Article: How to Take Good Photos in Museums and Cathedrals
Here is an article I published on my website about shooting photos in museums and cathedrals. I hope it'll be useful to some of you in this forum.
How to Take Good Photos in Museums and Cathedrals
by Gary Hendricks
Have you ever been in an museum, art gallery or cathedral and wished you could shoot some pictures of their interiors? I was once in the Vatican in Rome and I was mesmerized by the sweeping ceilings, majestic interiors, stained glass and ancient pillars. Taking good photos of such environments requires some skill, usually because of tricky lighting. In this article, we'll explore some ways of taking good shots in a museum or cathedral setting.
A interior shot of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague
Get a Good External Flash
If you use a standard point-and-shoot with a built-in flash, you'll soon realize that its not sufficient for these type of photographs. Hence, the number one tip I can give about taking good pictures inside museums or cathedrals? Get a good external flash unit.
Good enthusiast digital cameras (e.g. the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20) will have a hot shoe onto which you can fit an external flash. An external flash unit allows you to throw light 75 feet away, and are much better for illuminating scenes like this. The external flash unit I use with my Panasonic FZ-20 is the Sunpak 383 Super Flash shown below.
No Flash Photography Allowed?
One big problem with shooting indoor tourist locations like cathedrals is that flash photography is often not allowed. Why so, you might ask? Well, flash photography might disturb other visitors, or ruin the serenity of the location. The powerful flashes might also cause cause to ancient materials.
My advice is to learn how to turn off your flash before you step inside the museum or cathedral. Most digital cameras allow you to completely disable the flash by cycling though its various settings until you reach an icon that has a slash through the flash symbol.
Bring Along Your Tripod
Now, assuming no flash can be used - how can you still take a good photo of such museums or cathedrals? Well, here’s another tip - bring along a tripod. Even a small, lightweight tripod is enough to stabilize your camera for the long exposure you'll need.
Remember that to shoot under low-light conditions, you will need to set the camera shutter speed to be very slow (e.g. from 1 to 8 seconds). You can't possible hold the camera steady by hand for that long - hence the need for a tripod.
If full-size tripods aren't permitted, you can try propping yourself against a wall or doorway to keep the camera steady. Set the camera to its highest ISO level (making the camera sensor more sensitive to light) and keep shooting.
Another option is to buy a tiny tabletop tripod - the type with finger-length, flexible legs. You can use it to hold the camera firmly against a wall, doorway, or some other vertical surface while you take a long exposure. The authorities should not mind since you won't be obstructing corridors when you do that.
Well, I hope you've learnt something about taking photos in museums and cathedrals from this short article. Try to apply the above tips in your next vacation photo shoots – I’m sure you’ll start getting better results. Happy shooting!
In many museums tacking pictures is forbidden due to security reasons. If this is the case you can always buy a postcard or a calendar.
That is a great little article Gary, but I am still laughing at your post pds.
There's nothing like seeing a breathtaking scene and then leaving thousands of dollars of equipment in the car while you hunt around for someone selling a post card of it
Taking pictures in Cathedrals / Churches
In many churches the ceilings are richly decorated, for instance in many of the churches in Rome. You can take beautiful photographs of the ceilings by laying you camera on the floor (obviously with the lens pointing upwards). If you want to get the best view of the ceiling you should position your camera somewhere in the middle of the church. By looking at the decorations / patterns on the floor you should be able to find the middle without much difficulty. Furthermore, you can use the patterns to position you camera parallel to the ceiling. It is not necessary to use flash. You can get great results photographing the ceiling this way, though if you have a more expensive camera than mine, I would recommend using a tripod .
Also, you can get great results when using the furniture (benches, tables, etc) to place you camera on. Of course, only do so if it does not hinder those who have come to the church for prayer.
As pds pointed out it is sometimes prohibited to take photographs. An example of this I recently came across is the Sistine Chapel in Rome. In this case using flash or setting up a tripod is out of the question, as the Swiss Guards are watching. To take a picture of the ceiling, I sat down on one of the benches on the side of the chapel. By holding my camera firmly between my knees I took several photographs. This way the camera was steady enough to take sharp pictures, though aiming was difficult.
Use a shutter release and a "bean bag" to cradle the camera in the correct position.
Lie flat in a pew, if there are any, at the center of the church.
Lie on the floor in the middle of the church and tell the security guard "ignore me, I'm a photographer." (seriously, a friend of mine did this and the guard was so baffled he left her alone0