Digital Treasure Trove: Post-Production Photography Editing

Contributed by PAFA Museum Collections

As part of our ongoing IMLS grant project to digitize portions of our collection, we are continuing to photograph works in our collection, but we are also beginning to process and edit some of these new images in preparation for their integration into PAFA’s databases.

If you have followed the Museum’s previous digitization initiatives, then you should know that these efforts are resource intensive. It is important that we take the time to digitally capture works of art that represent our collection as true-to-life as possible. To ensure we obtain high quality digital assets, there are two points in the digitization workflow that we focus on: 1. the moment we take the photo 2. the post-production work done after digital capture. For paintings and works on paper, this can be as simple as adjusting for the amount and color of the light, ensuring the work is square to the lens, and cropping as needed. For sculptures and 3-dimensional works, however, there are many additional variables that need addressing, including the consistency of the gradient background.

In a perfect world, the background would appear perfectly consistent across our hundreds of images, but this is not always the case. Often when shooting the images, the accuracy of the represented object must be prioritized over the look of the background, leaving artifacts in the image like folds in the paper or markings from other sculptures. To address this, we must correct these issues in post-production.

For every individual image that requires this correcting, we must break them down into three separate Photoshop layers: (1) an isolated background without the object (2) a copy of this isolated background without the object that has had a gaussian blur applied to it (3) a top layer that has only the isolated object. These layers are then carefully stitched together in such a way that the distractions of the “imperfect” background are fixed, while preserving all the necessary elements of the artwork (the object itself and its shadows) to create a clean, long-lasting, and useful image.

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit https://www.imls.gov/and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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