Challenges of Shooting in Auto Museums

by | Oct 12, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

When my friend Mark Toal visited Reno, Nevada, he also visited the National Automobile Museum. Like Mark, When I travel I  try to find a local auto museum and spend some time looking at cars that I might not otherwise get to see or photograph.

At the Unser Racing Museum on Albuquerque I not only got to see some beautifully restored classic automobiles and race cars but got to meet and talk with Al Unser, Sr. And the only Talbot Lago that I’ve ever seen in person is the one in the Cussler Auto Museum. That’s the good news. The bad news is that sometimes museum lighting is not that great and you’ll end up using high ISO settings and the noise these setting can produce—depending on the camera you’re using—might be concern. Although the high ISO capabilities of newer DSLRs and mirrorless cameras get better and better.

Often the space between cars can  be a challenge to photographing them. That’s why you may need to change the way you shoot and not worry so much about getting a perfect shot of a particular car but making the best possible photograph under the conditions you’re working. Case in point: I once visited the J&R Vintage Auto Museum in Rio Rancho, New Mexico where there are more that 60 antique cars and trucks on display! During my visit to J&R, I brought along a Canon EOS 50D and a Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC lens. Here’s a few tips:

Tip #1: Stanchions along with their ropes and chains can sometimes get in the shot but you can avoid them by sitting on the floor and shooting under whatever is strung between the posts. A wide-angle zoom lens helps and I’ll always push it a bit by sliding a little bit more under the ropes, when sitting on the floor. So far nobody has ever asked me not to do that but if they did, I would apologize. That’s why you should…

Tip #2: Don’t wear your Sunday-go-to Meeting clothes, just something that you don’t care if you get a little dust or motor oil on them—just in case. Like many car museums J&R Vintage Autos had spotless epoxy painted floors and like everything in the museum was squeaky clean but you never know what to expect around old cars.

Tip #3: Be sure to make images of parts of cars. Don’t be frustrated by the lack of space and crowded conditions that are found at some museums. Use that to your advantage by finding small details and capture them in sharp focus.

Tip #4: Get close to the car. Begin by working in close and gradually back off until extraneous non-car details start to appear in the frame. Wide-angle zooms let you fill up the frame with part or even the entire car while making sure distractions are eliminated.Make sure your lens allows close focusing.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: It is with great sorrow that we announce the road for J&R Vintage Auto Museum has come to an end. After more than 25 years of memories They closed thir doors on March 30, 2019.



Barry Staver along with myself are co-authors of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s out-of-print with new copies available from Amazon for $21.50 or used copies for giveaway prices, starting at nine bucks as I write this. Kindle priced, for some reason, can be really high.