museum photography (indoors, no flash, no tripod)

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by ozdo_akin, Nov 10, 2009.

  1. Hi,
    My question is about taking pictures in museums (which basically means no flash, no tri/monpod and variable lighting). My subjects are mostly 3-D and size vary from couple of inches to overlife size statues. I use the pictures mainly to study the items later in full size (on screen), and sometimes make some prints to hang on my wall.
    I tried Sigma 30 f1.4 and Nikon 50 f1.8 (on a D90), and found out that they don't have enough DOF. So I cranked up the ISO but now the noise is really annoying. So now looking at the VR lenses and thinking about 18-55 VR, 16-85 VR (and why not 18-200 VR)? Also sigma 18-50 2.8 OS?
    Any suggestions, there many reviews on the internet but I could not find any that talks about low light situations? Of course cost is an issue so I would be very happy if 18-55 would do the job but if necessary I would pay the extra $$$ for significant performance difference.
    My main concern is 5.6 being too slow, so also considering sigma, but not sure about how well OS works compared to VR.
    All suggestions and comments will be more than welcome
    thanks in advance...
  2. Here are some photos taken with a Leica M8 and 50/1.4 lens.
    I personally, would find my Nikon DSLR too noisy, even if I had a nice lens I liked for low light museum shots.
  3. My Sigma 10-20mm worked very well at the British Museum in London, England, in Fall 2008. I loved the wide angle, and it was super easy to handhold at 1/20th second at ISO 1600. The Nikon 16-85mm VR zoom is my primary lens, but for this particular situation, I was glad I had a wider zoom.

    British Museum, London, Nikon D300, Sigma 10-20mm at 10mm, 1/20th second at f5.6
  4. There is now also the Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 with their VR (VC). It's actually advertised on a banner below where I'm typing, LOL. It's worth a look for what you're doing.
    Kent in SD
  5. I tried Sigma 30 f1.4 and Nikon[​IMG] 50 f1.8 (on a D90), and found out that they don't have enough DOF.

    My main concern is 5.6 being too slow​
    I don't understand what you're asking. If f/1.4 doesn't "have enough DOF" and f/5.6 is "too slow," that leaves you with f/2, f/2.8, and f/4 all of which you can achieve easily with your 30 mm and 50 mm lenses.
    The D90's noise performance should be acceptable at ISO 1000. Try the High ISO Noise Reduction feature if you need to go higher.

    VR doesn't help much at wide angles.
  6. I think the 16-85 VR would be one of the lenses you should consider. I have not used it myself, but in reviews it receives very high marks for sharpness and the VR II together with moderately high ISO should allow you to shoot in museums. It's f/5.6 at the long end, true, but then again you said you want more depth of field so....
    I use a variety of lenses in museums, such as the 24 PC-E, 28/2, 50/1.4, and the 105 VR. I use FX so I can go to moderately high ISO without problems but if you want more DOF then FX doesn't really help much in that area! ;-) I find that for non-close-up photos e.g. of the architecture, people etc. the results are very much to my satisfaction, but for close-up photos of the museum artifacts, a tripod and lighting are needed for top quality results. Thus it generally requires a permission to do that and the museum is unlikely to give that unless you're specifically on assignment for them.
  7. I use a 16-85VR, at 16mm in dark areas, I usually adjust the iso till I can get around 1/30 wide open, let the VR spool up and fire off a burst. Lots of dof. Usually, I'd be able to get quite a few sharp pics. I also use balanced fill flash. But then again, are museum shots that printable? I'm mostly shooting skeletons to understand anatomy so...
  8. Everything I've heard suggests that the 16-85 VR would be perfect for this application, with excellent quality, and the VR allowing you to stop down and get good depth of field.
    What I don't know is how we used to do this. I'm attaching a photo taken in the British Museum with an Olympus OM1, 50mm f/1.4 and slow slide film . (Kodachrome 64, if I remember correctly.) I'm sorry I don't have the exposure information.
  9. Start with tripod on a string.
  10. I have had great success shooting hand held with available light in museums using my Nikon 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR DX, first version. The lens creeps slightly on my sample so I support the barrel when shooting with it extended and pointed down. Perhaps the new version no longer exhibits this minor annoyance.
    My wife's hobby is recreating vintage jewelry so I did a lot of work in the Louvre on her behalf. As you can see with the attached image, (shot through glass case), the lens is quite capable of acceptable images, at least in my opinion. Some people seem to have a vitriolic hatred for this optic.
  11. Above Image information:
    Nikon D70, Nikon 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 VR, (1/8 sec, f5.6, 200mm, ISO 640).
  12. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    You can certainly get "acceptable" or in fact fairly good images. However, in my opinion, the combination of "indoors, no flash, no tripod" shooting still subjects will unlikely lead to really high-quality images that you want to hang on the wall (or at least I want to hang on my wall). Good museum display images are typically done with special permission to shoot after hours on a tripod with proper lighting. If you are unable to get special permission, you can still get good images but there will be some compromises. Modern DSLR high ISO results with VR lenses certainly help.
  13. My favorite museum combo would by my Nikon D300 with a 35mm f 1.8 G lens with a 20mm f 2.8 AF in my pocket. If you know you need a longer focal length lens, then substitute a 50mm f 1.8 lens. ISO setting wouild depend on light available. I shoot in RAW and fix conflicting white balances in post processing. IMO the lighter weight lenses means you do not need VR.
    I am not against fast zooms, but some museums might frown on their larger profiles. I like to "hide" my gear under a windbreaker. Most museums will not let you walk around with any form of a camera bag or a backpack. If you have one you have to check it.
    Joe Smith
  14. Ok Bob, How do you hold a camera still for 1/8 second with out camera shake? I only confident at 1/60th of a second.
  15. Tripods? We don't need no stinkin' tripods!
    D700, ISO 1600, no VR
  16. Though this most likely will go against the norm, I really like using my 85 mm lens in museums. I have a D300 (now) and a 85 mm f/1.4 lens. I will admit that I am one of those strange folks like really doesn't use wide-angle very much. I find my wide angle shots (using a Nikon 17-35 mm) to be "softer" than I like in focus (probably because I am not using it right...) - and prefer the sharpness to the 85 mm fast lens. Here is a shot at MOMA I took with a D200 this past summer - wide open - and I know you want DOF - but I shot this will lots of room - at ISO 200 and a fairly fast shutter (1/200 sec). Just a thought. Best of luck!
  17. Thanks everyone, it was really helpful. Though it did not make my decision making easier as everybody has their own favorites and from what I can see with very good results.
    In terms of quality I totally agree my museum photos are not high quality but for me I guess the subjects make it worth printing and hanging (and of course knowing that I took that picture makes it more special).
    I think I will go to a local shop and try the 16-85,and 18-200 vr (if it is in stock)...
    Thanks again
  18. Jeff, nice shot.
  19. What's missing in all the comments is HOW to shoot (with slow shutter) for sharpness. How you hold your equipment, how and where you stand, how you breathe, and how you bracket can all influence the outcome. Often more so than the goodness of the equipments themselves.
    To get the OPTIMAL results that a piece of equipment is capable of producing, one must learn how to use it WELL.
  20. What's missing in all the comments is HOW to shoot (with slow shutter) for sharpness. How you hold your equipment, how and where you stand, how you breathe, and how you bracket can all influence the outcome. Often more so than the goodness of the equipments themselves.
    To get the OPTIMAL results that a piece of equipment is capable of producing, one must learn how to use it WELL.
  21. One solution for those of us without D700 or D3s is underexpose and then fix it in photoshop. It's not the best solution but in a dark museum that's about all I can come up with other than trying to be walking tripod. The before and afters photos are below. D60 MicroNikkor F2.8 1/60 sec ISO 800. I might add, that I'm not one to spend $10,000 for equpment to take photos of things like this.
  22. Ozdo - best of luck with your lens selection.
    What's missing in all the comments is HOW to shoot (with slow shutter) for sharpness. How you hold your equipment, how and where you stand, how you breathe, and how you bracket can all influence the outcome. Often more so than the goodness of the equipments themselves.
    To get the OPTIMAL results that a piece of equipment is capable of producing, one must learn how to use it WELL.​
    I will offer one additional comment. Though I agree with Robert K - that one must learn how to use their equipment - equipment can matter. I would contend that many lens are just fine in the sweet spot of f ranges, but when you get into those wide open situations...well...for me it is different story. Granted - all this depends on what you are trying to achieve (sometimes I like a little blur, etc). Finding what you are comfortable with - I believe is half the equation and a whole lot of fun.
    In terms of where one stands or how one stands - that would depend on the space - the lighting - and the body position that offers the most stability (for myself - that is standing with the camera strap wrapped around my arm so that the camera is literally a part of my hand). I bracket 3 - 5 exposures - shutter and f-stop sequences. And as for breathing - I never thought about it - but I like to hold my breath in. Not that this will work for everyone mind you - and that is my point. I know folks who get that shot at 1/20 of a sec and I rarely get what I want hand held for a shutter speed slower than the focal lens of the lens...
    Best of luck! And more importantly - have fun!
    Thanks Ikka for your kind words.
  23. Jerry Schuler,
    The answer is Nikon's VR.
    Here is another shot taken with my Nikon 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR DX in VR mode.
    Image information:
    Nikon D70, Nikon 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR DX, @ 27mm, f4, 1/6 sec., ISO 400. VR engaged.
  24. Oops, here it is:
  25. Still another artist in action using the same lens: Nikon D70, Nikon 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR DX, 1/13 sec., f3.8, 24mm, ISO 640.
  26. The places I visited recently are not as bright as some of the posted examples above. Robert, VR does look pretty amazing!
    One of the darkest exhibits is pictured below. D700, 28-105mm, f4.5, 1/30sec, iso 9000. The image is noisier than it appears here.
    Any guesses on where this is?
  27. Just a little application of iPhoto to your photo, Ryan. Hope you don't mind.
  28. Here it is:
  29. Getting the right equipment AND learning how to use it well are both necessary to produce the optimal results. But most questions are ONLY about the equipment, and so are most of the answers. Perhaps the wishful thinking is that equipment by themselves would be sufficient. The equipment manufacturers love this kind of thinking. Ever wonder why their literature have tons of product info, but seldom teach you how to use them WELL?
    Here's how a pro holds his camera:
    And how others deal with postures, breathing, etc.
  30. Bob, I was using my AIS lenses because I could do a F2.8 with them. I have to experment to see what is better in low light F2.8 AIS or F4 or F5 VR Lens. Here's my submission of Ryan's Photo with a bit of Photoshop applied to it.
  31. I agree with technique also. In my above photo, I was on one knee and had one elbow propped up on the other knee. I found it more stable than standing up.
    I did not do much post process on the pic other than color temp and REDUCE exposure. I wanted to recreate what I saw in there. The lighting was most likely a special type of lighting because the whole room had a weird greenish cast to it. Much darker than I had imagined, no doubt to protect the documents.
  32. Do you have any other photos we can screw up?
  33. "Do you have any other photos we can screw up?"​
    Yes, I sure feel like a schmuck now! Sorry, Ryan.
  34. I just watched the "Joe McNally - Da Grip" video in the links that Robert K. provided. That has done wonders for me instantly. Using the left eye, holding the camera from underneath wtih the left arm and pressing the left arm against the body. Resting the camera against my left shoulder. But my neck must me longer than Joe McNally's, I had to put a pad between my shoulder and camera to support the camera with my shoulder. I wonder if they allow shoulder pads in museums? A 1/4 second exposure now seems about as good as my 1/60 sec exposure right eyed and holding the camera in front of me. I may amend this statement after more experience. I thought it not possible. Thank you.
  35. No apologies required guys!
    The Da Grip video was great! Makes me wanna buy the MB-D10 grip!!!
  36. Ahh, museum photography, a subject that deserves a whole chapter to itself. Dave Lee, thats the Assyrian sculptures and the Balawat Gates I believe. I was there in August. Just love those places, along with Natural history Museum in London. The lighting conditions between museums vary so much, there are no two the same. Generally speaking though, thats where the current generation of Nikons such as the D700 come into their own with the high iso numbers, and wide angle lens is essential mainly because most museum exhibits are too large or tightly packed, or there are too many people and you have move in close. If you like the glass case exhibits such as rings etc, then a longer lens with macro may come in handy. I found that in places such as the British Museum and Natural history museum in London, using the pop-up flash hasn't produced any comments from staff there so assume they turn a blind eye to a small flash, maybe a different story if you started flashing away with a professional 'blind everyone' type flash. I think the OP would be well served with the 18-55 he mentions (but I don't know the capabilities of the D90). As for some noise, learn to live with it. You can't have your cake and eat it. Don't expect brochure quality photos. VR will probably help, but if like that kind of photography a lot, then save your pennies for a D700. They won't do you special hours photography unless you're a major publishing house or organisation, and besides, taking the pictures is just part of the fun of touring and enjoying the museum at leisure.
    Here's one example from the British Museum in August. I had to whack up the iso on the D700 to 4000 to get 1/30 sec at f/4.5 and this is one of the darker areas in the museum. Even at 1/30 sec I'm not too comfortable, and at criticle veiwing I found that many of my photos show signs of shake.
  37. Apparently, because of the length of my neck, McNally’s DaGrip was problems for me. So, experimenting, I came up with a solution for DaGrip that seems to work. I put an old ball head tripod head on the bottom of my camera. Now I can rest/press the camera on my shoulder. I have yet to see if this will pass museum security as acceptable. ps. Those aren't scratches on my LCD. Thats a rubbery screen screen protector.
  38. After thinking some more. The museum security would probably classify that as a monopod. I'll have to come up with something else.
  39. This very light weight shoulder brace made by Schiansky in Germany is extremely effective in stabilizing cameras during long exposures. This model is the Staticfix - 203. They are no longer made, but show up on eBay, KEH and other places occasionally. As you can see, it folds almost flat and easily fits in a pocket. It will twist to support a camera either vertically, (right eye or left eye), or horizontally in a very sturdy manner.
    I've had this one since 1968 and used the brace in tripod free zones all over the world without it ever being prohibited in any venue, museum, etc.
  40. The Schiansky Staticfix - 203 in the folded, pocketable mode.
  41. Here's another example of my museum photography. Some thing that'll make most peoples' eyes water, a close up of a very large, solid gold nugget. The D700 was on iso 2000, 1/30 sec, at f/7.1, with the 70-300 mm Sigma, can't remember if it was on macro, lit from the single spot light source above, behind (most probably) very thick glass. At the Natural History museum in London. Not razor sharp, but the best I could get under the circumstances. I bet that would buy a few Nikon cameras !
  42. Watch out for the camera-free museums, like Cairo's. There, you just get to check in your camera and hope it's there when you get back. After milling through the crushing crowds, I'm glad there weren't peeps with cameras...the experience would have been even tougher.
    Tripod on a string works great, too.
  43. Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, National Archives in Washington, DC.
    Breathe, release, aim, slowly squeeze. But along with a good hold and proper stance, shooting a burst may help, so I've read, it gets past the movement of the push to the shutter release button. If possible, leaning up against a solid support may also help. When an article is in a glass case, a lens hood may allow you to rest against the case.

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