5 Tips for Taking Better Photos in a Museum

Our photo editors share their advice, and favourite photos from museums around the world.

Lines of Instagram-crazed art lovers circled the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden this spring for the hottest ticket in Washington D.C. Toting cameras and phones, the record-breaking 160,000 visitors arrived for the mesmerising polka dot paintings and trippy installation rooms of the much-hyped “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” exhibition.

National Geographic Your Shot photo community brought a just few of those fans of the Japanese artist, for a photo walk before the museum opened to the crowds. For those who missed the event, take a look at some of these top pointers for stellar travel photography in museums. These five tips will help bring your museum photos to a new level, no matter where you go.

BRING A LENS, MAYBE TWO

Vatican Museum, Vatican City
PHOTOGRAPH BY EVA METELKOVA, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

High Museum, Atlanta
PHOTOGRAPH BY JENNIFER GILIBERTO, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, Bangkok
PHOTOGRAPH BY GLORIA SALGADO GISPERT, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Teshima Art Museum, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan
PHOTOGRAPH BY HAO-LONG HSU, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

All set to have a photo adventure through a local museum? Before grabbing every camera and lens that you own, think about how much of that gear you actually want to carry. Try packing only one lens, maybe two, including something small like a 35mm or 24-70mm. No need for that bulky 300mm on this trip. Be sure to check for any photography restrictions of the museum before getting started. Most museums have a no flash policy when photographing artwork. You don’t want to be asked to leave because you wanted to brighten up the art with a camera flash.

LOOK FOR THE PEOPLE

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
PHOTOGRAPH BY JULIUS Y., NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
PHOTOGRAPH BY ANYA POVAZARI, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Moderna Museet, Stockholm
PHOTOGRAPH BY ANTONELLA SPALTRO, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

National History Museum, London
PHOTOGRAPH BY GIANNHS JOHN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Watch how visitors are interacting with or viewing the art. Anyone can photograph a famous painting on a wall, but look for more interesting compositions. By focusing on the people in the scene, the image takes on a life of its own. You never know what interesting or humorous results you may get.

PHOTOGRAPH THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE MUSEUM

Natural History Museum, London
PHOTOGRAPH BY RAYMOND CHOO, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Principe Felipe Science Museum, Valencia, Spain
PHOTOGRAPH BY ANGIOLO MANETTI, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain
PHOTOGRAPH BY BREDA JURECKO, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

National September 11 Memorial and Museum, New York City
PHOTOGRAPH BY JAANA ELEFTHERIOU, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
PHOTOGRAPH BY ANGIE MCMONIGAL, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Sometimes the buildings that house the artwork can be interesting works of art themselves. Before stepping inside the museum, study the design of the building. Find an interesting perspective and try to capture the personality of the structure. This might involve getting low on the ground or photographing from across the street. Try to work the entire location until you make a photograph you are happy with.

WATCH THE LIGHT

Mandore Museum, Jodhpur, India
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID TAGGART, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Musee d'Orsay, Paris
PHOTOGRAPH BY RADU MIHAI IANI, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Kolumba Museum, Cologne, Germany
PHOTOGRAPH BY FABIO BARILARI, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
PHOTOGRAPH BY Y. QING, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Unkown museum
PHOTOGRAPH BY FABRICE NOEL, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Art exhibitions always have that perfect setting with some beautiful light. Whether large windows with natural light flowing through, or just the overhead lighting provided by the museum itself, pay attention. Watch how the light falls onto the artwork, then compose some nice exposures.

DON’T PHOTOGRAPH THE ART

The Louvre, Paris
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLY LATASTE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Sure, everyone goes to museums for inspiration or to be wowed by amazing artwork. Don’t just photograph the paintings or sculptures. Find something interesting going on in the room and add it to the frame, you can google search for an image of the Mona Lisa, create something that is all your own.

Header Image: Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. PHOTOGRAPH BY KOHEI UEDA, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

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