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Capturing sharp details from drawings in an art museum

The collection of 17th century Dutch and Flemish drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago is a nice display of work. Especially impressive is the large sign at the front of the exhibit.

The Art Institute blew up a 6-inch by 10-inch drawing to be 10 feet tall.

The resulting large signage is rather powerful. It grabs you while you walk by this gallery. It says, “come inside and look at this show”. Very effective for its purpose.

The original drawing:

Two Male Heads after the Antique, the Sons of Laocoön
Two Male Heads after the Antique, the Sons of Laocoön,
c. 1605, by Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius
Prints and Drawings, Gallery 125
Art Institute of Chicago Reference Number 2014.983

You can imagine, upon closer inspect, the resolution of this large sign didn’t carry over too well.

detail of signage for "Rubens Rembrandt and Drawing in the Golden Age"

Granted, it wasn’t bad. You didn’t see square pixels. But it wasn’t sharp. Is it possible to capture sharpness in an image that big? Wouldn’t you at least be able see the specific grain in the paper?

I tried photographing the original print on the wall with my Nikon D610 and a macro lens. Holding the camera manually with no tripod, I managed to get some decent paper and chalk details.

resolution of golden age signage

If I’m able to capture this detail holding my camera in dark gallery lighting, it makes one wonder what sort of scanner or camera the official staff is using at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Well, at least one thing this fuzzy enlarged image does–it encourages the visitor to go look at the actual drawing in the gallery to see the true sharpness and fidelity of the original hanging on the wall.

For fun, here’s another macro photo of this drawing:

Macro detail of ear

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