How to Scientifically Photograph...
Archeological Remains of

Homo Sapiens

By Jenn Bertelsen


Photography of human bones requires attention to detail. General knowledge of anatomical positions in relation to structures of the human body is essential for proper documentation.


Locate a stable tabletop to provide for consistency between images. You will possibly be working with fragile human bones, dedicating a workspace for your photography eliminates possibilities for disaster. Before shooting you will need to acquire a variety of tools and accessories:



  • Seamless background or color-aid
  • Electronic flash system w/ soft box
  • Reflectors
  • Stabilizing material for reflectors
  • Proper Mounting device(s) for bones
  • 100mm Macro Lens
  • 35mm or digital camera of choice
  • Light Meter


Collect your specimen and if necessary clean the bone of any dirt, dust, or debris. To do so, without damaging the bone, use a soft cloth with warm water and gently rub the effected area. If photographing the skull with mandible, position the pair in Frankfurt Horizontal. This is accomplished by lining up the bottom of the orbit with the mastoid sinus. To check for accuracy, imagine a straight horizontal line spanning the distance between the two points.
Next, position the skull so that the specimen is parallel with the camera viewfinder. You will be shooting a series of images, beginning with a frontal shot (figure 2a). Basically the camera will be held vertically to allow for maximum coverage of the specimen.


figure 2a


Next, rotate the skull 90 degrees to the left, in order to photograph the specimen in a position referred to as left lateral (figure 2b). At this stage, the camera will be flipped to shoot in a horizontal format.

In certain circumstances you might be compelled to document additional details of the human remains. Shown here in figure 3, severe decay of the tooth, is documented. In instances such as these, you will need to adjust your lighting setup to accent the specific feature. Below please review the associating diagrams, illustrating the proper lighting setup.
figure 2b



figure 3

figure 4

Illustrating the effects of a deadly, infectious disease.


figure 5

Unusual degeneration of the femur, as a result of contracting tuberculosis.

figure 6

Green staining of the mandible by a burial shroud pin, caused by copper oxidization.


Jenn Bertelsen compiled this article; she is a 4th year graduating student of the Biomedical Photographic Communications program at Rochester Institute of Technology. With a minor in Criminal Justice, she plans to pursue a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a Forensic Photographer.


All images were photographed under copyright of Jenn Bertelsen 2004. These images were shot for a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. If you are interested in receiving further information, or have any questions or comments, please contact her through email at

Return to index of articles by students on the 'Principles and techniques of photomacrography' course, November 2004,
Biomedical Photographic Communications (BPC)
program at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

Article hosted on Micscape Magazine (Microscopy-UK).


Brunel Microscopes for student microscopes, stereo microscopes, low cost microscopes, microscope resources, microscope accessories, second hand microscopes, and  microscope cost comparisons.