Top 10 Museum Photography Tips

Museums house some of the most beautiful works of art and artifacts known to the world. Travelers make museums the first stop on their itineraries. Unfortunately, many museum photos do not quite capture the essence of their subjects.
I have taken home more than my fair share of blurry and forgettable museum photos. Using my recent trip to the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA) as inspiration, I want to provide specific tips to help fellow photographers and museum enthusiasts capture memories that they can cherish and share. Some of you are more advanced than I am, and I welcome your comments and suggestions for better museum shooting techniques. Here we go!

 Have a plan: know what you want to see!

Not all museums allow photography, some private collections are for viewing only, and I don't believe that any museum permits flash or tripod-assisted photography, so plan ahead. And if there is a certain piece of art that is on your bucket list, make it your priority, because time passes quickly in a museum. For example, you may not get very many chances to see the Mona Lisa, or the LACMA's recently acquired Levitated Mass.

Levitated Mass: 340 Tons of art.

Arrive early!

You will avoid long lines and the crush of families who usually arrive a couple of hours after museum opens. 

Doh! Where did you come from?

Be respectful and unobtrusive to other museum guests.

Your goal is to blend in, even if you're holding a giant DSLR. Do the little things, like turning off your camera's flash and audio cues, and switching your mirror to quiet mode if that is an option. Follow the flow of foot traffic, and wait your turn to view popular pieces.

Take advantage of ambient lighting. 

Good photography is all about light, and some angles are better than others. Avoid capturing reflections off protective casings, and stay out of lighting that can cast your own shadow.

The shadow of the headdress actually accentuates and balances this photo.

Take two shots and move on.

In the spirit of tip #3: take the time to frame, focus and balance a shot. Quickly evaluate the results, and take another if necessary. If other guests are waiting and you still didn't get the shot you wanted, come back to re-shoot later.

Be inspired.

Take photos of art that inspires YOU. Remember to also take a photo of the curatorial card so you can remember the artist and the history of your favorite pieces.

We all feel this way sometimes.

As relevant today as it was 80 years ago.

Be moved.

Some artwork symbolizes important people, events, or periods in history, like this piece by Edward Biberman. Entitled, "I Had a Dream," it was created in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Don't miss the stunning architecture.

Many museums are architectural masterpieces. Look around and you will see many opportunities to take fantastic interior and exterior photos.
Organic shapes flow inside the Japanese Pavilion at LACMA.

Remember to enjoy yourself! 

Photographers in environments rich with opportunity sometimes spend too much time behind the viewfinder. They forget to experience the museum visit, and miss being immersed in the beauty of the incredible gallery spaces. Gaze at art with your own eyes before taking photos.

Even at the museum, life is a beach!

Be prepared for anything!

Special exhibits and events are often scheduled at museums, and become very pleasant surprises for visitors. Come to the museum with an open mind, and you will leave with wonderful memories and great photos.

Afternoon jazz performances at the LACMA, courtesy of a local radio station.

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