through to a three metre long fort rifle. Each and every firearm is a feat of engineering in itself, and it serves to make you marvel at the evolution in firearm designs that has taken place over the centuries.
The Collection Imaging team set out to create high quality images of each and every piece. This makes the collection more visible through the Museum’s Collections Online website, documents the firearms’ many unique distinguishing features and meets the Museum’s digital archival standards.
Photographing the firearms in our studio
All firearms, regardless of whether they were functional or replicas, were treated as if they were live. Hence, all the pieces in the collection were transported and handled by Collections Managers with a certified gun license. Each day, a selection of firearms were retrieved from the secured armoury and brought up to the Collection Imaging studio for photography. At the end of the day, the same firearms were returned back to the secured armoury.
All the handguns in the collection were photographed first before moving onto the rifles. This way, the Imaging team were able to design a lighting setup that would be ideal for each type of firearm. Photographing like-for-like objects with minimal resetting helps us keep efficiency high, hence working in ‘size’ order.
Each piece had to be photographed from all sides at full length as well as numerous detailed close up shots covering interesting and intricate details of maker marks, engravings and designs. We designed the lighting setup to be able to light the entire piece; the primary ‘hero’ shot, side shots and zoomed-in detailed shots. Again, making the lighting work for all shots allowed for overall efficiency.
The handguns were more manageable to photograph as they are typically less than the size of a footprint or a piece of A4 paper. The rifles, however, were quite labour intensive to move and position for each frame, and were shot on the shooting table for rifles under two metres in length, and on the ground for rifles two metres long or more.
A flat grey colour was chosen for the background as it is a middle ground between white (which produces reflections on metallic areas) and black (which creates a loss of detail in shadowed areas).
Lighting the firearms
The lighting setup for firearms typically required three lights (in our case, we used Broncolor monoblock lights), and with soft box modifiers as set out in the behind-the-scene shot below.
With the reflective nature of these firearms, large soft box modifiers and shoot-through scrims (partially see-through panels) were used to soften the light, minimising highlights on the metallic and lacquered wood surfaces. Various sized reflector cards (white and black) were often used to further diffuse highlights and deepen up the shadowed areas where needed. Details such as maker’s marks on metallic components may not be best photographed in direct light - off angled and/or reflected lighting helps to carve out the details and areas of interest.
The museum has developed a standards framework for the creation of digital assets such as these images, and this in effect gives us a digital archival standard to work to. One of the things this means is that the final archival shots have to be ‘straight out of camera’ with very minimal corrections applied. That means, no Photoshop or any image manipulation is to be applied after the shot has been taken. The final shots for each piece are then exported into four file formats (CR2, DNG, TIFF and JPG) whereby the RAW files are archived. The JPG is then attached to our collections management system, Vernon, which is in turn uploaded into Collections Online.
It was a rare and special opportunity to get this close to the Auckland Museum Firearms collection, and the Collections Imaging team are deeply humbled to have been given the opportunity to capture these images and bringing these amazing pieces to life.
24-70mm / 100mm / 11-24 rectinlinear lenses
Three Broncolor Siros 800s mono lights
One Broncolor 120x180 soft box (top light)
Two P70 Broncolor modifier shoot-through diffusion scrims (handguns)
Two 90x120 Broncolor soft box (rifles)
Sekonic L-758DR Light meter
Check out the massive archive of high resolution images of all the firearms, freely available at Auckland Museum Collections Online.
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Post by: Richard Ng
Richard is one of the Collection Imaging photographers at Auckland Museum.