Photographing your collection

From Our Toolkit

Spending time adding photographs of collection items to you inventory, catalogue or item records can be a time consuming activity. Building in this sort of task as items enter your collection or through project work can make it more achieveable.

Before you start

Before starting on any photography make sure you are clear on the quality and type of image you want to create and how you plan to use it. The answers to these questions will shape how you undertake the task. For example are you just wanting an image for internal record keeping purposes ie. a small file size in a workable format such as a jpeg; or do you want to create an image which could be used for public use for example in an exhibition, or for research and print purposes which needs to be a better composed shot, a larger file size and in a format such as a TIFF which can then be scaled down for your collection records?

For further information about photography and scanning can be found in the Digitising your collection topic in this toolkit.


You don’t need to purchase expensive equipment to create good quality images of your museum or archive collection, just use the best quality you can afford or have at your disposal.

It is best practice to work towards having at least one good clear image of each item. In doing so you will cut down the need to handle the object thus reducing the opportunity for it to become damaged or worn. Make sure that once you have created your images, either a photograph or scan, that you name your image files to match your inventory, catalogue or box list number and record the image name and where it is stored on your inventory spreadsheet.

Recommendations for photography of 3D items and outsize archival material 

  • Use a well lit space
  • Use a plain background
  • Include a size guide
  • Photograph 2D material as square on as possible
  • Think about propping some items up
  • Try to minimise reflection and shadowing
  • Photograph everything of interest for example maker’s marks,  the reverse of documents

Museums Australia Victoria’s Photographing collection items film shows how to effectively photograph a range of museum artefacts.

For archival material in a museum

Where you can, scan the item rather than photograph it using the following process:

  • STEP 1 – Creating a master image: Scan at the highest resolution you can – save it as a TIFF file
  • STEP 2 – Creating a working copy: Re-save the same scan as a large JPEG file (for in exhibitions, print or research enquiries and so on)
  • STEP 3 – Creating your inventory/catalogue image: Re-save the same scan as a smaller ‘every day working’ JPEG file

Don’t be daunted by this advice – Do what is appropriate and achievable for your organisation.

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