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Museum Photography Tips - Taking your kids to a museum this summer? Well here's a few tips to improve the photos you take in museums.
Photo by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk
- Tripods – Some museums have restrictions in place that stop photographers using tripods, particularly on busy days, so check with the museum before you travel to see if you can take yours in with you. Be prepared to pay a fee too as you'll find some places do charge you for using a tripod.
- Camera bag – The people who work at the museum don't want you knocking over items on display so they may ask you to leave your bag at the entrance if it's too large. As a result, take a smaller bag with you so you can keep your gear with you at all times.
- Lens – If you pack a zoom lens, such as the Nikon AF-S 18-105mm, you'll have a variety of focal lengths to pick from without the added weight of extra lenses. Lenses with vibration reduction are particularly useful in museums when you're using slower shutter speeds.
- Cloth – Useful for wiping marks on glass that shield the exhibits.
Is photography allowed?Most museums do allow photography, however there are the odd few where it's not allowed so do check before you arrive to save yourself a wasted journey. If it is allowed it can still be quite a challenge getting any shots as you can be limited on what kit you can take in and there may be restrictions on what can be photographed. If they don't own certain items there may need a release form before you take any shots of them. If there are 'no photography' signs on some exhibits do check with the museum's staff if this is a full ban on any photography or just flash photography as sometimes they put them up just to stop photographers using flash. If, however, they do say you're not allowed to photograph it with or without flash please respect what the staff say and don't try and sneak a quick shot of the item.
Flash or no flash?You'll find that flash photography isn't allowed in most museums so make sure your camera's internal flash is switched off and leave your flashgun in your bag.
Dark museumAs you can't use flash, chances are you'll need to slow your shutter speed and use longer exposures to get your shots. This isn't a problem if you can use your tripod but if you can't take one in, find something you can support yourself against and use a higher ISO. Look for walls and other parts of the museum you can use to support your camera too. If your camera struggles to pick the right exposure try bracketing to get your shot.
GlassThe glass boxes protecting the items on show do a good job of stopping people breaking or worse still, stealing them but they do throw a few spanners in the works for photographers. First of all, they often end up getting covered in fingerprints so make sure you have a cloth to-hand to wipe them clean. Glare and reflections are two other problems you get with glass cases but by using a ND or polarising filter and/or cupping your hand around the top or side of your lens, these should be kept to a minimum. To stop your reflection appearing in the shot shoot from a slighting angle and keep an eye out for visitors creeping into frame on the other side of the item you're photographing.
Don't hog an exhibitYou're not the only visitor at the museum and you're unlikely to be the only one with a camera so don't spend too long around exhibit. If it's really busy and you want to take more shots, try returning towards the end of the day when most visitors will have headed home. Respect the item you're photographing too, just because there are no barriers stopping you getting close to a particular item doesn't mean you should work really close to it.
Don't get too closeIf you stand too close you can have a few problems with lens distortion so stand further back and don't use a focal length that's really wide. If you've packed your zoom lens you can then use that to pull the exhibit to you if you want to fill the frame. Make sure you use a smaller aperture too so you increase depth of field, making sure the whole object you're photographing is sharp.
White balanceThe mixture of light sources in museums can mean that auto white balance struggles so check before you shoot to make sure the scene doesn't have an orange tint which you can get when working indoors.
Take a look at the museumAs well as what's on display, have a look at the exterior and interior of the building itself. The walls, ceilings and even staircases can make interesting architectural shots and it's something you can be photographing during the busy peek then return to the exhibits once some of the other visitors have gone home.
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