Museum Photography Etiquette

One of my fellow bloggers, at Café Ludwig, commented on my “Six Reasons to Check out a Local Museum” adding, in part, the following comment:

“There are other advantages to local museums. Besides providing a more personal experience, you will more likely be allowed to take photos freely. Larger museums tend to be more restrictive and controlling.” Many smaller and regional museums even encourage photography.

Many museums are protective, restricting photography. While there are multiple reasons for this, one of the most common is to protect items that might fade from exposure to light such asy fabrics (uniforms, quilts, antique prints, etc.), artwork of almost any kind, and antique interiors of buildings—especially those with the original paint and pigments. While the light of one flash might not have any perceptible effect on the colors of an object, multiple flashes over time could cause original colors to fade.

The photo as taken, has a more yellowish hue--note the display molding in the back corner of the display case.

The photo as taken, has a more yellowish hue–note the display molding in the back corner of the display case compared to the second photo.

Museums often post signs prohibiting photography while some specifically prohibit “flash photography.” Smaller museums may make no mention regarding photography. In any event, I always ask about photography. The response from the director at the Arrowheads/Aerospace Museum in Manchester, Tenn, is typical: “We ask that you not take flash photos of the Confederate uniforms and quilts, otherwise it is okay.”

In busy museums, flash photography may also distracting to others viewing the exhibits. Flash has a way of reflecting around corners and into adjacent areas, so even if there is no one in the immediate gallery, the flash may disturb others in adjacent areas of the museum.

If you are interested in the uniforms or the quilts, a good camera may be able to get photos using available light in the museum (i.e., without flash). It is helpful to have a camera that will allow you to adjust the white balance for the type of lighting that is being used on the display you wish to photograph. You may also be able to improve the photos by post processing using any one of several photo editing programs.

Post processing using  Corel PaintShop Pro achieved a more natural color balanced i.e., the colors as the eye perceived them. The pipe material is more natural, too.

Post processing using Corel PaintShop Pro achieved a more natural color balanced i.e., the colors as the eye perceived them. The pipe material is more natural, too.

When using available light, it is important to keep the camera steady and still when taking the photo. Tripods are large and bulky and may be prohibited in a museum. Learn to brace your camera on a railing or against a piece of furniture, sign post, etc., to get clear shots. When shooting without support, frame the shot as desired, briefly hold your breath, and firmly press the shutter release smoothly. Take several photos in quick succession, or use your camera’s multiple exposure setting if available.. Very likely, one of of several photos will be in focus.

Check out Café Ludwig for additional thoughts on museum photography at,

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3 Responses to Museum Photography Etiquette

  1. Pingback: Renaissance Musings Table of Contents | Renaissance Musings

  2. Ludwig says:

    Thank you RM for the kind reference. Last week at the Delta Flight Museum I asked about photography and got this reply: “You may take pictures for your personal use.” When I mentioned that I have a blog, I got a pained look. I have seen the “personal use” phrase in a number of places, and it is not well defined. I consider my blogs to be “personal”, without advertising, and I sell only photos that I have full rights to.

    Enjoy the museums and take plenty of photos, but respect the museums and their policies.

  3. Pingback: Museum Photography « Café Ludwig

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