Photography of a Textile for Purposes of Insurance, Appraisal, or Conservation Estimate

The goal of the photography is to produce clear, high resolution images of your textile with fine detail in good focus. Digital cameras and printers are fine if the level of resolution and permanence of the print do not compromise the quality of the image. If better resolution is required, a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera with a suitable lens is suggested. Either take duplicate shots of each detail or print duplicates of the same photos. Keep one set in your possession. The duplicate set(s) can be mailed out, stored in the safety deposit box, etc.

1. If the textile is currently on display, photograph it that way.

2. If the textile is framed with glass or plexiglass protection, indirect lighting may be necessary to avoid reflections. If so, use a white cardboard or other white surface to “bounce” light, so that a reflections or light from the flash doesn’t mar the image. Do not remove the textile from its frame unless you are intimately familiar with the framing system yourself.

3. If the textile is unmounted and unframed, but in reasonably good condition, use the following procedure:

a) Use a clean white (or solid colored) sheet or tissue paper as both the background and the dust protector for the textile: lay the sheet or paper down on the floor or carpet and place the textile on top of the sheet.

b) Identify ownership, date, and scale. Take a small 3" x 5" file card and, in black magic marker, print your name, the date (Jan. 2013) and draw a line exactly one inch long [6" long for a large textile] printing beneath it the words "one inch" [or "six inches"].

c) Stand on a ladder at the edge of the sheet and take photographs of the textile with the marker set against the textile's edge. Be sure that the camera is in a pland parallel to the floor and to the textile. In this way, the imaged photographed will be congruent in size and shape to the actual object. Do not "keystone" the object by slanting the camera!

d) In order to photograph some over-sized textiles, it may be necessary to photograph the piece in sections or quadrants. Move the ladder (and the marker) rather than the sheet, if possible. If the location of the textile must be adjusted, fold or roll it up, slide the sheet, and reorganized your layout, rather than pulling the textile.

4. If the textile is extremely fragile or if it is damaged, do not attempt to move the textile to photograph it. Bring the camera to the drawer or current resting place.

Important Reminders:

While the textile is out for photography, the dimensions of the piece should be measured and a written description of the textile should be drafted (fibers, weave, finish of the edges, seams or construction, design, inscriptions, previous repairs, damages, provenance [pedigree]). Copies of this description should be made: one for you to keep with the photographs, and one for you to send along with the photographs to the appraiser or conservator.

With regards to the appraising of the object, different dealers charge different fees. Some will refuse to give a valuation without actually seeing the object. This is a problem, because textiles are easily damaged in casual transit. Be sure to write or telephone a dealer before sending documentation to his or her firm. Explain your purpose. Appraisal valuations for sale or auction are different than those for insurance (retail replacement).

Museum Conservation Institute 2002; Updated 2006, 2012