low-light photography

All posts tagged low-light photography


Today I thought we’d do a bit of a different type of blog post and discuss a very special tour of The Museum of Metropolitan Art in NYC that my wife and I had with a couple of friends recently. But just so we don’t totally break the mold maybe we’ll throw in a little photography talk as well.

Last month we had the distinct pleasure to join the “VIP Night Tour at The Museum of Metropolitan Art” put on by the great folks over at MuseumHack.

Museum Hack

Museum Hack

As stated on MuseumHack’s website they are a very unique company “We lead fun, high energy VIP museum adventures. You will be entertained… and learn a bit along the way. This is not your grandma’s museum tour.”

They’re definitely right! Not only were our 2 guides Ethan and Marie a blast to be around but super knowledgeable about all that “The Met”, as we New Yorkers tend to call it, has to offer.

MuseumHack bills themselves as “Museum tours for people who don’t like museums”. The excellent tour guides they employ are not actually art or art history experts, but theater experts. This where the “entertainment” part comes in. And while my wife and I are not exactly their target audience, both of us being artists and absolutely loving The Met to pieces, we definitely were thoroughly entertained throughout the whole experience.

Our guide Ethan from MuseumHack

Our guide Ethan from MuseumHack entertaining us

On your tour you’ll see not only the more famous highlights of The Met’s collection but some lesser known very cool pieces of art as well. Ever wanted to see one of the first smart phones in the world…only this one was created over 500 years ago!

The astrolabe is an ancient tool of Greek origin that is used to locate and predict the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars, which means you can use it to tell time, figure out what latitude you’re in, help you survey the land all around you, and even cast your horoscope so you can see how your future will turn out.

Although astrolabes were used extensively in the ancient world, they really came into their own during the Medieval era when the Islamic world picked them up and started adding all sorts of new features. Now they could help you find the time that the sun and certain fixed stars will rise so you know when to schedule morning prayer. By the time the astrolabe matured people found over 1,000 different uses for it.

With all the things it can do the astrolabe truly was the world’s first smart phone way before electricity.

An astrolabe the world's first smart phone

An astrolabe the world’s first smart phone

This is just one of the many cool objects in The Met’s 2 million piece permanent collection. Naturally you won’t see all of them on the tour, in fact you’ll barely scratch the surface but the few that you do see will be accompanied by some amazing stories and a whole heap of enthusiasm.

Those of you who are not necessarily art lovers out there, might be thinking “Scott are you serious? How could ancient art possibly be cool? What do you mean there will be amazing stories, it’s not like there’s gonna be a scandalous story associated with a painting?”

Ah now that’s where you’re wrong! Just look at these examples:

Want to protect your kids at night in a super powerful forcefield surrounding their bed? You can with a 4000 year old magic wand.

4000 year old magic wand

4000 year old magic wand

Do cute lovable mascots put a great big smile on your face? Learn all about “William” a ceramic blue hippo from Ancient Egypt and unofficial mascot of The Met. Why was he found with 3 of his legs broken? You’ll just have to take the tour to find out.

Our guide Marie tells us about William The Met's unofficial mascot

Our guide Marie tells us about William The Met’s unofficial mascot

I did promise you scandal, didn’t I…you don’t have to look much further than Edouard Manet, a pivotal painter in the transition from Realism to Impressionism whose nudes not only caused controversy by flouting the conventions of the time period but also whose son might have actually been his brother. How’s that for scandal?

Some tour participants hearing the sordid details of the life and times of Edouard Manet

Some tour participants hearing the sordid details of the life and times of Edouard Manet

Now I don’t want to give away the whole tour experience as it is something you definitely should experience for yourself, but here are just a few more highlights of antiquities you might see along the way:

Greek StatueIvory Instrument
SphynxReligious Painting

I also promised you some photography chat as well. So just how do we take great photos like these in the middle of a fine art museum that doesn’t allow flash? Simple…first have your friend walk by and distract the guard. Maybe have him or her try to touch one of the paintings..that really pisses them off. Next take your flash photo and run like hell!

Ok, ok just kidding, DON’T EVER DO THAT!!! Not only will you most likely get thrown out or arrested you will probably be destroying art work worth thousands or even millions of dollars. So how can we get great photos in a low light setting such as the museum?

Faithful readers of our blog are probably thinking, hmm seems like a topic we might have covered before, and you’d be right! Taking photos in a museum is no different than taking them in any other low-light situation that we’ve encountered, except that these subjects will most likely remain perfectly still so you have an easier time getting the shot.

Let’s review some techniques that we have at our disposal.

First we can raise our ISO. Increasing our ISO will make the sensors on our digital cameras more sensitive to light, thereby allowing us to take a better photo in a low-light situation. Just remember not to raise it too high or you’ll get a lot of digital noise or grain in your photo.

We can also try using a slower shutter speed. This will allow the shutter on our camera to stay open longer and therefore take in more light. However, the slower our shutter the more susceptible our image is to motion blur since we will have to hold the camera steady longer.

If you do use a slower shutter speed then it’s best to try and find a steady surface to rest the camera on, or try to steady yourself against a wall or other stationary object for support, this will help eliminate motion blur. Just make sure you’re not resting on another piece of artwork! That falls into the category of…DON’T EVER DO THAT!!!

For more tips and techniques while shooting in low-light situations feel free to check out some of our earlier blog posts on the subject.

And don’t forget one of the most important rules when taking photos at the museum…make sure to get some people in your photos as well! People really help to add visual interest to a photo. You can photograph them observing the art, or even their reactions to viewing an unusual piece for the first time.

Here are some photos of the participants in our tour. That’s my wife with the pink hair…yeah she’s a bit of a badass.

Ethan our guide teaching about the artwork

Ethan our guide teaching about the artwork

Tour participants learning about the artwork

Tour participants learning about the artwork

Tour participants react to hearing a story about the artwork

Tour participants react to hearing a story about the artwork

I want to thank the folks over at MuseumHack for a lovely evening filled with fun, scandal, and some art. MuseumHack offers both daytime and evening “Hack the Met” tours and have recently started offering “Hack the Museum of Natural History” tours as well! Check out their website when you get a chance. I highly recommend giving one of their tours a try.

Scott Dengrove is a professional photographer from the NYC area. Scott’s work has been featured in many national photography competitions and published in several nationally circulated magazines and publications. In addition, his work can currently be seen in 2 exhibits at Cosi® restaurants in New York and Connecticut and a traveling exhibit entitled “America: Coast to Coast”. For more information, and to see more of Scott’s work visit his website at www.dengrovestudios.com and connect with him on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dengrovestudios follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dengrovestudios

Another blog post so soon? I know exciting! We’ve gotten a few requests lately for some assistance with low-light photography from fans on our Facebook page. So I thought it would be a good idea to do another blog post about it, since it can be a difficult topic. And what better way to learn then with a little help from some childhood friends!

This past April I had the opportunity to spend some time visiting the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, GA. It’s quite an amazing facility providing education, history and entertainment all relating to various forms of puppetry from across the globe. They have interactive displays, informative workshops, and also really awesome puppet performances, if you’re ever in the Atlanta area I highly suggest you pay them a visit.

Now I’ll admit I do love all kinds of puppets, but the main draw for me visiting the center was to see the display of some very special friends.

It's Big Bird!!!!!

It’s Big Bird!!!!!

That’s right…I went to the Center for Puppetry Arts to visit THE MUPPETS!!!! In 2007 the Center for Puppetry Arts was named the proposed repository for much of Jim Henson’s collection of puppets. However, they have to raise money to build a space to house the collection. In the meantime, they do have a limited amount of Muppets on display and let me tell you it’s quite an experience being mere inches away from these amazing characters.

So how can the Muppets help us to learn about low-light photography? Well in the photo above Big Bird was actually behind glass, and no flash photos were allowed because flash can cause them to deteriorate. So I had to employ a number of low-light photography techniques in order to get some great photos of these guys.

Before we dive right into photo technique, let’s take a minute to talk about proper etiquette when taking these photos at a museum, aquarium or any public place. These institutions put on exhibits for the public to come and learn, view and enjoy, they are not there specifically for you to photograph. So you must understand that when you decide you’d like to get a great shot of something you may be inconveniencing others around you.

How do I get such great shots? Well bribing the manager doesn’t hurt….kidding! It takes a lot of patience, sometimes I’ll wait by a display for a long time until the crowds to disperse before I move in with my big lens to get the shot, but as you can see it’s worth it as you get much better shots and you won’t be rushed or upset others who are there to view the exhibit. There have even been times that I’ll see an exhibit with my friends or family and then go back again by myself to take photos so that I don’t bother them by making them wait around for me while I get the shot.

But Scott, you say, “I went to the Louvre to photograph the Mona Lisa, and the people never left…I’d still be there today waiting to take her photo”. Yeah she’s pretty popular, so what do you do if the item you want to photograph has a continuous line of people? You get in the line and wait your turn. When you get to the front, take your shots quickly since there are many people behind you waiting to see the exhibit.

I know you’re thinking now…”Scott, I understand that I need to get my shot fast, but how can I do that? Once I get there I have to check my settings, make sure the photo is properly exposed..these things take time!” Very true…so you need to be prepared BEFORE you get up there. While you’re waiting on line, start taking photos. Play with your settings until you’re exposure is perfect and you’re all ready to go. This way when you get up to the front and only have a few seconds to make it count all you need to do is take the shot and move on.

Set your camera settings ahead of time for a perfectly exposed quick shot

Set your camera settings ahead of time for a perfectly exposed quick shot

I do this all the time when I shoot. Yeah I know The Lorax is not the Mona Lisa, but he’s close. There’s a very long line to see him and you have little time to get the shot once you do. My wife thinks it’s the funniest thing in the world when I start taking photos of the characters with other people’s children, but that’s how I test my settings while waiting in line so that once I get to meet the head mouse himself, all it takes is a click or two of the shutter and we’re on our way.

Now that we’ve discussed proper etiquette when trying to get great photos, let’s talk about some techniques we can use to make them a reality. Basically it all comes down to getting more light into the camera so we can get a nicely exposed shot without using a flash. There are many ways we can do this.

The first is by raising the ISO setting. We’ve discussed ISO before in previous blog posts. The ISO setting on our cameras controls how sensitive our digital camera’s sensor is to light or how sensitive the film is to light on a traditional camera. Increasing ISO makes better exposed photos when shooting in low light levels. Great..problem solved, end of blog post!

Not quite…yes raising the ISO will increase the exposure of our photo, however, there is a side effect that we must take into account, each of the three camera settings that control exposure, ISO, aperture and shutter speed, all have a side effect as well. The more we increase ISO the more grain or noise our photo will have.

Most modern digital cameras can handle up to ISO 1600 reasonably well. Some high-end Digital SLR’s can even go as high as ISO 6400 without showing too much noise. For example in the photo I took below of the very hip and funky Dr. Teeth, of the famous band the Electric Mayhem, I used an ISO setting of 1000 which allowed for a nice properly exposed photo without a flash and very little noise.

Dr Teeth properly exposed using an increased ISO and slow shutter speed. ISO 1000, 1/30s, f/2.8

Dr Teeth properly exposed using an increased ISO and slow shutter speed. ISO 1000, 1/30s, f/2.8

However, my twinkle-toed piano playing friend Dr. Teeth was in such a darkly lit area that increasing the ISO alone would not have been enough. So what else can we do to take better photos in low-light?

We can use a slower shutter-speed. We’ve talked about shutter-speed before too. Shutter speed controls how long the camera’s shutter remains open to let light in when taking a photo. The longer it stays open the more light comes in, and the brighter your photo will be. But we mustn’t forget about the exposure side effects. What happens if I leave my shutter open too long?

We get blur. You know how sometimes those photos you take in low-light come out blurry? That’s because you’re using a shutter speed that’s too slow. Just how slow is too slow? It varies depending on the focal length of the lens you are using and also whether or not your lens has some form of Vibration Reduction built-in. As a general rule of thumb most people shooting with a “normal” length lens can hand-hold a camera with shutter speeds down to about 1/30.

Again this is a general estimation…please don’t send me messages showing me your heroic hand-held photos taken at 1/8s. Sure, there are people out there who can do this, maybe one of their distant relatives was a hydraulic tripod, perhaps their hands are fused together in one giant solid camera cradle that has no vibration, but for the most part 1/30 is a good approximate number to use.

When taking this photo of my good friend Sherlock Hemlock the world’s greatest detective, I used a shutter speed of 1/30. This, combined with an ISO of 1000 allowed me to get a nicely exposed photo in very dark lighting conditions.

Properly exposed photo of Sherlock Hemlock, ISO 1000, 1/30s, f/2.8

Properly exposed photo of Sherlock Hemlock, ISO 1000, 1/30s, f/2.8

Those of you readers with keen observation skills might notice something a little odd about this photo of Sherlock Hemlock. Do you see it? Take a look at the angle I shot this from. Why did I photograph Sherlock Hemlock from the side and not from the front like you would expect?

Anyone know? Well it all has to do with the fact that these exhibits are behind glass. When you think about it all of these exhibits are lit from above outside the glass. This means that there’s going to be light reflections and most importantly glare on the glass. If I had photographed Sherlock Hemlock from the front he’d be a washed out mess because of all the lights being reflected back off the glass. This can easily be corrected by taking the time to move around a little bit and noticing how the reflections change depending on where you’re viewing them from.

You’ll notice that there are particular angles that you can view the glass where there are no lights reflecting back at all. Usually you find these angles by looking at the exhibit through the side of the display case. Once you’ve found the “sweet spot” with no glare then go ahead and take your photo, you’ll be glad you spent the extra few moments to make sure you’re standing in the right spot. I’m sure Mokey Fraggle appreciated how I was able to capture her likeness in the photo below without being obscured by glare.

Photographing exhibits behind glass from an angle helps to eliminate glare

Photographing exhibits behind glass from an angle helps to eliminate glare

Speaking of angles, what happens on the rare occasion that you happen to be in a place that actually allows you to take flash photos?

First a disclaimer…99% of the museums and public places you visit will not allow you to use a flash. Why? Because flash can destroy antiquities and cause paint and pigments to fade. Now of course one flash burst probably won’t do it, but imagine hundreds of people a day passing by a painting photographing it with flash. That painting won’t last very long without fading.

So before you use a flash, please, please, PLEASE make 100% sure that you are allowed to use one!

Now having said that, if you happen to be at a place that does allow flash such as say an aquarium and you want to take a photo of one of the lovely fish through the glass, what do you think happens when you try to take a photo straight on?

That’s right…it flashes right back in your face and you get horrible glare.

Glare from the flash on a fish tank

Glare from the flash on a fish tank

Well this is a disappointing turn of events you say. Fear not! There is a way around the dreaded flash glare, and surprisingly it is very similar to eliminating glare when we’re not using flash. Anybody care to venture a guess? I’ll wait………….

Yes! That’s right if we take our photo from an angle instead of strait on it allows the flash to go through the glass without having it bounce back in our face. Glare eliminated. Of course when shooting with flash this requires a bit of trial and error to get it right as opposed to when shooting with ambient light which you can see all the time.

Shooting a photo with flash at an angle to the glass eliminates the glare

Shooting a photo with flash at an angle to the glass eliminates the glare

Well there you have it, you’re now armed with all the tools you need to get out there and start taking some awesome photos in low-light levels. As always, I’d love to see your results, please feel free to post some, and if you have the time feel free to leave a comment or two.

And if you ever find yourself in the Atlanta area do yourself a favor and visit the Center for Puppetry Arts we’ve barely scratched the surface here of what they have to offer, and I promise you’ve never been in a more creepy room than their puppet “attic”, you’ll see 😉

All characters depicted in this blog are copyright of their respective owners including all Muppet characters ©The Muppets Studio, Sesame Street characters ©Sesame Workshop and Fraggle characters ©The Jim Henson Company.

Scott Dengrove is a professional photographer from the NYC area. Scott’s work has been featured in many national photography competitions and published in several nationally circulated magazines and publications. In addition, his work can currently be seen in 2 exhibits at Cosi® restaurants in New York and Connecticut and a traveling exhibit entitled “America: Coast to Coast”. For more information, and to see more of Scott’s work visit his website at www.dengrovestudios.com and connect with him on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dengrovestudios follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dengrovestudios

Basically the title says it all. Today we’re going to talk about travel photography and the most important rule in travel photography is to ALWAYS HAVE YOUR CAMERA AT THE READY!

When traveling to new places that you’ve never been before you never know what you’re going to see and experience. There could be a perfect photo opportunity lying just around the corner and if you’re camera isn’t out and ready to go when you turn that corner chances are you’ll miss it.

Even a short taxi ride from the airport to your destination can yield photo opportunities. Perhaps the driver will pass a famous landmark building along the way. Or you might see some interesting native folks whose photo would help to show just how different the place is your visiting. Or maybe you’ll pass some wild looking plants like nothing you’ve ever encountered before.

It’s pretty hard to snap photos of these things while flying by them at 55 MPH if you don’t have your camera ready to go and accessible. I knew a guy who loved taking photos out car windows on the way to and from the airport. At first I wasn’t quite sure what the benefit was, but once I saw them it immediately became clear.

To further stress my point let me tell you a story about an amazing, colorful, and eerily bizarre thing that I encountered in the Detroit Airport of all places…the famous Light Tunnel.

In the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (man that’s a really long name) hidden under the tarmac, connecting the “B” and “C” concourses with the Main Terminal building lies the Light Tunnel. An amazing and other-worldly sensory overload of color, sound, and awesomeness.

My first encounter with this strange beast occurred roughly 2 years ago on a connecting flight from Huntsville, AL back to NY. I changed planes in Detroit. During my  first encounter with the Light Tunnel it really snuck up on me and I had no idea it was there or even what it was.

You see the Light Tunnel’s light and sound show is not continuous, so sometimes when you encounter it you may just think “Oh this passage has some cool architecture and I like the way it’s lit” as shown in the photo below.

This is exactly what I saw. So picture it…I just got off my plane with only a 30 minute layover before my next plane. I’m rushing to find it while I’m on the phone with somebody.

I start walking down this passage way not really noticing it too much, when all of a sudden. The lights go out…this really funky new age music starts to play and the passage way explodes into all kinds of strobing pulsing changing colors! I couldn’t believe it. Did I enter some sort of twilight zone? Am I on a bad acid trip? Did I just get smacked in the face by a big rainbow lollypop???!!!

It was incredible, I remember remarking to the person on the other end of the phone “I don’t know where the heck I just traveled to but it’s one hell of a show”. Of course I didn’t have time to really enjoy it or take it all in since I had a plane to catch at a gate on the far end of the terminal in just 10 minutes.

So I rushed through it and got to my plane just as they were closing the doors. The absolute worse part about it is that I DID NOT follow my own advice and have my camera ready. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnesses with no proof or visual reference to show people. How would they believe that I really experienced this and it wasn’t just a bad case of jet-lag.

Often times in life, opportunities like this are never repeated so that is why it’s super important to have your camera ready to grab that photograph at any time!

Ah but how does my story end you ask? Well lucky I recently had the opportunity to travel through the Detroit Airport again, but this time I was ready! I now knew the great light show that awaited me when I stopped to change planes and I was going to take full advantage of it! I scheduled myself a 2 hour layover…plenty of time.

So now we come to an important rule that’s universal in all photography. “Do whatever you have to do to get the shot!”

This is where I sat when taking photos of the light tunnel

I got off my first plane and headed straight for the Light Tunnel. I unpacked my camera and Gorilla-pod and proceeded to sit on the floor right here in the spot circled in the photograph. What a strange sight I must have been sitting on the floor in a pedestrian walkway in the middle of an airport with a camera mounted on a Gorilla-pod taking photos.

For almost 1 hour I proceeded to take all sorts of photos of the Light Tunnel with it’s crazy psychedelic light show.

All the while I was getting odd looks from travelers as they rushed along hurriedly trying to make their next flight. No less than 3 times did airport workers come over to me to ask “are you ok?” “Do you have a problem?” “Do you need medical help?”

I must’ve looked pretty strange to all of them, but I didn’t care I was getting some awesome shots, and erasing a mistake I made 2 years earlier when I was one of those travelers rushing to my next gate not stopping to see and photograph the incredible sight surrounding  me.

So the next time you guys are traveling learn from my mistakes, and be ready at all times to snap that great photo. Please feel free to share your results with us.

For those of you who are curious about the Light Tunnel at the Detroit Airport here is some more information courtesy of Wikipedia the full article may be viewed by clicking here:

This walkway, known as the Light Tunnel, features an elaborate multi-colored light show behind sculpted glass panels extending the entire length of the walkway, as well several moving walkways. The light patterns are synchronized with an original musical score composed by Victor Alexeeff, which runs for nearly a half hour before repeating. This installation, one of the first large scale uses of color changing LED lighting in the United States, was produced by Mills James Productions with glasswork by Foxfire Glass Works of Pontiac, Michigan. The display won multiple lighting design awards including the prestigious Guth Award of Merit. For passengers who are prone to medical conditions such as seizures, there are buttons at each end of the tunnel that will suspend the light show for five minutes so they can pass through with no adverse effects.

 

Scott Dengrove is a professional photographer from the NYC area. Scott’s work has been featured in many national photography competitions and published in several nationally circulated magazines and publications. In addition, his work can currently be seen in 2 exhibits at Cosi® restaurants in New York and Connecticut and a traveling exhibit entitled “America: Coast to Coast”. For more information, and to see more of Scott’s work visit his website at www.dengrovestudios.com and connect with him on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dengrovestudios