Pixels and Postholes: How I Got Into Archaeological Photography

Sometimes we just have to boggle at how people end up doing things that are so very… well, niche. Not this time. We spoke to seasoned Venturer Hugh Fiske about how, over the course of just one summer, he introduced two hobbies to each other and became an archaeological photographer.yashica

So, Hugh, when did you first pick up a camera?

I inherited my Dad’s ancient Yashica twin lens reflex camera (go on… Google it) in the 1970s and have been interested in photography ever since. I progressed through point & shoot Kodaks onto the (comparatively) dizzying  complexity of pre-digital Single Lens Reflex (SLR) equipment. The advent of digital saw me follow a similar trajectory via point & shoot onto digital SLRs and the rest is history… still in the making.

And what about archaeology?

I’d been a digging as a Venturer at Flag Fen in 2012 and then again at Leiston Abbey in 2013, so by 2014 I felt ready to learn a different set of skills, ones that didn’t risk me being told off by Field School Manager Raksha Dave again for some breach of trench etiquette…

How did the two meet?

When I found out DigVentures were looking to train up a Digital Imaging Manager for the 2014 dig, how could I do anything but leap at the chance? Having been duly (if not swiftly) appointed, it might have been prudent to consider the acronym I had walked into, but at the time I was too busy trying to remember the basics of taking serious photographs to even consider it. Hence why I am now widely known as DIM…

(Watch Hugh at work in Saints & Secrets: Season 2, Episode 7)

I spent two-and-a-bit weeks straining Site Photographer Adam Stanford’s patience and adding wear and tear to his expensive kit. My role included taking the formal shots of trenches, features and small finds that are required for all archaeological site reports, plus as many informal “Gotcha!” pictures of Venturers and staff – turns out archaeologists at work are a goldmine of weird expressions and improbable poses.


Your archaeological photography skills took on another dimension. What’s that about?

Well, we weren’t just taking photos for the record, we were taking photos from lots of different angles so that with the help of a nifty bit of software, we could turn photos of finds, features, trenches and all the standing buildings that are part of the Leiston Abbey complex into 3D models.

(Watch Adam and Hugh create a 3D model in Saints & Secrets: Season 2, Episode 9)

This all meant I was often to be seen trudging from one field to the next carrying an extra long extension pole for those “giraffe’s eye view” pictures that make 3D modelling possible, as well as a camera bag and the standard red-and-white ranging poles that provide the scale.

How does being an archaeological photographer compare to being an archaeologist, or a photographer?

It felt like hard work at the time. But then I remembered what whole days spent digging felt like, so I mentally grinned and bore it, knowing I’d receive scant sympathy from my fellow diggers. Plus, keeping the hundreds of images under control, labelled and filed correctly, running the 3D software and, of course, just generally avoiding getting wet and muddy meant I had a lot of office time too.

What’s next?

wall and 3D wall

Well, I’m not just keeping my new skills to myself, that’s for sure… the end of the Leiston Abbey dig was really just the beginning. I returned to my local archaeology society (Chichester & District Archaeology Society), taking my new-found skills and an extra-long pole with me. We’ve been using them on digs ever since.

The experience and education I received this year at Leiston (with many thanks to Adam and the DigVentures team for having faith in my ability to do the job even close to adequately), was the best thing I have done in years, not least for shoving me out of my comfort zone. It really showed me something of the cutting edge of archaeological imaging, thoroughly revived my latent enthusiasm for photography in general and is now helping my local archaeology society.

I’m very pleased to say they expressed delight with the results. In fact, we can probably say we’re one of the first archaeological societies who are able to produce our own 3D models.

Always wanted to try archaeology? Now’s your chance!
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Written by DigVentures

Fascinated by archaeology? DigVentures runs excavations that anyone can be part of. From Roman ruins and medieval castles, to Bronze Age monuments and industrial heritage, you can choose to dig alongside our team, help out in the Finds Room, take an online course, or become a Subscriber for even more ways to enjoy archaeology with our team.

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