An afternoon at the Australian War Memorial with just one lens – 25mm f/1.4 on a GH-1

Written by Gary on February 3rd, 2010

Spent a couple of days in Canberra, Australia’s capital city, mainly to visit the Australian National Art Gallery which was hosting the Musee d’Orsay French Impressionists works.

Unfortunately, unlike the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, the State art galleries in Australia, the National Gallery bans photography even for its permanent collection – so I can’t show what they have on offer for you – but I do have lots of photos of famous art works here, including my favorites from the Musee D’Orsay collection.

Next day, my daughter and I had an awesome time walking around the Australian War Memorial, and as usual, backpacks had to stay in the cloak room – don’t know why I walked around with my Canon 1D Mark III all day anyway as I had to walk an hour each way to and from the Memorial – my back is killing me now and I only used it for 1 shot!

If there is only one place you are going to see in Canberra, make it the War Memorial, you can spend all day there and it is not comnmercialised – just give a small donation at the door, plus there is a very nice cafe with good food at reasonable prices to rest your legs.

Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself, I had to leave my Canon 1D MIII and my other lenses in the cloak room, so I chose just one lens – the Leica D 25mm f/1.4 for Four Thirds to use on my Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds camera.

This was the perfect outfit for indoor work – if I had the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 – that would have done a similar job and be less heavy!

I shot most of the images at ISO 800 or 1600, many in dynamic B&W filter, and none with Photoshop processing other than resize or minor cropping for web.

War Memorial

and in low light, a fighter pilot’s outfit at ISO 1600:


You have to love their sense of humour in trying to work out ways of getting soldiers to remember the features of various Japanese war planes by creating cartoon versions of nude playmates to emphasise the differences:


And the joy and romance of the returning soldier which was beautifully captured on this photo:


While for other soldiers on leave, it was a day at the beach on a Sunday afternoon in Townsville, Queensland:


The other photos from the day can be seen here.

Some tips on photography of museums and art galleries (if they let you):

Light levels in most museums and art galleries tend to be quite low and you will not be allowed to bring tripods or backpacks, thus keep it simple.

With the GH-1, I would advise a fast lens such as either:

  • Panasonic 20mm f/1.7
  • Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro
  • PanaLeica 25mm f/1.4

In a museum, with the often harsh lighting, you should also consider using your flash as a fill-in flash at minus 1-2EV flash compensation and try taking the shot in B&W to address the difference in colour temperature of museum lighting and your flash.

For paintings YOU MUST TURN OFF FLASH, try to do a custom white balance prior to each shot – perhaps wise to bring a white or grey card for this purpose although you can as a last resort use the hopefully white item descriptor – but these may actually be off white or yellow.

Additionally for paintings, you lens should not have barrel distortion (the above ones won’t), and you must try to be in the centre of the painting and square on.

Unfortunately, paintings with spot lights or glass are very difficult to do well, a polariser filter may help with glass but you will have to increase ISO to deal with 2-2.5EV reduction in light.

Another option is using a prime legacy lens such as a 50mm f/1.4 (shoot at f/2.0 for better image quality) with a shift adapter or a shift lens which allows you to be more square on with paintings that are higher than yourself, and may also allow you to remove self reflections from the image.

Also, wear a dark shirt so you are less likely to get yourself in the reflections.

You can see examples of photos I have taken at French, Italian and Australian art galleries here
, including most of the famous paintings, even Mona Lisa.

Good luck


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