Museums and galleries are great places to photograph. They are also places that often people forgo from their shot list of a destination. But if you can capture good photos of these places not only will they help diversify your portfolio, they will also tell more of a complete story of that destination. But make no mistakes capturing photos of museums and galleries can be tough. Fear not, here are some tips on photographing museums or galleries.
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Make sure you’re not breaking the rules
Before you even attempt to take a photo inside a museum or gallery, make sure you pay attention to the rules. Most places will display signs in entrances and throughout to indicate if photography is not allowed. If you are in doubt ask a member of staff. Better still be prepared before arriving and check the website to see if there is any information on photography rules.
Keep in mind that sometimes photography is banned for safety reasons or even to protect delicate artworks from flashes. Another point that you should be aware of is that all pieces of art in museums and galleries are subject to copyright. So even if you take photos of them you may not be able to sell them even for editorial purposes.
Start from the outside
Most museums and galleries are inside beautiful buildings. Some are award-winning pieces of architecture. Think of the Louvre in Paris or the Guggenheim Museum in New York. So start your shoot from outside the building. Try to capture this in a beautiful light either early in the morning, late in the afternoon or even during the blue hour. Often these buildings will be beautifully lit up. An advantage of photographing early in the morning is that you will be able to get a relatively clean image, free of people. But don’t be afraid to incorporate people into the shot. Afterall they an essential part of the story.
Pack your lens hood
One of the big challenges when photographing museums and galleries is being able to avoid reflections on the glass of the display units. The first rule is to avoid using a flash (even if you are allowed flash photography). The only thing that will happen is that your flash will bounce off the glass and back into your photo. The key to capturing reflection-free shots is to get as close as possible to the glass (even rest your lens hood on it if you are allowed). A good investment for this type of photography is a rubber lens hood that can rest on glass without slipping. You should also use a polarizer on your lens as this will help cut out unwanted reflections.
Raise your ISO
The single biggest challenge when you want to photograph museums or galleries will often be the low light. This will make being able to handhold a camera very difficult at your normal ISO level. Tripods will rarely be allowed in places like this so your only option is to raise your ISO. Depending on how dark it is this may be as high as 6400 or even more. This does mean that your image will suffer from noise but there is nothing that can be done. If there is a ledge, a seat or anywhere that you can rest a camera on, you can attempt a long exposure shot. But remember that even the smallest of movements will mean that your photo will be blurred.
When raising your ISO only go as high as you need to so that you can handhold a camera. Aim for an ISO that will allow you to handhold at shutter speeds of 1/80th sec (slightly lower if you have steady hands, slightly higher if you don’t). Don’t whack up your ISO unnecessarily if you don’t have to.
Look beyond the obvious
One of the great things about photographing these places is that you can look to have some fun and be creative with your images. Look for interesting lighting, designs, exhibits and even shadows to make your photos stand out from the post-cards that they sell in the gift shop.
You’ll need to be patient
Unless you happen to visit a museum or gallery at a time when it happens to be quite (which you can do if you do your research), you are going to have to work your way around other visitors. But even in the busiest places if you are patient you will find a gap in the flow of traffic. That’s when you need to take your opportunity to take the shot that you want.
Museums and galleries are of the most essential parts of travel to a destination. They are sometimes so unique to a destination and so iconic that they need to be photographed. The good thing is that with a little bit of research, patience and practice, you will be able to take great pictures of museums and galleries.
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Even though we may not be able to travel right now, we are already planning our trips for 2020. Check out our workshops or photography holidays to see where you may want to visit with us in the future.
Kav Dadfar is a writer and travel photographer who has written over 400 articles on photography. He is also a judge on the Wanderlust Travel Photography of the Year competition and a speaker at camera clubs and events. He has years of experience shooting assignments with his images having been used by some of the biggest brands in the world.
This article on photographing museums or galleries is subject to copyright. Words and photos by Kav Dadfar (That Wild Idea). Copying or reposting of photos or article elsewhere is strictly forbidden. Please contact us if you would like to use this feature on your website.