My initial considerations for this project were:
- use existing photos from my trip to Vietnam a few years ago. Pictures of Museum of War, crushed plane, tanks, helicopters, American base in north, intersected with pictures of everyday modern life,
- my daughter Amelka crying in various places where she was supposed to have fun (Peppa Pig World, holidays) and touchy-feely tender moments with mom or dad, also existing photos,
- Zoo, cruelty of living in captivity vs tender care of zoo caretakers,
- a trip to cemetery or Zoology museum.
In the end I joined Photography Meetups for a trip to Grant Museum of Zoology & Comparative Anatomy. Museum was established by Robert Edmont Grant (1793 – 1874) to serve as teaching collection to medics and zoologists. Grant himself had tutored Charles Darwin, teaching him about mutation of the species and following on from his grandfather’s book Zoomania (by Erasmus Darwin). Grant emerged as one of the foremost evolutionists of the early 19th century, becoming the first Professor of Comparative Anatomy at the University College London. The collection developed to house some 68,000 specimens covering the whole Animal Kingdom as it was in Victorian times. Due to the age many specimens are of animals that are now extinct or critically endangered.
We had about two hours time in the museum before it was open to general public. Tripods were not allowed, therefore a proper technique for handheld low light photography was essential.
- Use lenses with large aperture, preferably prime,
- Shutter speed not slower than one/focal length (could be slower if equipped with vibration reduction or steady hand)
- Crank up ISO as high as necessary,
- Use aperture priority (or my preferred method – manual aperture and shutter speed, with auto ISO, set to maximum 64000, and adjust if necessary),
- Shoot RAW.
Also photographing specimens through a glass meant finding the best angle to eliminate reflections. In some cases polarising filter was helpful, but not always, as it takes about 2 stops of exposure and doesn’t work well with wide angle lenses. Another trick that I learned is to press front of the lens flat to the glass.
- spare batteries
- white balance disk – neutral
- colour checker
- light meter
- 50 mm 1.4 prime
- 24-70 mm 2.8 zoom
- 16-35 mm 4 zoom
- 70-200 2.8 zoom
All raw files were processed in Alien Skin Exposure X to achieve look of wet plate with brush marks and rough edges, reminiscent of the photography of the time when those specimens were collected.