One of my earliest memories is a trip to London with my parents and brother when I was about 4. Raised in North Yorkshire this was the biggest journey I’d ever undertaken and every step and encounter felt like a brand new adventure. I was also dinosaur crazy, and my anticipation of seeing them up close and personal probably drove my whole family mad.
I still get that feeling of excitement today, and visit the museum every time when I am in the capital. Everything about it appeals to me, the stunning architecture, the wonderful contrasting shades of the brickwork, and of course the collections themselves. Retaining all of its original character you could walk around a corner and bump into Darwin and it would feel completely normal. For me it is the ultimate in museums, it smells learned – in fact, I’m convinced that I feel a little bit more intelligent whilst I’m in there. It is essentially my happy place!
If the weather is good, I always spend some time in the grounds checking out the exterior. The steps at the main entrance are a popular place to have lunch, and bizarrely are rarely overcrowded.
I have a vague recollection that the Central Hall housed numerous dinosaurs upon my first visit and I seem to think I was absolutely amazed by the triceratops. Nowadays the hall is occupied by Dippy the Diplodocus, and he is the first thing that visitors will see.
Like all museums in London, entry is free, but they host numerous exhibitions each year which cost around £10 entry for an adult. Over the last 2 years I have seen both Veolia Wildlife Photographer of The Year competitions and an instillation on Scott of the Antarctic and found them well worth the entry. My purpose of this visit was to see a Sabastiåo Salgado exhibition entitled Genesis. I won’t give much away but I think it’s possibly the greatest work of photography that I have ever seen. The man is my hero, so if you are in London before September, this is a must!
If you carry a bag there is a high chance that it will be searched on the way in, I have never not had this happen to me, so be aware if you carry a multi-tool or similar in your camera bag – you may loose it! Tripods are also forbidden, I knew this but took the external images using my tripod as I assumed it would be OK in the grounds, it wasn’t. I was asked to put it away after a few minutes. This may be for health and safety, they are a trip hazard, but it may also be to make professional photographers go through the correct channels if they are wanting to sell any images from there as the building I am assuming will require a property release.
Because of my new awesome tripod – Brian from 3Legged Things’s travel range, I always have a monopod with me as one of the legs screws off to form one and these aren’t listed as forbidden on the website. I enquired at reception and after a phone call and my confirmation that it wasn’t for commercial use (I am not selling these images on my website) I was allowed to use the monopod. Saying that within a minute of trying to capture the steps above with no-one on them, I was approached by a steward who then went through the whole tripods are banned conversation. This resulted in me missing the shot of an empty staircase…
The stature of Darwin sits facing the Central Hall and all who enter, he is rightly placed but it was nice to see the new portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace that Bill Bailey had campaigned for, gracing the same view but from a little higher up the steps.
Light is a huge issue internally and so it is good to have a fast lens such as a 50mm f1.8 or similar. I wanted to experiment with more HDR as I felt the building screamed out for it, with all the difference in tones and textures which is why I wanted to use the monopod.
These last couple of shots totally justify the process to me, the way exposure has been captured across the full range really shows off the Central Hall at its best. I am becoming a huge fan of HDR, and aim to improve my techniques in the long term.
For anyone with time to spare then it’s worth checking out the Attenborough Studio as there are lots of free talks going on in there. I have seen one about the sex lives of the adélie penguin and another about the Emperor penguin eggs collected by the fated Scott’s Antarctic expedition. They are always interesting and it is a nice way to have a productive sit down for 45 minutes after a hectic day. There are also movies played there at certain times of the day.
My final shot made this experiment and the hassle worth it, I love this one and can’t wait to see it in large format print.
I could literally spend days in this building, it quantifies everything that we have achieved in the last 300 years in the biological sciences, and I hope will be a cornerstone of environmental research and protection for at least the same again.
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