Challenges of Shooting in Auto Museums, Part II

by | Nov 8, 2019

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

If you like to photograph cars but live in a part of the county that has chilly, snowy Winters, I’ve got a solution for you: Car museums. But there are a few challenges to photographing cars indoors that you’ll never encounter in outdoor shows, so here are a few tips to overcome the kind of typical problems you might encounter. They’re offered in no particular order of importance because they’re all important:

How I made this shot: I photographed this classic Indy race car at the Unser Racing Museum in Albuquerque. Camera used was a Canon EOS Rebel T3 with EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS at 36mm) with an exposure of 1/30 sec at f/7.1 and ISO 6400.

  1. Color balance: While balance is always a concern when shooting indoors and while your camera’s AWB (Auto White Balance) setting should work fine most of the time, it may not take care of every situation. So it’s not a panacea. When you get inside the museum, take time to explore some of your camera’s other built-in white balance setting settings, especially tungsten. If all else fails you’ll have to create a custom color balance. Check your camera’s manual for instructions and if you don’t have a white card, chances are there’s a white CAR in the museum that you can substitute.
  2. ISO settings: Before walking in a museum’s doors, you should have already made a few test shots to see how much noise you can tolerate from your DSLR or mirrorless camera at a given ISO setting. With that maximum ISO setting in mind you’ll be prepared for the other challenges.
  3. Wide Angle Zoom lens: Inevitably there are going to be chains or ropes protecting the cars from overeager hands. Using a wide-angle zoom lens allows you to sit on the floor (not in your Sunday best) so you’re under these barriers. Use the zoom control to get the composition you want.
  4. Fast lens: Museums light some cars better than others so bring the fastest lens you have because chances are you’re going to make more than a few shots wide open.
  5. Follow house rules: If the rules say “no tripods,” don’t try to sneak one in. Check with the museum first; they may allow monopods but if you follow their rules you’ll have a better time and make better photos. Because I was respectful of their rules, I had one museum invite me back into their restoration area that was not normally open to the public.
  6. Go during the week. It’s less crowded and sometimes there are surprises, such as the time I got to talk to Al Unser Sr. (above right) at the Unser Racing Museum in Albuquerque.


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    Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s now out-of-print but new copies are available from Amazon for $21.88 and used copies for giveaway prices—starting at less than two bucks!