Photographing Museums and Libraries

Surrounded by four corners of solid walls of museums, galleries and libraries, objects of astonishing work of arts and literary works can be found.

Archeology artifacts, paintings and photography exhibits for museums and galleries while reading materials penned by the best wordsmith of our time and history’s past are displayed on the shelves of libraries.

As admiring viewers of these works, we tend to understand, comprehend and feel the urge to emulate these in our own photography works.

The inspiration to document everything we see inside museums and libraries are so strong it is required to do justice with presenting these works through beautiful images as well. Here are some ideas on how to properly photograph libraries and museums.

Related tips:

Shooting the Building

Most museums and libraries are found inside old buildings with so much character and history. This is intentional as the buildings itself are also part of the relics of the past. Heritage conservationist often recommends such buildings to house museums and libraries. Keep a keen eye upon arrival and take photos of the exterior details of museums and libraries. Highlight the character of the building and capture the fine architectural designs.

photographing libraries
Stockholm Public Library by Marcus Hansson

Equipment and Shooting Modes

Always ask the security if taking photographs is allowed. Don’t worry, most museums and libraries allow taking of photos without flash. Special exhibitions are often stricter when it comes to photography rules. Most museums only allow small bags inside so you should only take with you one or two lenses. Most photographers prefer using a prime 500mm f/1.4 and a 24mm-70mm f/2.8 lenses. It is not advisable to take pictures of the paintings or artworks itself as the low light conditions might not do justice to these amazing work of arts, rather you should concentrate on using the beautiful work of arts as a backdrop when taking images inside museums. Lighting in museums and libraries are always subdued, a fast lens like a 2.8 is recommended and increased ISO also helps. Since the use of tripod is not allowed in most galleries, a steady hand is needed to produce a steady shot with a shutter speed of 1/30th sec or less.

photographing libraries
Reading room in Brazil. Photo by Mathieu Bertrand Struck

What to Shoot

First, forget about your camera first and enjoy the exhibit in the museum and enjoy scanning the collection of books in the library. Afterward when everything has registered in your mind, you will have a clear picture of what you want to capture. Photograph your favorite items in the museums and group of books of authors you like when you’re inside a library. Experiment with shooting fragments or groups of items; blend the artworks and the books with the existing lighting to create your own artwork by blending and abstracting details.

Now that you’ve find a way of photographing the items inside museums and libraries, it’s now time to incorporate the people into your shots. People reading inside libraries and people viewing artworks inside museums tends to stand or sit still as like you, they are thoroughly looking and admiring the works of art inside the museum and reading a book inside the library. Study each movement of the crowd and capture an interesting Point-of-View that creates a relationship between the viewer and the art. Look closely and you will find fascinating contradictions and contrasts to nourish your imagination. A serious expression of someone admiring and staring still at a painting provides an image of the subject watching and being watched at the same time. Embrace the feeling of being the observer of the art observer.

photographing museums
Louvre Museum, Paris. Photo by Éole

As you roam inside the museums and old libraries, the interior feels more like part of the exhibit and display. The chairs, shelves, stairs, vents and tables all provides interesting subjects you can include in your image. Toy with the scenery and use the energy of the artworks and literary works to fuel your imagination.

Then, after you are done, head out to the adjacent coffee shop found in most museums and libraries. Don’t put your camera away yet. There is always a chance to spot other people soothing in the aftermath of viewing an amazing display or art and literature that they would huddle together and be immersed in lively and animated conversations with each other. A scene that is ideal for people photography.


About Kristine Buenavista

Tin oftentimes takes her folding bike and old camera along country roads. Sometimes, she forgets to take pictures (though she never forgets when she finds great photos elsewhere). She narrates through words and images here. Travel, creativity, laughter, cerveza negra, scavenge hunt for beauty, starry-windy nights are among the things that make her feel weightless.

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