Photography in a Museum

Museums provide a wonderful window into any culture so they are a great place to capture images that tell the story of the people they represent.  Most museums will allow some photography but there usually are restrictions so it’s best to ask when you arrive. 

This is a photo of Guernica, the mural-sized oil painting by Pablo Picasso. This painting is in the Museum Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain. 

Respect the museum’s rules on photography.  These rules often protect much more than the profit in the gift shop.  Flash photography can damage some artwork and tripods and over zealous photographers can be an annoyance if not a danger to artifacts and other guests. 

Terracotta Warriors in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, Xi'an, China. 

Terracotta Warriors in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, Xi'an, China. 

Although, some of these rules can be quite quirky too. The photograph above is of Pablo Picasso's oil painting titled Guernica. This is a massive piece that's over 25 feet wide and over 11 feet tall. (I really should have someone standing in front of the painting to give a better perspective of size.) Although photography is permitted in the museum, there is no photography allowed in the room housing this painting. And the guard is very keen on enforcing that rule. There is, however, a wide doorway directly opposite the painting that opens to another gallery. A gallery in which photography is allowed. I stood just on the other side of the threshold and patiently waited until there was a gap in the crowds.

Respect other visitors too.  Work quickly and quietly and when you get your shot, move on so others can enjoy the artwork in their own way.  Sometimes it’s best to visit museums in the off-season or at off-times.  In Versailles we were packed in shoulder to shoulder making photography near impossible. Instead of fighting the crowds we opted to visit the gardens until the tour busses from Paris had left.  Later the same day we found the hallways and displays bereft of other guests. 

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss is a sculpture by Antonio Canova and is on display in the Louvre in Paris. I loved this sculpture and wanted a nice photo but the crowds in the Louvre can be overwhelming.  I waited until very late in the day and then went back to this gallery when the crowds thinned out and was able to get this image.

Setting a proper white balance is important and often varies depending upon how a piece is displayed and the mixture of natural and artificial light.  Do the best you can setting a proper white balance but you may want to include a piece of white paper in one of the photos so you can adjust the white balance after you’ve downloaded the images onto your computer. You may also find it helpful to shoot RAW images instead of JPG files since the RAW files provide greater potential for editing the exposure and color balance.  

Watch too for unwanted reflections on the artwork you’re photographing.  You may need to shoot glass-covered pictures at a slight angle so you don’t get a reflection of yourself in the image.

Finally, take photos of signs that label the work so you can remember what it is you are photographing. This includes the sign with the name of the museum. After a long trip you may forget what piece was in which museum.