William the blue hippo

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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