Museum Etiquette for Photographers

More and more museums, galleries and other places of interest are banning photography. Some museums have always forbidden photography for various reasons, or limited photography due to copyright issues. It is ever so frustrating. But I don’t entirely blame them. There are more photographers out there than ever before, and far too many of them break the rules or otherwise cause a disturbance. I’m sure most museums would actually like people to take a few snaps. They get uploaded, tagged and shared – free advertising! If only everyone could be trusted to behave themselves. Here’s my quick guide to Museum Etiquette. I know. It’s all so obvious. To everyone bar millions upon million of museum visitors, anyway.

Ask Permission

If you see no signage giving guidance on photography, then ask someone. It’s so simple. Preferably someone who actually works there. As opposed to a random passer-by. Find out if you can take photographs, if there are any restrictions and if flash is allowed or not.

Turn Off The Flash

Before you even take the first photo, check that your flash is turned off. Take a practice shot in the foyer. Quite frankly, inconsiderate idiots who start shooting with their flash turned on when it is not allowed should be kicked out of the museum, and perhaps even kicked into the gutter a little bit. They ruin it for everyone.

Go With The Flow

If it’s busy, don’t hold everyone up by insisting on shooting the same thing from every angle, or getting the same shot a half dozen times for each friend you’ve got with you. If possible, visit when the museum is quiet. But regardless, once you’ve got your shot, move on and allow others to have a go. This is precisely why St Pauls Cathedral in London have banned photography – too many people loitering under the dome in a massed huddle.

Pick and Choose

This one really gets me. There are countless people who now seem to want to shoot every painting or exhibit in the museum. Why on earth would you do that? Just because you can? Seriously, to all those people in the Van Gogh museum who snapped literally every painting…Van Gogh is actually quite famous. There’s not a single piece of his work that is not already available to see on the internet. Your photo is not going to be the slightest bit better than what is already out there.

Just try and think about why you’re taking the photo. I like to take photos in museums. I’ll grab a few shots of museum scenes and a few shots of some of the exhibits. For memories and to use on my blog. Sometimes I’ll see something that I feel I want to shoot in a different way. Or something that is not well know. Or something that is particularly interesting. But I’m not going to ruin my whole visit, as well as other people’s, by trying to document every last shard of pottery.



7 thoughts on “Museum Etiquette for Photographers

  1. Kim G says:

    I think the flash is the thing that probably causes the most bans. While any one flash isn’t going to hurt a painting, obviously thousands of flashes per month or year are an entirely different kettle of fish.

    But I have another pet peeve with museums. When I’m looking at a painting from four or five feet away to take in the whole, I’m always quite annoyed when someone steps in front of me. The corollary to this peeve is people who can’t seem to view even large paintings from further away than about 11 inches.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we appreciate how relaxed Mexican museums in general are about cameras.


    • I agree, wholeheartedly. It’s astonishing how many times it happens. People who step in front of others one time too many should be restrained, have their eyelids held open, and paints applied to their eyeballs.Hopefully this will satisfy their urge to get as close to the art as possible.

      Where the game has changed since 2011. When in Mexico, a dozen people could step in front of me to look at a painting. I’d only notice them if I looked directly down, though…


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