The Louvre – a challenging photographic subject

The challenge
Sharon has dealt elsewhere with the challenge of drawing in a visually cluttered space – and a similar challenge awaits the unwary photographer.

Musee de Louvre

Louvre Museum

It’s all about the looking
For me, it’s all about the looking. As with drawing, if you take photos then you start to notice the little things, how light is playing on the object, how a shadow falls or reflection provides an odd juxtaposition. How does the object sit in its context? And what about the workmanship!

Difficult conditions
In the Museé de Louvre there are a number of things working against the photographer.

  • Firstly, and rightly, it is important to conserve the objects and ensure they are not damaged by light – so many are housed in a dark environment. That’s great for your eyes because you adapt and can see an extraordinarily dynamic light range – unlike your camera. And flash is definitely forbidden. Besides, you don’t want to be a vandal and degrade the colours for future generations do you?
  • Secondly, so as not to impede the traffic flow you are not allowed to use a tripod. So those long exposure shots to counter the dark are not happening.
  • Thirdly there is a mix of artificial and natural light that changes from room to room, object to object and plays merry hell with your white balance.
  • The objects are in groups and form a visual feast from which it can be hard to determine in a photo where one object finishes and the next begins.
  • Then there are objects behind glass – all those reflections and you can barely see the object behind, let alone photograph it. A challenge? ‘Don’t get me started….’ I hear you say.

The solution
Well, I love a challenge – and all of these issues can be at least partially overcome with a little planning and forethought. When heading to a museum I consider what I’m going to be looking at – so a bit of research first. Napoleon’s rooms seem a good place to start – as we hadn’t really tackled these on previous visits. So there will be tight room shots requiring a wide angle lens – into the bag goes the 10-24mm wide angle lens. Next there will be some low light shots – so you want a fast lens – better put in the 17-50 f/2.8 – it has a useful zoom range for close views, is pretty good in low light and with the addition of a 1.4x teleconverter I can extend the range into a 24-70mm focal length – good to get across a room and still have reasonable light. The 17-50 also has an image stabiliser – good for longer hand-held exposures. You can leave the heavy super zoom at the hotel, because you are shooting interiors after all.

And for the reflections? the one filter I use on such occasions – never leave home without it – is a circular polarising filter.

How polarising works: When light travels to an object the light waves are random in all directions. But when they bounce off an object (reflection) the ones coming back at you are all lined up in in one direction – this is called polarising. The circular polarising filter allows you to rotate the filter until it cancels out the reflected light, leaving all the others from the object intact and clear to photograph.

So forget the UV filters (they can protect your lens, but so will a lens hood) – just make sure you have a circular polariser in your kit bag. I’m actually amazed at how many people take big DSLR cameras into a museum and don’t have a circular polariser.

Now Sharon reckons that with everything working against the photographer I’m just going to get a bunch of blurred dark  orange photos. Either that or she knows I’m up for a challenge and she should get at least an hour’s drawing in before I give up in disgust… 🙂

And the photos
So here goes. First challenge is Napoleon’s dining room. It is dark, has strong natural light coming from the side, is visually cluttered and has yellow artificial light in the centre.

Napoleon's dining room, Musee de Louvre, Paris

Napoleon’s dining room, Museé du Louvre, Paris

First thing I notice is that there is a rope across so you can’t enter the room. But the rope is attached to a stand that is not a museum collection object, it is stable and about waist height – more on that in a moment. The light is mostly natural, so I bias the white balance to ‘shade’. It is quite dark and I know I have to risk movement. To minimise movement I want a fast shutter speed, so I push the ISO (sensitivity) to about 1600 – the canon 60D copes with it quite well, and means I can get the shot at around 1/20th of a second. Remember that rope stand? I stabilise the camera on it and take the shot – actually I take 2-3 on the basis that I probably moved on at least one. There will be some noise at ISO1600, but you can filter that out later – whereas a motion blurred image will still be blurred. I also shoot in RAW format as that retains more data than you see, meaning I can retrieve information from the shadows later. I shoot with the meter at least one stop dark to get the fastest shot (shortest exposure) I can. And the above photo is the result.

Napoleon’s bedroom was fairly straightforward

Napoleon's bedroom, Musee de Louvre, Paris

Napoleon’s bedroom, Museé du Louvre, Paris

Here the main challenge was that I was facing a window, so I metered for the bed, over exposing the window, which I later cropped out.

mask, Musee de Louvr

mask, Museé du Louvre

This mask was behind glass – so on went the circular polariser and away went the annoying reflections.

The vase was stunningly beautiful and I really liked the concept of the two children exploring – while functioning as handles. Brilliant design, great colours and yes it was hidden in a dark corner, with a window reflection.

Vase, Musee de Louvre, Paris

Vase, Museé du Louvre, Paris

The polariser limited some reflections, but the curved surface meant that there were multiple reflections with different polarity – so all I could do was cut down the worst.

There were no rests so it was a case of push up the ISO, meter the light on the low side, take a couple of breaths and hold the camera still while I breathed out and took the shot. It worked. Three others didn’t. That happens. But with digital you are not wasting film so shoot away 🙂

Same goes for this cabinet – great craftsmanship and wonderful design, but in a dark room with a dark background. The blue-green of the wall provided a great complimentary colour to bring out the warmth of the wood.

Cabinet, Musee de Louvre, Paris

Cabinet, Musee de Louvre, Paris

There were of course many more photos, but this is probably enough to say for one post! Have I missed any tips? Please let me know in the comments 🙂

Review: CityMaps2Go – The one app you need for travel

Is there really one app that stands out above all the rest when it comes to travel apps for your smart phone? For me there is, and it has been my constant companion when travelling since the start of last year.

The app
CityMaps2Go by Ulmon is, as the name implies, a map – and so much more. What is great is that once you download the app, you can then download the maps for the cities/districts/countries to which you will be travelling and you will have them offline – away from expensive international data roaming plans.

What is different?
It provides you with detailed searchable maps of the cities of your choice. It highlights the location you have searched for and then it uses your location service – not the phone or data plan, but the GPS function which doesn’t cost whereever you are – to place you on the map. This way you can see where you are in relation to where you want to go, then get walking or driving or push-biking and you will see that your dot moves on the map relative to your destination.  So it works, even if you cannot decipher the script in which the street signs – if they exist – are written.

How many times have you walked out of your hotel in a strange city, walked a few blocks, got yourself turned around and suddenly you have no idea how to get back to your hotel? It’s happened to me.

Do you mark yourself out as a lost tourist by pulling out a map in perhaps a dodgy area, when everyone else is walking around texting into their phones? Now you can look as though you are one of the locals texting away, but actually you are navigating your way out of there.

What else does it do?
Want to find local places of interest? You can download wikipedia snippets about places of interest in the city to which you are travelling and then you have it at your fingertips. Want to find a restaurant? It’s there.

It has categories for hotels, food, nightlife, entertainment and arts, travel (public transport info), architecture and buildings, shops and services, outdoor (sports facilities), health and medical (pharmacies, hospitals etc), Colleges and education (schools etc), and orientation and geography (like what other villages and towns are nearby)

What’s good

  • It’s a map in your pocket
  • It runs offline – so you won’t require an international data roaming plan
  • It provides heaps of additional information
  • It uses your GPS to show your location relative to your destination in real time
  • It’s cheap at $2.99

What’s bad

  • GPS is a bit heavy on power so you’ll need to recharge a bit more frequently – but only while the app is running.

Where do I get it?


Sum up
If I could only take one travel app on my phone, this would be the one. It is the best $2.99 you will spend. You can get it from the Apple iTunes store (follow the link on the app name at the start of this post). And no I have no affiliation with the maker of this app or with Apple. I give this one 4.5 stars – the half is because GPS is a bit heavy on power and will reduce your time between charges – but only when you have the app running, so not a big issue.

Tardis is on Google Maps!

image of blue telephone boxI have been totally delighted to discover this meme about Google’s Maps latest easter egg

Investigate yourself by going to this map,  notice on the left side of the street there is  a very famous blue telephone box.

Move your cursor around on the screen until you get a pair of double arrows. You can see them in the image to the left.

Click those and bingo you are inside Doctor Who’s Tardis!

That is where I had fun exploring and  took these screenshots. It really is bigger on the inside!

Inside the Tardis
If you venture further inside you can see the controls. That was as far as got as it appeared all other doors were locked.

Inside the Tardis 1