The space shuttle Discovery at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy museum.

Photos from the Udvar-Hazy Museum

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On our recent return trip from Berkeley Springs, we finally stopped by the Smithsonian’s newest museum, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

I’m embarrassed that it opened in 2003 and we just now made it out there; it’s absolutely spectacular. Highlights include an SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, the space shuttle Discovery, the Enola Gay and what seems like an endless supply of historical, rare and stunning aircraft. I can’t recommend it highly enough. (Visit the link above for a few shots of the highlighted aircraft.)

For kids? If your kid is all interested in any of this stuff, their head will likely explode. I can’t reiterate enough how awesome the place is.

Photography in a place like this is always tricky; exhibit barriers and architecture will conspire to eliminate most good angles.

Tourists have an uncanny sixth sense for wandering into your frame at the exact moment you’re snapping the shutter. But they’re not passing through; grandma has to get back from across the museum before they’ll move.

I took a “long play” approach. Find a cool exhibit and negotiate an angle with the architecture and dial in your settings—test shoot and get your exposure nailed. Lean against a pole and relax. Eventually, the frame will get clear enough to take the shot. Line up and snap it quickly, before those yahoo Auburn fans can get in your way again.

Another approach is to shoot details, aiming for specific parts of the exhibits or even the architecture. That’s especially true here; the exhibits are so closely packed together that you’ll rarely be able to isolate one. That said, I tend to dig the wide, sweeping shots, so I’m happy to be patient, find an angle and wait the coast to clear.

Once home, although pleased with the angles I’d gotten, I struggled with a couple weird color casts and some other exposure-related issues. I decided to play on the dramatic setting of the exhibits, punching up the funky exhibit lights and really pushing the contrast. Unexpectedly, I ended up with a look that I loved.

Along with heavy increases in the saturation, vibrance and contrast, I made some hue tweaks, knocked a lot of the noise out and made heavy use of vignettes to direct the eye.

This is look that definitely has a time and place, but I was excited enough with how the final photos came out that I’m looking forward to going back to Udvar-Hazy and getting some more.

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