The DIA at ISO 1600

Back in January, Michelle, her mom, her brother, and I went to the DIA. I like the DIA and always find some new angle to photograph.

St. James as a Pilgrim
St. James as a Pilgrim, French, 15th Century

The DIA has a very restrictive photo policy: no tripods, no flash, and no interchangeable lenses, so I was limited to the camera and a single lens. Last time I took my 50mm f/1.8, and got some great color and depth of field, but it wasn’t ideal.

The awkward thing about the 50mm is that, because it’s a short telephoto on my Rebel, you sometimes have to stand back from the art or your photos end up uncomfortably tight. The 17-70 is a great walking-around lens (though a little heavy for its size), and it adequately covered all the focal lengths I needed. Most of my favorite shots were at the 17mm end of the range, but the extra reach was nice when I couldn’t get close enough (I was trying to mind my museum manners).

It was a snowy, overcast day, and the lighting in the museum was dark to begin with. I was having a hard time getting acceptable shutter speeds, so I decided early on to try something different. I cranked up my Rebel’s ISO setting to 1600 and focused on the textures around me.

Virgin and Child on the Crescent Moon
Virgin and Child on the Crescent Moon, German, 15th Century


The soft winter light, combined with the noise from the high ISO, gives these shots the emotion of a wintery day where the sky seems to close down around you. I found myself focusing less on the art and more on the bones of the museum itself. Much of the DIA is built of heavy stone blocks and marble. The outstanding Rivera Court is a wonderful example of this “modern classical” style of architecture.

Rivera Court

I desaturated and split-toned all the images to give them a slight sepia tone. This has the dual benefit of further enhancing the winter mood and bringing out some additional detail in the stonework.

Winter Scene

I took the opportunity to do some portraits of my mother-in-law and brother-in-law. My mother-in-law hadn’t been to the DIA in years and she snapped pictures and reminisced enthusiastically as we went around the collections.


Meanwhile, Buddy was bored and couldn’t wait to leave. We spent a few hours looking at the art and then drove back to Westland and capped the day off with Culver’s cheese curds.


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