Creating Digital Replicas for a Fine Art Gallery

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Hello, my name is David Antalek. I’m a California native and photographic sorcerer.

I am someone with a great love of history, distant cultures, ancient relics and, of course, photography. My goal and passion is to leverage cutting edge technology to help preserve, reconstruct and even replicate items and places of humanity’s antiquity. Though I am an artist at heart, I have over 12 years of professional photography under my belt and countless hours photographing rare and wonderful treasures from all around the world.


I began working in 3D because of my work at a Fine Art Gallery on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach Florida. We had two large and very rare collections, one going up for auction and the other being stored away. The first was a collection of early Oceanic and African art consisting of masks, tools, thrones and weapons. The other a grouping of intricately carved European Ivory from the 18th and 19th centuries. The wooden objects of the African relics were susceptible to damage and decay, while the ivory collection were amazing works of art that were carved in a very controversial material. I wanted to digitally preserve these objects but at the time I thought you needed a $50,000 scanner to do so. Fortunately and to my delight I was introduced to photogrammetry and the fact that I could use my DSLR camera to create stunning 3D digital representations.

Why 3D?

I utilize 3D content to enhance eCommerce, as it adds a superior level of understanding of the object being viewed digitally. As a product photographer I get frequent requests from clients asking for different angles of an object, details and various lighting scenarios. Taking many 2D pictures is of course helpful, but providing a near life-like 3d representation of an actual item for people to view is incredible as it answers most questions about that item. Aside from antiques and art preservation I am working with an executive chef to incorporate 3D into their restaurant’s website as well as an augmented reality experience. Food is art, and is incredibly represented in 3D.

Workflow and Equipment

I currently shoot with a Canon Mark3 5d, and my favorite lens for 3D is the Canon 100mm Macro. This lens is the secret to getting very tiny details of an object so that your photogrammetry software (I use RealityCapture) can pick up and register points you normally wouldn’t expect it to pick up from your item, such as smooth stone, crystal and even white ivory. It would have been hard for the software to fully scan this Satsuma vase, but due to the detail of the micro crackling in the glaze Reality Capture was able to pick it up and make a full 3D model.

I also use a lightbox and a turntable for smaller objects and shoot the object as it turns for several rotations at different elevations. I shoot at a surprisingly high ISO (2500), my aperture is usually 12 and have a shutter speed of 500 so no blurring happens even though the object is turning. I shoot about every second and usually end up with over 1000 pictures for a highly detailed object. And yes using a tripod is a must, and I find underexposed pictures produce much better 3D results than overexposed pictures.


One challenge I ran into was when I tried shooting smooth white ivory. I realized that photogrammetry software does not do well with such a material and I kept getting terrible results. I solved it by taking a light brown food powder and applying it gently with a paintbrush on the smooth parts of the Ivory. After I did that the smooth parts registered in the software and produced wonderful results such as with this ivory piece I scanned.

Getting Started in 3D

I was incredibly surprised at what amazing 3D models I could create by just using an old iPhone. My jaw hit the ground at what detailed 3D content could be generated with just a low end camera. With the advent of better virtual reality hardware soon we will have our own digital museums just a click away. With such an exciting time ahead of us you owe it to yourself to get out there and have fun with this incredible technology.

The Future of 3D Heritage

Imaging classrooms that could take field trips around the world, virtually hold priceless heirlooms in the comfort of your home, or send archaeological site data in 3D within hours to your peers. What was once inaccessible history to so many can now be shared with everyone without risking the precious objects of our antiquity.

Other Great Models on Sketchfab

I was fortunate enough to discover Sketchfab’s own Thomas Flynn and his work the first time I ventured onto the site. I was immediately drawn to his 3D scan of a Pyramid Ice House, as seen here.

To learn you could scan huge objects like that and in such detail, and even annotate the 3D object with information was incredible to me. The world of future possibilities through 3D dawned on me at that moment and I owe that to Sketchfab and its vast community of talented and amazing people from around the world sharing their knowledge and discoveries.

Sketchfab / Website / Instagram

About the author

David Antalek

I am Director of Photography at a Fine Art Gallery & Auction House in Palm Beach Florida.

1 Comment

  • John Beers says:

    David San: I am very proud of you and I’m super impressed by what you have accomplished here. As a lover of great art, how could one be anything other than totally fascinated with this work you are doing?
    It amazes me that not only can I rotate the object in so many directions, but I can enlarge any aspect and find extremely good detail. Love your work !!!
    Bravo my friend – I can’t wait to see what is next! JB

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