Pro's Choice; Museum Photography: Diverse Tools For Diverse Needs; The Complex World Of Photography At New York’s American Museum Of Natural History Page 2

The studio still makes heavy use of the Nikons, currently the D2X for all the live events. They own three Nikon bodies and a full complement of matching lenses. The workhorse Nikon lenses include the DX 17-55mm, DX 12-24mm, VR 24-120mm, 70-300mm, and Micro-Nikkors. At the moment, they only own one Canon body and several lenses.

Rose Center. Publicity shots of events often involve celebrities but they might focus on the general ambiance of the museum setting, as in this scene of the Rose Center--home to the magnificent Hayden Planetarium. There was a light mist falling on this evening scene. A small shoe-mount flash helped fill in the foreground for this otherwise existing light shot (1.6 seconds, ISO 400) captured with a Nikon D1X and a 24-120mm zoom and Auto WB, with the help of a tripod.
© 2007, Rod Mickens/AMNH, All Rights Reserved

The evolution to digital capture also means a computer system equal to the task, and for this department that means Apple Macintosh computers. They use Spyder2PRO for monitor calibration. Most recently, Matt Shanley joined the team as IT guru. Aside from keeping the monitors calibrated, he's in charge of setting up a dedicated server that will centralize storage of the museum's photographs, a step welcomed by the photo studio.

Lighting At The Museum
While the workhorse studio strobe lighting system is Speedotron, with radio slaves and a variety of umbrellas and softboxes, studio shooting has traditionally been done with hot lights. But even here things are evolving. The studio has recently invested in new digital lights, the LowelScandles, which are actually daylight-balanced fluorescents. The reason they switched is because these lights are designed to work with digital capture. "So much of what we shoot here in the museum is light- and heat-sensitive," Finnin observed. "In the old days, when using hot lights, you could only keep the lights on for short periods. Now we can use the Scandles for extended periods and the Conservation Department up in Anthropology has no qualms with us using these lights." He continued: "And these lights are beautifully balanced. When you use Daylight WB on the camera with the Scandles, the results are gorgeous!"

This Beipaosaurus, a feathered dinosaur, is part of the "Dinosaurs Alive!" special exhibit, and was photographed with a Nikon D1X and a 17-35mm lens (at 35mm). A Lowel Rifa-lite was used as fill in combination with existing tungsten lighting. The Rifa-lite is a collapsible, soft-light source that comes with a tungsten (four models: 300-1000 watts) fixture in place. Exposure and white balance: 1/6 sec at f/2.8, ISO 125; Incandescent WB.
© 2007, Craig Chesek/AMNH, All Rights Reserved

Most recently, following this columnist's recommendation, the studio added several different light tents that the photo studio primarily uses for jewelry and other highly reflective artifacts. As for the dioramas themselves, many are shot with existing tungsten illumination, often from a catwalk overlooking the scene.

Many live events bring the museum photographers in close quarters with VIPs of every rank and distinction. Understanding that they have to record these moments while ensuring the comfort of their guests, they find ways to soften the intensity of the on-camera dedicated shoe-mount flash. Toward that end, the studio recently switched over to the Gary Fong Lightsphere diffuser. Sometimes they'll add one or two other shoe-mounts, which are held off to the side and triggered remotely, just to open up the shadows.

This small pearl-bedecked centaur was shot for an exhibit entitled "Pearls." Capture was with a Sinarback 54M and Mamiya RZ67, with the figure on black Plexiglas. The lighting consisted of an overhead softbox, a couple of fill lights, and one light from behind for that background glow.
© 2007, Craig Chesek/AMNH, All Rights Reserved

You can visit the American Museum of Natural History online at www.amnh.org.

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