Challenges of Shooting in Auto Museums

by | May 29, 2018

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

When friend Mark Toal visited Reno, NV where he also visited the National Automobile Museum. Like Mark, When I travel I  try to find a local auto museum and spend  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 using high ISO settings and the noise they produce can be concern, although to be honest as newer DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are introduced their high ISO capabilities get better and better.

And 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: 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 can get in the shot but you can avoid them by sitting on the floor and shooting under the ropes, chains or 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.

Tip #2: Wear your grungies so you don’t care if you get dust, motor oil, bubble gum, whatever on you clothes. J&R Vintage Autos, however has spotless epoxy painted floors and like everything in the museum was squeaky clean.

Tip #3: Be sure to make images of parts of cars. Don’t be frustrated by the lack of space and crowded conditions 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 we will be closing our 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 $21.88 or used copies for giveaway prices, starting at only $4.00 as I write this. Kindle price, for some reason, is really high.