Underwater reflectance transformation imaging: a technology for in situ underwater cultural heritage object-level recording

David Selmo, Fraser Sturt, James Miles, Philip Basford, Tom Malzbender, Kirk Martinez, Charlie Thompson, Graeme Earl, George Bevan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
202 Downloads (Pure)


There is an increasing demand for high-resolution recording of in situ underwater cultural heritage. Reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) has a proven track record in terrestrial contexts for acquiring high-resolution diagnostic data at small scales. The research presented here documents the first adaptation of RTI protocols to the subaquatic environment, with a scuba-deployable method designed around affordable off-the-shelf technologies. Underwater RTI (URTI) was used to capture detail from historic shipwrecks in both the Solent and the western Mediterranean. Results show that URTI can capture submillimeter levels of qualitative diagnostic detail from in situ archaeological material. In addition, this paper presents the results of experiments to explore the impact of turbidity on URTI. For this purpose, a prototype fixed-lighting semisubmersible RTI photography dome was constructed to allow collection of data under controlled conditions. The signal-to-noise data generated reveals that the RGB channels of underwater digital images captured in progressive turbidity degraded faster than URTI object geometry calculated from them. URTI is shown to be capable of providing analytically useful object-level detail in conditions that would render ordinary underwater photography of limited use.
Original languageEnglish
Article number011029
Issue number1
Early online date28 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


  • imaging
  • RTI
  • Archaeology
  • underwater
  • cultural heritage
  • turbidity
  • polynomial texture mapping
  • maritime archaeology


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