New imaging technology to shed a realistic light on art

Jun 16, 2006

Digitally archiving and reproducing artwork as it would be seen in a museum is a mathematical conundrum of light and geometry.

Rochester Institute of Technology and color scientist Roy Berns have been awarded $855,000 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop a practical approach museum photographers can use to eliminate subjective lighting decisions when imaging artwork.

Museum photographers try to capture the complex interplay between lighting, a painting and an observer in images of a museum's collections. Reducing the experience of viewing artwork in real life to a flat image -- a two-dimensional representation such as a poster or an image in a book or on a website -- relies on subjective and aesthetic decision making.

"Ultimately, there are decisions made in lighting and where you would stand. Realistic rendering is often limited by a lack of information about the object's shape and how incidental light is absorbed and scattered at each position on the object," says Berns, the Richard S. Hunter Professor of Color Science, Appearance and Technology in RIT's Munsell Color Science Laboratory in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.

The solution sought during this project will involve building an instrument to capture the geometric and spectral information of artwork. It requires reducing a painting to its most basic optical blueprint to bypass the subjective influences of light source and environment. Once the information is gathered, mathematical models used in computer graphics will create different viewing experiences of the artwork in a specific environment.

The five-year project has two phases. The first, supported by this award, will develop instrumentation that measures the spatial and geometrical properties of artistic materials as a function of lighting geometry, creating an important database, Berns says. Three-dimensional mathematical models will be tested that best predict these properties.

The anticipated second phase will simplify the process and equipment for museum photographers to use on site.

"It will include additional instrumentation to measure the art's and the specific gallery's shape," Berns says. "This all combines with computer graphics software to render the art as experienced in real life."

Capturing the optical information of important paintings in a collection will aid museums as guardians of cultural heritage and will benefit historians, scholars and conservators, as well.

Berns is currently wrapping up an earlier companion project, also funded by the Mellon Foundation, in which he built an imaging system that will help museums ensure color accuracy of reproductions and archival images.

Source: Rochester Institute of Technology

Explore further: Copying behavior in social groups may be governed by optimal control theory

Related Stories

Supermarkets welcome cold-comfort edge of F1 aerofoils

3 hours ago

UK-based Williams Advanced Engineering, the technology and engineering services business of the Williams Group, has collaborated with UK-based Aerofoil Energy to develop an aerodynamic device that can reduce ...

Public boarding school—the way to solve educational ills?

6 hours ago

Buffalo's chronically struggling school system is considering an idea gaining momentum in other cities: public boarding schools that put round-the-clock attention on students and away from such daunting problems as poverty, ...

Recommended for you

Why be creative on social media?

1 hour ago

There are five motivators for creating novel content online, whether blog posts, shared news stories, images, photos, songs, videos or any of the other digital artifacts users of social media and social networking sites share ...

Inoculating against science denial

2 hours ago

Science denial has real, societal consequences. Denial of the link between HIV and AIDS led to more than 330,000 premature deaths in South Africa. Denial of the link between smoking and cancer has caused ...

Report details benefits of investment in basic research

3 hours ago

Last year was a notable one for scientific achievements: In 2014, European researchers discovered a fundamental new particle that sheds light on the origins of the universe, and the European Space Agency ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.