If you can’t guess from the title of this post, I went to the American Museum of Natural History. I haven’t visited these hallowed halls of earth science and history for over ten years and since last Saturday was very hot, humid and grey, indoor photography was the thing to do.
I used my 50mm 1.4 lens knowing that I would be in very low light with limited use of flash and this lens is perfect for low light situations. Keeping the aperture at 1.4 gave me a very shallow depth of field and, combined with an ISO of between 800 and 1000, provided enough light to allow me to use a shutter speed fast enough for hand holding the camera. I did not use flash because almost all of the exhibits are behind Plexiglas and that would have reflected back the light, obscuring the image.
I had a big challenge using only a 50mm fixed focal length lens when shooting the dinosaurs. I had to get up close and creative. Therefore, to convey the immense size and ferocity of the prehistoric giants, the dinosaur shots are in bits and pieces capturing a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, a cavernous rib cage, a swish of an enormous and powerful tail or a colossal tibia.
I wandered through the most popular Halls: mammal, human, cultural and fossil and, as my lens is a portrait lens it was perfect for portrait shots of apes, chimps and skulls of long dead ancient ancestors. With so shallow a depth of field the part that I focused on is sharp with the rest of the image veiled in a soft blur. This softness added to the dynamic of the image especially to the skulls, imparting a spooky feeling as if those dark empty eye sockets were looking straight through you. I definitely have a macabre streak.
The most challenging place to shoot, lighting wise, was in the Frog exhibition. This room was completely dark and the only light was from the small enclosed displays. So I had to push that ISO up as far as I could without creating too much digital noise and get the lens as close as I could without actually putting it against the glass which was verboten.
There were frogs of various sizes and some were just lounging around in their simulated pond homes, some sleeping, some hiding and as I found out later when reviewing my images, having amphibian sex! Yep, right there in the Museum of Natural History! When I was taking the photo I thought to myself “Gee, he seems to be smiling.” The little exhibitionist!
My favorites though, were the tiny brightly colored frogs busily hopping around and going about their tiny frog business. One mustard colored little frog with ink black eyes was giving me the “hairy eyeball” as I was crouched down trying to get my lens to focus through the thick glass enclosing it. It really did not like me and each time I had a good view of its face it would deliberately turn around. They were just marvels of color and a few quite poisonous. The most striking frog was black with yellow polka dots (that was a poisonous one.) The others had skin with vibrant hues of red, azure blue, and emerald green.
I saved the best for last; The Halls of Minerals and Gems. Oh, I was in heaven ogling the beautiful gems in their natural state and drooling over the finished faceted stones, some the size of door knobs and, a multitude of colored diamonds. There was the biggest blue star sapphire I have ever seen, The Star of India, 563 carats AND 2 billion years old! Can you dig that?
The minerals were equally as impressive. One that caught my eye was a large wedge with deep orange crystal flakes on top; it reminded me of a slice of pizza with cheddar cheese (not very poetic but you will see what I mean.) I spent a few minutes photographing a gorgeous display of quartz crystal over two feet wide. I spotted a piece of gold in its natural state the size of a dinner plate. Truly mind boggling.
Enjoy the photo tour.