Photography for museums: top 8 tips to make your visitor attraction look great in print

22nd March 2019

Photography is an important tool that, when used in a considered and professional way, can enhance a brand and drive engagement, both of which are crucial to business.

Over the years we’ve spent working with clients in the cultural sector, we’ve come across some recurring issues that can reduce the quality of an organisation’s imagery.

From cluttered composition to awkward reflections, there are some simple mistakes to avoid when capturing your heritage site, museum or gallery on camera. We’ve put together some top tips that will help you transform your image library and create a set of brand photography you can be proud of.

1. Look for interesting compositions

Instead of simply taking a photo of a painting, try capturing the way people interact with it. The expression an exhibit can evoke on someone’s face is always fascinating. However, make sure the image is right for your content. A good photo can get the message across really quickly, as long as it supports your story. Effective composition can transform a picture: is there a balance of how the different elements are placed? Does the image feel empty? Is there a sense of depth or does the image look flat?

2. Opt for variation

Rather than using the same wide angle or magnified detail shot, try to use a combination of contrasting frames to give the viewer a real sense of interaction. Whether you’re capturing a vast space or a single artefact, playing with scale can bring a new dimension to your imagery and spark interest in a potential visitor. Think about how your imagery interacts with a layout – you may want to contrast a text-heavy page with a simple, calm image to provide some breathing space, or create a layout with a very detailed image coupled with minimal text. Think of imagery as an equal element to typography – the two should work together to elevate the content.

3. Don’t forget the architecture

It’s common to lead with photography of the artefacts in a museum or gallery. However don’t forget to capitalise on the building itself. Whether it’s a photo of a stunning staircase or of intricate decorations, people are often drawn to museums by their magnificent surroundings as much as they are by exhibits.

4. Pay attention to the light

Rooms filled with natural light, dim corridors with spotlights on exhibits – whatever the atmosphere, the effect light has on a space is always an opportunity for a beautiful composition. Pay attention to how the natural light fills a room, or how the overhead light creates dramatic shadows on the walls. In print, be wary of large expanses of white, which easily blend with the paper and make the image disappear.

5. Be careful with reflections

It is important to be wary of reflections as many artefacts are behind glass or in frames. Watch out for reflections of unwanted objects or people in your photos. Be careful when using flash as it may bounce off the glass and create a white glow on your image. If you need to retouch the image to hide these flaws or enhance the overall brightness or contrast, try not to overdo it.

6. Quality!

Make sure the quality of your photos is excellent, otherwise they can really let your advert or piece of marketing down. Ensure they follow a few basic principles:

  • Resolution: probably the most important part of using photography in print is ensuring that the image is as high resolution as possible. If you create a piece of collateral that has a pixelated image, it can damage the overall visual effect. High quality, crisp images will give any printed material an air of attention to detail.
  • Focus: just as poor resolution can bring down the tone of imagery, blurry images are equally important to avoid.
  • Lighting: is the lighting appropriate? Photography does not always need to use bright natural light (darker and more atmospheric photography can often be the most striking), but as long as there is some contrast to create a sense of depth and the subject of the photo is clearly visible, the image will work well.
  • Colour balance: does the whole image look tinged with yellow? Or does it feel very cold and blue? The chances ar­e that the colour balance is wrong and too much of one hue is dominant over the rest. Try to recreate colours as realistically as possible.

7. Stay aligned with your brand

Photography is an integral part of your brand. It’s a very immediate way to get your brand’s personality across and it can send a broad variety of messages. Depending on how strong an image is, it can set the tone for the whole brand and it’s important that this first impression is a good one! If your brand has a set style of photography, follow this as closely as you can to ensure that your piece of marketing is in line and cohesive with the core brand.

8. Be authentic

It is vital that your images do not look forced or fake, as this can make the viewer feel disconnected and misled. Visitors want an authentic experience, so marketing photography should not be overtly ‘posed’, and it is a good rule of thumb to avoid stock imagery, as these are easily identifiable and detract from the personality of a brand.