Photographing Figure Stones

Lighting Demo

This is a figure in coarse and now badly weathered sandstone, difficult to photograph well.  It is a typical two-faced (Janus-like) figure, a bear's(?) head facing right, and a crested quasi-anthropomorphic head facing left.  In such cases there can be considerable effort involved in capturing the image effectively.

With flash - bad.



With light below and across the image - a little better, but not at all good.


  Sandstone Artifact - Day's Knob Archaeological Site

With light above the top of the image and raking across it at a low angle, probably the best one can do.   Keep in mind that these figures were usually carved and ground with the light source above - the sun!  They are best seen with the illumination placed accordingly.  Now the image is far from perfect but quite recognizable although in light relief after probably thousands of years of weathering.

Following is an excerpt from an e-mail this author sent in 2007 to a person submitting material for publication on this website:

First, using a flash almost never works - this washes out the details.
Since the images were carved with the light source above (sun), they are best photo- graphed under light from above the top of the image, shining across its surface at a grazing angle.  A lamp usually works fine, daylight is better in some cases.  With smaller stones I usually lay these on a table with the image surface facing upward, and situate a small flexible-neck table lamp bent down and turned to shine toward me across the image at the optimal horizontal angle.  One must experiment with the light's placement to show an image to its best advantage. This takes some patience.  Those folks were not creating obvious "art" as such - just routinely incorporating simple images as they thought was required.  (But sometimes the detail and workmanship are quite amazing.)


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