Posts Tagged ‘museum’

I once knew the names for this type of bronze vessel, it now escapes me.

I once knew the names for this type of bronze vessel, it now escapes me.

I went to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco today on the way back from dropping someone off at SFO. As always I enjoyed the exhibits (they had Samurai’s this time), but the trip highlighted the challenges of photographing in museums.

First I had all of my camera gear with me since I was unsure of what I would be doing before and after the museum, at this point that just constitutes at Think Tank Photo Streetwalker backpack. However there was a size limit on bags in the museum so I had to check my bag in the complimentary coat check. I was allowed to take my camera with me but not the bag. I had to decide which lens to take with me, knowing that no flashes are allowed I chose my 50mm f/1.8 for the high speed.

With no flash and no tripod I would have be limited mostly to all handheld shots and museums are surprisingly dark places (for the most part). I rarely went below an ISO of 400 and kept the aperture at f/1.8 the entire time. I would have liked a zoom lens for the wider angles and even a zoom but the kit lenses I have are far too slow.

With a high ISO I am pleased how the photos came out (the Samurai exhibit did not allow photography) the only problem I faced was the lack of an autofocus. Usually I am fine with manual focus, however it was combined with low light so I was below the standard 1/50s exposure time (since it is a 50mm lens) and was often at 1/20 or 1/40. It was necessary to manually focus with a shallow depth of field and steady the camera.

I utilized the usual trick of bracing against walls, pillars, signs and the odd chair though this museum had a dearth of conveniently located propping points. In the end I relied on the high ISO, an exposure compensation of -1 or -2 and the large aperture. I realize now that I should have set metering to be just at the focal point instead of factoring in the entire frame, the rest of the frame tended to be black if not dark and unnecessarily increased the exposure.

Back home when I went through the photos I found myself holding them to a different standard compared to other subjects. Instead of evaluating the photos of the art pieces by their content I did it by lighting, sharpness and focal plane. Only if a given piece had multiple sharp well exposed photos did I start to look into composition and even subject matter.

Now if I could only remember back to my Chinese Art History class to figure out what I photographed.

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My Favorite, the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

My Favorite, the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Last November I was planning a weekend trip to Paris. The idea of a weekend trip suggests flying in Friday night, two full days then leaving late Sunday or early Monday morning. In an ideal world I suppose this is true. For those of us on a tight budget it meant flying in Friday late and night and then leaving midday Sunday. This should have given me at least a few hours on Sunday to walk around. Except for one unexpected problem: transportation strikes. I barely made it out of the airport.

So we were reduced to one full day in which to explore and take in Paris. I really dislike traveling with such time constraints, but there we were (the we was my then girlfriend and I for our two year anniversary). One of the big items on our agenda was the Louvre. The Louvre is a rather large museum. I could have spent several hours a day for five days there. Managed it in an hour and a half.

Of course with only a limited slot of time and a large museum some cuts had to be made to the self guided tour. Essentially all of them. The first thing I did was pick up a map to find out where to go and in what order. The first stop was the Winged Victory of Samothrace, quite a nice statue and very impressive. From there we wound through corridors of paintings to reach the Mona Lisa. To be honest it was a lot smaller then I anticipated. It also did nothing for me, I like the gigantic painting directly across from it. Then again I have never like portrait painting.

At this point I tried to get a shortcut to the next stop, the room with the (I believe) Crown Jewels of old France. I got a bit mixed up so a few superfluous corridors were viewed. The room of King Louis the Something is a very posh room, with the gold and the shiny things. The chairs looked uncomfortable though. With that off our list we had to wind our way across the museum to reach the Venus de Milo.

Back through the main corridor housing the Winged Victory and many flash photographers, up some stairs towards seventeenth century flemish art and down a hallway of oil paintings, only to find that the staircase I want is currently blocked off. Back down the oil paintings through some landscapes and a short stroll through sarcophagi finally found us in the greek statue room. The sandstone of Egypt gave way to the marble of Greece and another flash photography crowd. And there was the Venus de Milo. I liked the Winged Victory better.

Finished with the main three women of the Louvre we grabbed a snack, scoffed at the two euro postcards and emerged into the winter air of Paris.

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Chihuly Exhibit


A Mass of Glass

A Mass of Glass

Yesterday I went into San Francisco to the De Young Museum for the Chihuly exhibit. Chihuly is the pirate (he has an eyepatch therefore he must be a pirate) who makes the abstract works of brightly colored glass in Seattle. There are been some criticism of this exhibit as being too commercial. I don’t think it was too commercial, too commercial would have had price tags on every piece with salesmen strolling through the gallery encouraging prospective buyers. Maybe it would have been better to say that the exhibit was not full of thought provoking artistic works, rather it was full of great looking masses of glass.


I was surprised that I was able to take photos in the exhibit (sans tripod and flash of course) since when growing up I have always assumed that you cannot take photos in museums. I don’t know if museums have changed recently or if they have always been like this, I first noticed it in Paris. Anyway now I have a few photos of the exhibit in my web gallery

I don’t see how the exhibit could be commerical since none of the pieces would look good on their own (excluding the melty-tulip ones and the large entanglements of glass). The large pieces were impressive due to their bright colors and multitudes of individual pieces. If someone did manage to buy an entire room full of Chihuly glass (I know the Bellagio in Las Vages has) they would need great lighting to show it off. The exhibit looked great in part due to the superb lighting in the De Young, it was the black rooms, reflective floors and well placed spots that created the good aura around the pieces. I could not imagine using a flash even if it was allowed. 

One of my first thoughts: earthquake. I would not want to be below several hundred pound of sharp suspended glass if an earthquake hit. On the other hand being in a modern building in San Francisco would be a relatively safe place to be. Five minutes after talking about this I overheard another group of people discussing the earthquake risk of large glass objects on high shelves. 

The end of the glass journey ended in the, surprise, gift store. For a mere seven thousand dollars you could get a really fancy goldfish bowl. Or maybe someplace to put that thirty year old potpourri. The last half hour of the museum trip (it is only possible to spend a maximum of three hours in a musuem) was spent wandering the upper floors of the De Young. My favorite room is the one overlooking the giant corridor pin and filled with late 19th century landsape paintings. Especially Heade and Church

Like any good museum the last stop of the day was in one of the many museum stores conveniently located next to the exit.

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