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How To Shoot Picture-Perfect Portraits At Living Museums

We have a 7 top tips to help you capture better portraits at living museums where you'll find plenty of people in costumes from various dates gone by.

| Portraits and People

Old artefacts aren't the only things to photograph in museums. At places such as Beamish and the Black Country Living Museum, you'll find people dressed in period clothing, acting out specific historical roles who are perfect subjects for a quick snap of times gone by. If you don't fancy heading to a museum there are also plenty of re-enactments held right across the UK where you'll find plenty of people in character who are more than happy to be photographed (a subject we'll be looking at later this month). 


1. What Gear Do I Need? 

When shooting portraits in large museums where buildings and locations vary, you'll need a versatile zoom lens which allows you to move from a wide-angle to a mid-range focal point easily, even if in a busy crowd. A shorter zoom or prime lens such as 50mm can be used in more controlled environments.

Unless it's really impossible to do so, use a tripod as they slow you down and give you the chance to think about composition more and a reflector would be handy, although don't get in anyone's way with one, especially inside shops and other indoor locations where space can be lacking. 

2. Do Your Research 

Make good use of the internet to search for places of interest but always keep a lookout for notices in local shops and venues advertising events as these tend to be based more locally, saving you time and money. 

3. Take Your Photos At Less Busy Times

To avoid crowds, arrive as early as you can or stay later. By doing so you'll be able to capture images without a queue of people waiting behind you, meaning you can take your time and as a result, produce better shots. 

4. Take A Walk Around 

When you arrive at the museum have a look around and see what's where and who's around to photograph. If possible, find a good subject then go and look for a fitting background. However, most of your subjects will already be in locations that fit their character such as in shops, workshops etc. so you may not need to do this. Do remember though that getting the background right in the shot is much easier than editing one in. 

Do look for 'that person' other photographers aren't surrounding which is easier said than done sometimes but it will give you a shot that, hopefully, not many others will have captured. 

How To Shoot Picture-Perfect Portraits At Living Museums:

5. Always Be Polite

When you do find someone you want to photograph always ask permission first, even if the people there expect to be photographed it's always better to ask. Be confident and always act professionally. You may need to give direction but some will automatically create a pose they like or have held on several occasions before. You can capture them in this pose but do try and persuade them to change their stance a little to give you something a little more unique. It's also important to keep them chatting as this put them at ease and allow a bit of their personality/character to come through.

6. Double-Check The Scene Before Hitting The Shutter Button

Small details make a huge difference so do check your frame carefully before taking your shot. Asking someone in a polite way to not smile so much or open their eyes wider may seem like a small thing but it will make a big difference to your final image. 

7. Think About The Lighting 

You may find that there's either not enough light or too much electric/artificial lighting and this is where moving a subject will help, but you will need their cooperation so that's why it's always worth chatting to them first.

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Chris_L Avatar
Chris_L 9 5.5k United Kingdom
28 Jun 2019 8:03AM
Good advice in this article, psThe Photo Month link doesn't work for me
Adrian57 Avatar
23 Feb 2020 9:54AM
Lots of good advice, the best being Always be polite and say thank you. Also try 1940s events there becoming very popular and are a goldmine for excellent people shots.

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