Museum Photography 2

Visit to the Delta Flight Museum

Delta Airlines recently opened the Delta Flight Museum to the public. The museum is located in two historic hangars, now on the Delta Airline corporate campus. A most interesting place to visit. My visit there also provided me with some additional thoughts and tips on museum photography to go along with my earlier article, Museum Photography.

The Delta Flight Museum is housed in two connected maintenance hangars dating from the 1940s. These historic hangars are now located on the Delta corporate campus adjoining the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. When you visit, be prepared to show ids at the security gate.

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Two historic aircraft maintenance hangers house the Delta Flight Museum
This very wide-angle photo is stitched together from two smartphone photos

Unlike most museum artifact, aircraft are rather large. This makes getting them into pictures difficult unless you have a very wide-angle lens. I stitch photos together. Photo Gallery does a fine job of that. Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) does a superb job. I use both. ICE is especially handy when some perspective correction also needs to be done.

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Delta’s first 767 aircraft is now a museum inside the museum 

The largest item inside the museum is a Boing 767 aircraft. LJK13046-P4-2000Inside the rear portion has been converted into an exhibit area with display cases along the sides.

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The Spirit of Delta – Boing 767 aircraft purchased for Delta by its employees, retirees, and friends in the financially difficult times in 1982.

A number of items, like luggage carts, have been turned into display cases and there are numerous interactive displays giving information about the artifacts and the history of flight.

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The Delta Flight Museum, like other museums, is illuminated for a pleasant experince by visitors not for cameras. The light requires high ISO settings and the techniques of noise reduction described in the earlier article. The high contrast range, illustrated here by the view into the “business end” of an aircraft engine and the cockpit, requires HDR processing. That technique was also covered in the prior post. For the images here I used primarily the “shadows” slider in Photo Gallery and the HDR effect in onOne Perfect Effects 8.

The many historical items take the visitor back to the early days of Delta, indeed to the early days of passenger flight. There are many interesting artifacts like the early “amenity kit”. Yes, indeed, there was a time when smoking was common in airplanes.

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Early day customer being assisted in boarding flight.
Tableau at the Delta Flight Museum.
Atlanta, Georgia

When we look at what flying was like some 85 years ago when Delta got started in the passenger business, we smile at how plain and  simple it all was. The equipment was outright crude, and so was the merchandising and the service.

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Even I remember those simple days of flying. On my first flight on a DC-3 when we arrived at our destination the pilot hopped out, unlocked the door to the terminal and came back and unloaded the luggage. The Delta Flight Museum has the first Delta DC-3, now beautifully restored.

Douglas DC-3 aircraft at the Delta Flight Museum

Douglas DC-3 aircraft at the Delta Flight Museum

Of course, I couldn’t resist this opportunity for a “selfie” in the polished metal of the DC-3.

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The Delta Flight Museum is still a work in progress. There are several aircraft outside the hangars that have not (yet) been integrated into the museum experience for visitors. Photography is permitted “for personal use”. There is a museum shop, of course. Be sure to pick up a memento there.

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© 2014 Ludwig Keck

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Museum Photography

Museums present a treasure trove of fascinating artifacts that can make appealing photographs. Museum photography offers a whole set of challenges that you need to tackle to bring home beguiling images of those tokens of days past. Here are my thoughts that might help you to make a museum visit a fun and productive experience.LJK11819-P3-1024

The first obstacles to museum photography are the rules imposed by the institution. Some museum strictly prohibit any photography, on the other end of the scale are places that urge you to bring your camera. Most are somewhere in between.

The larger museums may have extensive information about taking pictures on their website. They also tend to be the most restrictive. If you don’t find specific information on photography give the museum a call and ask.

The most likely rules let you take photographs for your own use – no publication, commercialization or selling of the photos. You can often get permission for such use, but generally that involves fees, special scheduling, supervision, and approval of the final images. That is beyond the scope of this article.

LJK11787-P4-1024Some museums restrict the type of cameras that can be used. Cellphone cameras and unobtrusive point-and-shoot cameras are more likely to be allowed. Anything that looks like professional gear may be frowned upon.

For security reasons museums, like so many other places, tend to prohibit backpacks and large cases. Plan on travelling light, just the camera and maybe an extra lens – not much more.

Expect that tripods are not allowed, they do impede traffic and the enjoyment of the exhibits by other visitors. Flash or other artificial light may generally not be used. Many artifacts have delicate paints and pigments that are affected by light and the use of bright lights will degrade these items, obviously something you don’t want to do.

Having maneuvered around access restrictions you are now faced with another set of obstacles.

Museums tend to be dark places. That means using large apertures, slow shutter speeds that you can successfully handhold, and high ISO, sensor sensitivity, settings. Not the best formula for crisp, sharp images. Be prepared to spend a good deal of time on post-processing.

Learn to handhold your camera for steady pictures. Lens vibration reduction features can help a great deal. Bracing your elbows against your body and holding your breath during the exposure can allow shutter speeds below 1/10 of a second.

LJK11824-P3-1024In many instances there will be light from windows or skylights in addition to localized spot lighting. Not the best formula for color photography. You will just have to make the best of it. The overhead spot lights may not provide the best lighting for photography, but there is little you can do. Find the best angle that will allow you to create a compelling image.

Especially smaller artifacts will likely be in glass cases. Museums generally try to keep these quite clean, but reflections can be a pain. The closer you come to the glass the easier it is to avoid reflections from room lights, yourself, your camera and things behind you. Do not touch your camera to the glass, that might interfere with your lens focusing and may introduce vibrations. Do not brace yourself with a hand against the glass, your fingerprints can only detract from the experience of the visitors behind you.

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For larger objects you have the added problem of disturbing other items or even visitors on the other side. The shallow depth of field at large aperture settings helps a great deal. You should also consider getting down on a knee to get an upward angle. The higher walls and ceilings may make for a more pleasing background. Of course, a downward angle might also be possible, but do not even think of climbing on displays or furniture.

Post-Processing

So you did the best you could and have a haul of exposures to process into your masterpieces.

Here is an example that I took all the way to “café art”. This photo is of a head of the Greek goddess Demeter at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. It was hand-held at 1/6 sec. The other parameters are f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 1600. There was just a tiny bit of camera shake visible at high magnification.

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My camera is not of the latest technology and high ISO settings show a great deal of noise. Your camera may do a lot better. On a visit to the above-mentioned Carlos museum I used mostly ISO 3200 – the highest setting – to allow shutter speeds of around 1/15 second. To reduce the noise in the photos I used the “edge-preserving smooth” tool in PaintShop Pro. Here is an illustration of the tool’s effect:

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The screenshot on the left shows the original, the one on the right the resulting smoothing. For this illustration I used a higher setting than I actually used in order for the effect to be more obvious in this blog post. A high smoothing setting results in a “painterly” look as you can see. It does, however, reduce the apparent noise enough so that further processing steps can bring out the best in the photo. For the illustrations above and the one below, all from the Carlos Museum, I mostly maintained the warm look of incandescent illumination since that is what the museum uses. Here is the head of the Aphrodite statue, one of the museum’s prize properties.

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Here the lighting in the museum and the background work well.

For some photos, where the lighting was too contrasty because of localized spotlights, I found using HDR effect tools useful for flattening the tones. My favorite one is the HDR effect in onOne Perfect Effects 8. A similar tool , but a bit harder to use, is also found in Picasa.

I used the HDR effect tool on the photo below to bring out the detail of the machinery. This photo is from the Southeastern Railway Museum, Duluth, Georgia. This museum is a delight for photographers – your cameras and even tripods are welcome. The photo below was a 20 second exposure taken inside one of their large buildings. Clearly not in reach of a handheld camera.

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Even the interiors of outdoor displays require long exposures. The above photo was a 3.6 second exposure.

For another outdoor photo the problem was a a gray, overcast sky. My solution for this was to make the photo into a line and ink “painting”.

General II

There is much to see at museums, and many photo opportunities. Enjoy!

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Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University

Southeastern Railway Museum, Duluth, GA

A day at the Southeastern Railway Museum with the SPS

This article was simultaneously published on Photography Notes and Tips

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Addendum (5 July 2014)

Museum Photography Etiquette

Six Reasons to Check Out a Local Museum

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© 2014 Ludwig Keck