What Is Archaeological Photography?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 13 January 2020
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Archaeological photography is the practice of photographing the many facets of archeological work to create a lasting record of that work. The specific job of an archeological photographer usually involves tasks like taking pictures of a site before, during, and after a dig and photographing artifacts. As of the early 21st century, much archaeological photography is done digitally, a technological development that has improved the field while also posing unique challenges. Those who wish to become archaeological photographers might consider a course of study that focuses on both photography and archaeology.

It is the job of an archaeological photographer to create a permanent photographic record of archaeological projects. By capturing the diverse elements of these projects on film, the photographer provides visual data that can later be studied by the archaeologists working on that particular project, scholarly researchers, museum curators, and anyone who wishes to obtain information about past civilizations. One of the reasons that archaeological photography is so important to the field of archaeology is that once a site has been excavated, it cannot be restored to its original state. Thus, photographs can provide a lasting record of a site before and while a dig is in progress.


In most cases, a large part of an archaeological photographer’s work is performed on-site. She usually takes photos of the excavation as it progresses, showing, for instance, where and how a particular artifact was situated when it was uncovered. Additionally, she may photograph the area surrounding a site to record how it looked at the time of an excavation. Often, the other primary component of an archaeological photographer’s job is taking pictures of each artifact recovered during an excavation in such a way that its details and size are clear. This task may be performed in a laboratory, museum, or other off-site location.

As of late 2011, archaeological photography has largely become a digital medium. Digital technology has many benefits for archaeological photographers. It allows them, for instance, to check the quality and composition of each shot before leaving an excavation site, and also allows them to share photographs quickly and cheaply. This technology also poses some challenges, however. For example, in order to create authentic records of artifacts, photographers must resist the urge to over-correct their images using photography software.

Those who wish to become archaeological photographers will likely need to have a background in both photography and archaeology. The archaeology departments of some colleges and universities offer classes that focus specifically on archaeological photography. Alternatively, a student may wish to complete a double major in these subjects, or to earn an undergraduate degree in one of the subjects and a master’s degree in the other.


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