Shooting in a Museum


Shooting artwork in a museum has many challenges. Generally, you cannot use a flash, so you are stuck with whatever available light is hitting the art. As the light is often pretty weak,  you’ll generally want to use a tripod. In many museums, you need to get a permit ahead of time to use a tripod. Then there are distracting things like people in the background. And on and on.

But I really enjoy shooting sculpture. It’s great practice for studying form and lighting and is helpful for my portrait work. I had the opportunity to shoot in the spectacular new Greek and Roman Galleries of the Metropolitan Museum in New York on a Monday when the museum is closed. So, at least the distracting people were absent.

In the picture above, there is natural light coming down from above through skylights. It was an overcast day, so this light was soft, and had a bit of a blue/gray cast to it. In addition, the head has artificial (tungsten) light hitting it, coming in from the left.  Are the two light sources distracting or strange looking?  To my eye, no, but everyone will have a different perspective. What I like about this image is the colors in the background contrasted with the monochrome sculpture. I purposely shot with a very narrow depth of field, so the background objects were fuzzy and therefore did not take away from the impact of the main subject. What I wish had been different – I wanted to shoot the head straight on, but noticed the base was crooked. With several guards watching me carefully, I decided not to try to straighten things up! I had to choose between a squared up head or a squared up base, and chose the head.

 Here are three more pictures from my shoot at the museum. The first is the side of a massive sarcophagus, with incredibly detailed bas relief figures. The image on the bottom right is a detailed view of just one figure from the sarcophagus.







2 Responses to “Shooting in a Museum”

  1. July 26, 2009 at 7:16 pm


    What beautiful photos. I haven’t been to the Museum in ages and your photos are making me wonder why. As usual, I have picked up several useful tips from this post. Thanks.

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