The Archaeological Photographer’s Equipment List

When I started doing archaeological photography, I didn’t have much to go on. There weren’t many articles online at the time, so when it came time to build my equipment, I opted to buy what I knew I’d need for portrait photography and hope for the best.

It worked out, since most of what I do is portrait and art photography relies on what I ended up selecting, but there were some things that turned out to be more useful than others. So if you’d like to know what I haul halfway around the world to get quality artifact photographs, read on!

The Lenses

Canon EF 24 – 70mm f/2.8L Great for participant photos, daily progress shots, and larger artifacts.
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L For small artifacts and detail shots. Realistically, it’s not the best macro lens for the job because it requires a lot of distance between the camera and the object. If I had this choice to do all over again, I might have made a different decision, but it’s still a great quality lens and does a really good job.

The Cameras:

Canon 5D Mark II This is the workhorse for me, taking all the daily progress shots, participant portraits, artifact photos, and everything else I come across. It’s getting a little on the older side now, but I love the quality of this camera. It doesn’t have a GPS function though, so for this year, I’m also carrying around…
Canon 6D This is the dig’s camera, and I only use it for shots we need GPS functionality on. In the mornings, I walk around each square taking photographs of it from every angle. These images are geo-referenced and mapped into a program that makes a daily 3D model of the site, layer by layer.

The Rulers:

A Metre Stick Newly painted by me, it’s just a piece of wood that’s a metre long and has black and white alternating segments, each a decimetre long.
North Arrow It’s important in archaeological pictures to designate which way is north for someone who’s unfamiliar with the site or individual squares. The one I use was designed by me, built out of MDF by my father, and painted by my husband. It was a family effort. You can buy these off of various websites, but mine is larger and nicer, so there.
Small Artifact Rulers For indicating the size of the artifact, these are generally placed below or alongside each piece, so someone looking at the photo can get an idea of the size.

The Lighting:

LED Strip Lights For lighting hard to reach artifacts and details. Depending on the artifact, you will need to spend some time moving the lights around to get an accurate representation of any texture.
Canon MR-14 EX Ring Light Used in tandem with a lightbox, this flash will negate any and all shadows that hide the edges of an artifact.
Canon 580EX II Flash For participant photos and to combat any backlighting from the sun on mid-day dig discoveries.

The Bits and Bobs:

Reflector Disc
Remote Switch
Pocket Wizards
Jonas Brothers Notebook & Pen For recording artifact numbers and dig progress shots. Accept no substitute.

For a poorly cropped visual of what I use, see below! Those metre sticks don’t make it easy to set up a shot like this one. In the end, it ends up being a huge list of stuff.


I do not recommend trying to carry all on your back, as I have done in previous years. That has been a hard-learned lesson, as I’ve usually arrived at the site with broken blood vessels on my shoulders from the sheer weight of my backpack.

Instead, I opted this year to purchase a rolling carry-on bag and adapt the inside with a cushioned case to make flying and stop-overs easier. Once I’m in Jordan, I transition to using a plain old backpack for my on-the-dig essentials, like the north arrow, metre stick, Canon 5D & 6D, and standard lenses, plus the tripod as we start to lose light in the morning towards the end of the season. The rest of my equipment stays back at camp for artifact photos.

For those budding archaeological photographers out there, I hope this list has helped you figure out what can be useful and what’s best left at home. There are a million pieces of equipment I have brought here over the years that I just didn’t need or use. Though it seems like a lot of stuff, it really is the bare-bones of what I need to get the job done.

In the end, make it work! You’d be surprised what you can do with only a few choice pieces of equipment.

Leave a Reply