From Physical to Digital

26 August 2016

What happens if you join our Digital team for the summer? Whitney, a student on UCL’s Digital Humanities Master’s programme, shares her experience…

Placement student Whitney Christopher photographing objects at the Postal Museum Store

When presented with choices of where to complete my placement to fulfill my master’s degree requirements, The Postal Museum was not the first to come to mind. I was wary of spending so much time in a place by such a name and curious as to “who would want to spend this much time with stamps, anyway”?

After doing some research and getting to know the wonderful people at this organization I learned that The Postal Museum represents so much more than just stamps or even mail. It’s a microcosm of all the social and political change in the UK wrapped into its own unique package — the postal service.

A selection of stamps

Letters and stamps: only part of the story

Working with the digital team, I have had the chance to explore different ways the museum engages its audience. One of those ways is through photogrammetry. What is photogrammetry you ask? Simply, it is the process of taking measurements from photographs. And these measurements are used to produce a 3D model of a real world object.

Whitney prepares an object for photography

Readying an object for photogrammetry

How does this happen? That is where I come in. I get to work with rare and fascinating objects from The Postal Museum collection. I photograph these objects from several angles—above the object, level with the object and below the object. While photographing from various angles, I simultaneously rotate them in varying degrees by spinning them on a turntable.

Photographing an object on our turntable

Photographing an object on our turntable

After all the photos are taken, a cruel and tedious process called ‘masking’ – removing the unwanted background from each image – is performed using Photoshop.

Whitney masks object photographs

Masking: necessary but not thrilling

Lastly, the images are processed in a software program to create a 3D model. And that is it, mostly! It sounds a bit boring, right? But the end result is amazing — a digital replica of a one-of-a-kind object.

See this engraving of a Mail Coach on a cow’s horn from 1815:

I enjoyed this work so much because it was interesting to create something — to take it from physical to digital — and because by creating these models I helped to make them accessible to more people. Now people all over the world can appreciate some of what The Postal Museum has to offer.

– Whitney Christopher