Visitors to Pompeii

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Pompeii provides a unique glimpse of Roman life in the first century A.D.  The 66-hectare (160-acre) archaeological site contains a remarkable cross section of public, residential and commercial structures.  Pompeii fascinates, educates and entertains.  For these reasons, over two and one-half million people visit each year.  During the summer months, over 10,000 sightseers enter each day, concentrating on relatively few streets and houses.   In addition, a significant number of archaeologists, historians and students study the architecture and building remains to learn more about the ancient inhabitants.  This well-meaning attention places significant stress on the site and provides numerous challenges for maintenance staff, photographers and surveyors.

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Although all of the processes in the photomosaic methodology were important, photography was one of the most critical.  The quality of the individual photographs would obviously affect the quality of the final photomosaics.  However, photogrammetric research had shown that the orientation of the camera would also affect whether the images were orthogonal and thereby impact the dimensional accuracy of the photomosaics. Finally, since the work was accomplished over several years, consistency of both the equipment and technique was important.

Field notes – Insula specifics, sketches, times of day, numbers of photographs taken and miscellaneous notes were recorded by date in a field journal.

Work schedule – Sun angles and shadows created by the height of the tallest buildings dictated that the fieldwork be accomplished in the mid-morning when photographing structures on the north side of the street, and in the mid-to-late afternoon for those on the south.  Photographs were downloaded from the camera and checked in the evenings.

Crowds and safety –The large number of visitors walking along via dell’Abbondanza caused minor difficulties by obscuring lines of sight and interrupting work with questions or seeking directions.  Hence, photography was accomplished as early or as late in the day as was feasible.  During the busiest midday periods, the only resolution to this problem was to wait patiently and to take photographs quickly in between the numerous interested travelers.  Orange safety cones were placed on the street in the work area.

Technical Standards - The previously developed criteria were utilized for the work:

  • A Nikon D-100 digital six-megapixel camera equipped with a Nikon 18-35 mm f/3.5-4.5 lens was used throughout the project.
  • All images were captured as uncompressed NEF (Nikon RAW) files at a size of 3008 X 2000 pixels.
  • A Kodak Q-13 Color Separation Guide was photographed at the beginning of each series of images for color control.
  • Photographs were taken in portrait format (tall rather than wide).
  • Photographs were taken at right angles to the plane of the facade.
  • Photographs were usually taken at an interval of one meter, with additional shots in the center of openings, columns and short walls.
  • All photographs of a particular facade were taken at the same distance and with the lens at the same focal length:

          Camera Distance           Lens Focal
          From Facade                  Length Setting

                  7m                                26mm
                  6m                                22mm
                  5m                                18mm
                <5m                                18mm

130 monopod dCamera support, lower photographs – The facades were photographed with the street, curbstones and vertical walls visible in each image.  During the 2005 season, the camera was handheld in portrait orientation, and a hot shoe mounted bubble level was used to assure that the lens was at right angles to the building surface.  The photographs recorded the fronts of the structures to a height of about 4.6 meters.

In subsequent seasons the camera was affixed to a Manfrotto Elbow Bracket vertically mounted onto a Manfrotto monopod.  A surveying rod bubble level was attached to the monopod, which was used to orient the camera lens correctly.  A team of two could quickly place and align the camera and take the photographs.  Not only was this device a more stable support but also enabled the fronts of the structures to be recorded to a height of 4.9 meters.

Camera support, upper photographs – Any structure on via dell’Abbondanza over 4.9 meters in height could not be recorded with photographs taken at ground level.  During the 2005 season the upper building wall surfaces were photographed from a two-meter stepladder with the camera handheld in portrait orientation.  This proved to be difficult, unsafe and the quality of the pictures was uncertain.

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A custom camera support was designed and built for subsequent upper-level photography.  Five sections of 1.5 inch fiberglass tubing were procured and the ends trued with a lathe.  Wooden plugs were fabricated and fastened between the fiberglass tubes resulting in a straight, rigid column 4.4 meters long.  A rubber non-slip foot was attached to the lower end.  A platform with a quick release fixture was made and fastened to the top, to which a Manfrotto Elbow Bracket and camera could be attached.  Two short adjustable legs salvaged from an old camera tripod were attached to the lower section to provide stability when the pole was raised vertically. A surveying rod bubble level was mounted on the column that could be used to orient the camera lens correctly.  The device could be disassembled for transport, and the height altered by using different combinations of the fiberglass pieces.

The cord of a standard Nikon accessory was spliced and lengthened in order to make a five meter-long shutter release.  A remote viewing monitor was constructed from a small three-inch LED screen, battery power supply and plastic housing.  The monitor was mounted to the pole on a fabricated bracket, and attached to the video out port on the camera with a long cable.  The completed apparatus was named “the photostick."  With it, the camera could be fastened to the top, correctly oriented toward a facade, remotely triggered and the picture quality checked in the monitor.  The photostick made it possible for images to be taken safely of structures that stood over seven and one-half meters high.  All upper level photographs taken in 2005 were subsequently re-shot with the improved equipment.

Work sequence – Photography was generally accomplished in the following order:

  • The city block that was to be photographed was selected and a new job established in the field notes journal.
  • Several perspective and general shots were taken from each end and along the complete block for future reference.
  • The width of the street was measured in order to determine the maximum photographic distance (usually 5, 6 or 7 meters).
  • The maximum distance was measured and marked with chalk in several places along the street surface.
  • A 30-meter tape was stretched in a straight line along the street over the chalk marks.
  • The appropriate camera focal length was selected and masking tape used to hold the setting in place.
  • The white balance was manually set using an 18% gray card in full sun.
  • The insula address plaque on one end of the block was photographed for identification.
  • The color reference card was placed on the facade in full sun and photographed.
  • The camera was installed on the appropriate support, depending on whether lower or upper photographs were required.
  • The images that would be incorporated into the photomosaic were then taken sequentially along the street, making sure that the camera was level and pointed directly at the facade.
  • The insula address plaque at the other end of the block was photographed for identification at the completion of the sequence.
  • Detail photographs were then taken of interesting building features.
  • Any explanatory information that would benefit the production of the photomosaic was recorded in the field notes.
  • The 30-meter tape was retrieved and equipment dismantled.

Completed photographs – All photographs remained on the memory card of the camera until each job was completed.  At that time the images were downloaded onto a laptop computer in NEF format.  Each photograph was reviewed for quality and all files were backed up on data CD’s or an external hard drive.  Any unacceptable images were noted and later re-photographed.

Restoration, conservation and barrier fencing – Various types of construction works were constantly in process in Pompeii.  It was not possible to learn in advance what buildings would, in some way, be obscured.   Several facades were photographed multiple times in different years in order to record the structures without workers or barriers.

2005 season – Nineteen insulae were photographed, including two that were under restoration.  Research was started in the SAP photographic archives to identify early excavation photos of via dell’Abbondanza.

2006 season – Most of the season was devoted to geomatics.  The lower levels of the two insulae that were under restoration in 2005 were re-photographed.  The upper levels of eight of the insulae photographed in 2005 were re-photographed with the new camera support equipment.

2007 season – The lower levels of fourteen of the insulae and the upper levels of eight were photographed.  Research was continued in the SAP photographic archives.  Documents in the Giornali degli Scavi storeroom were examined and research in the SAP library was commenced to identify historical information and images of via dell’Abbondanza.

2008 season – Two of the insulae that had been under long-term restoration were re-photographed after orange construction safety fences were removed.  Additional general reference photos were taken.  Research was continued in the photographic archives, library and Giornali degli Scavi storeroom.  Several eighteenth and nineteenth century maps and watercolors depicting via dell’Abbondanza were photographed in the archives of the Naples Archaeological Museum.

2009 season – Quality control checks indicated several small areas in need of improvement.  These areas were re-photographed.  Library and archive research was completed.

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