Fun with exposure: Things You Can Do in a Museum

The light meter in your digital camera, be it an SLR or a point & shoot, is a pretty darned sophisticated piece of electronic wizardry.  Throw the meter into matrix mode, point your lens at a scene and shoot it, you’re going to get a “correct” exposure.  The problem is, a correct exposure might not be what you’re looking for; your creative eye will look at a given scene and see it very differently from how the dead accurate, but unimaginative, meter does.

This neon art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston serves two purposes.  It’s art, and it is a nice way to present the museum do’s and don’ts to visitors.  The piece is located near the main gift shop in a well lit lobby.  I took a couple of snap shots of the sign because it made me chuckle, but then started to wonder how I could make it a semi-worthwhile photo.

The neon is mounted on a stark white wall in a largely white room, pretty uninteresting as a photographic background.  Blue light shining out of a black hole though would look pretty cool…outer space like even.  How to make it happen?  There are two light sources in this photo. One is the neon lights (conveniently that also happens to be our subject) and the ambient room lighting.  I’m no genius with light, but solution to this problem is pretty simple; get a base exposure for the scene (which ended up being 1/30 sec, f8, ISO 800) and then work the shutter speed til you kill the ambient.  Starting with that exposure, I took a series of shots, upping the shutter speed about 1/2 stop for each one; if I was good I could have guessed at the right shutter speed but I’m not.  I ended up getting the effect I wanted at 1/160 sec, f8, ISO 800.  The ambient light is gone completely and all we have is our funny neon artwork.

Copyright @ 2012 Adrian M. Benson Nikon D200, Nikkor 16-85mm AF-S VR, 1/160 sec, f8, ISO800 Neon artwork, MFA Boston RAW file processed in Photoshop Elements 10 w/Adobe Camera RAW
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“If your photographs aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough.”

The above quote is attributed to Robert Capa, one of the founders of Magnum Photos.  I believe Capa was mostly referring to the photojournalistic photographs for which he is famous, but it’s true enough for any style of photography.  I spent some time at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on Sunday and took a few casual shots while I was there.  Take a look at these two images and tell me which one you prefer.

Copyright @ 2012 Adrian M. Benson Nikon D200 Nikkor AF-S 16-85mm f4.8 @ 1/100 second ISO 100. Post in Elements 10 and Adobe Camera Raw.

Copyright @ 2012 Adrian M. Benson  Nikon D200 Nikkor AF-S 16-85mm  f5.3  1/50 second ISO 100.  Post in Elements 10 and Adobe Camera RawThe first image at least lets you know what you are looking at, an amazing glass sculpture, but the detail shot is the better, more interesting photograph by far in my estimation.