Due to the increasing ubiquity of smartphone and digital cameras, as well as the public’s penchant for sharing information on social media, many museums now allow photography in some or all of their permanent-collection spaces. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art are just some of the notable institutions that have begun allowing museumgoers to snap photos under certain conditions.
On the other hand, many museums still ban flash photography in most of their exhibitions and permanent-collection spaces because it can damage the more fragile artworks on display. Also, as many museums do not hold the copyrights to the artworks in their collections, some only allow museumgoers to snap photos if they’ll use the photos for non-commercial purposes such as sharing photos on social media.
Choosing a Camera to Photograph Artwork
Are you interested in snapping crisp, high-quality photos of artwork? The internet and social media are full of bad photographic reproductions of famous art pieces. If you want to avoid the blurriness, oversaturation, and bad lighting of inferior photographic reproductions of art, then carefully consider the camera you’ll be using.
When photographing art, the primary aim should be to make the resulting image as sharp and representative of the actual artwork as possible. If you’re going to photograph art mainly for use on the internet and social media or to make small prints, then a less expensive camera (such as a compact camera or an advanced compact camera) would suffice.
If you own a high-end smartphone such as iPhone 7 or Samsung Galaxy S8, you can use your smartphone’s camera to take sharp, high-quality shots during your next museum visit.
However, if you want to capture photographic reproductions of art that can be made into medium- or large-sized prints, you’ll need a DSLR or a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC). Go for a camera with a bigger sensor size, as this leads to better image quality. You should also consider the camera’s megapixels (MP) and the resulting resolution.
Megapixels represent the number of dots in an image, and the more megapixels a camera has, the higher the resolution. Take note that a higher resolution does not always mean higher image quality, though a higher resolution does mean more detail and a greater potential to crop in on the details of your photos. A camera with at least 12 megapixels or more is ideal for photographing artwork.
Although professional photographers recommend using a tripod when photographing artwork, this is bound to raise a couple of eyebrows as well as inconvenience other museumgoers during peak hours. You can instead opt for a camera with image stabilization (IS) to reduce blur.
As for lenses, while zoom lenses allow you to zoom in on the artwork, high-quality images are only possible in the mid-range of the zoom. Prime lenses cannot zoom in at all but tend to produce shots of better image quality.
Lastly, consider shooting in RAW when photographing artwork. RAW allows greater detail, increases potential for editing and correcting, and facilitates the production of better art prints.
Recommended Cameras for Photographing Artwork
Advanced Compact Cameras
Museumgoers who want to take higher-quality shots that make great small- to medium-sized prints should consider investing in an advanced compact camera. Advanced compact cameras are a step above basic point-and-shoot cameras and are an affordable alternative to DSLRs and MILCs.
A great camera in this category is the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II. It’s equipped with a 20.2 MP Exmor 1-inch CMOS sensor that delivers great image quality and less noise in low-light conditions. It also comes with Wi-Fi connectivity and has the “touch connection” feature that allows users to seamlessly transfer images to Android smartphones and tablets.
The Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II has good battery life (which makes it ideal for full-day trips to multiple museums and cultural sites), a large LCD screen for composing and viewing shots, and the ability to focus as quickly as 0.13 seconds with high speed AF.
Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras
MILCs are great for museumgoers who are willing to spend more money to get a camera capable of taking finely detailed, high-quality medium- to large-sized prints. MILCs are less bulky than DSLRs because they don’t have a complex mirror system. Instead, they use an electronic viewfinder (EVF), or sometimes a rear screen, to preview images.
MILCs offer significantly better image quality compared to compact cameras because of their interchangeable lenses, bigger sensors, and higher megapixels. A great MILC for museumgoers is the Samsung NX1 mirrorless digital camera. It’s equipped with a 28.2 MP BSI APS-C CMOS sensor, which excels at delivering high-resolution digital imagery while enhancing low-light performance with its 100 to 51,200 ISO range.
Users can use the camera’s tiltable 3.0-inch HD 1036k-dot touchscreen monitor to review images, frame subjects, and select different menu options. When the use of a viewfinder is preferred, the XGA OLED EVF activates when it is brought up to the user’s eye.
Files saved on a memory card within the NX1 can be downloaded outside the camera via a USB 3.0 connection. Moreover, NFC capability image transfer from the camera to a smartphone or tablet with one tap. Paired with the right macro lens, such as 60mm f2.8 Macro ED SSA OIS Lens, museumgoers can capture finely detailed shots of artworks.
DSLRs are the definitive cameras for photographing professional-standard artwork for print and digital display. Their mirror system allows users to look through an optical viewfinder to see exactly what the camera sees, which gives users a good idea of what the final reproduction will look like.
DSLRs generally have much larger sensors than compact cameras, enabling them to take much higher-quality shots at much higher resolutions (including large-sized prints). Plus, they offer users greater versatility with the use of interchangeable lenses.
The Canon EOS Rebel T5 is the great DSLR for museumgoers. This camera is suitable for first-time DSLR users, has an easy-to-use interface, and is the least expensive way to gain access to Canon’s lineup of EF and EF-S interchangeable lenses. Key specs include an 18.0 MP CMOS (APS-C) image sensor, continuous shooting up to 3.0 fps (frames per second), and an ISO range of 100-6400 (expandable to 12,800).
Another great feature of the Canon EOS Rebel T5 is its large 3.0-inch LCD monitor, which is ideal for composing and capturing sharp, finely detailed images.
Shane Haumpton is a beginner in writing, self-confessed coffee addict and shutterbug, and manages to do all these while enjoying life as a nomad. She is interested in writing on a variety of topics, ranging from photography, travel and arts. Currently doing writing about Museum Photography.