The Camera In The Art Gallery

DSCF8623Do you have an art gallery nearby? Is it a state-funded one? If it is, there is a good chance that you can take your camera into it and photograph the art.

Oh, don’t take this as gospel for other parts of the world – I speak of Australia and specifically of Melbourne and Sydney. The NGV and Art Gallery of NSW will let you shoot pictures of the pictures or the sculptures pretty freely.

They stipulate that you must not disturb other patrons and you must not use flash. This cuts out doing wet-plate collodion work with a portable darkroom tent in most cases…There is also a danger that the pre-AF light that your camera emits may be mistaken by the Jobsworth for a flash and attract a scolding. Best to turn it off.

Most modern cameras run well at 400 – 800 ISO and some go very much higher than that. My new Fujifilm X-T10 bubbles along cheerily at 6400 ISO and any thing adequately illuminated for the strolling viewer is bright enough to photograph. Of course there are levels of skill in gallery illumination so you are subject to that – but most good big galleries can place a flattering wash of light on a large painting.

The colour temperature of that illumination is also pretty good since newer halogen and LED bulbs have come along. Different sections of the premises may have different lights, however, so I generally allow the AUTO WB to work and dictate what will be seen. I do take a raw file at the same time as the JPEG ( though I might not keep it ) and if there is a glaring error it can be dealt with.

Okay. Now we get to the why. Why take pictures of pictures? Because there are a number of things I think and want to say about those pictures and I cannot trust that anyone else in the net has a ready image of them. I might not have an exact expert’s art copy image on my blog pages, but I do have a reportage shot, and that can serve as the illustration I need.

DSC_6769Here’s  painting that has graced the NGV for years. Taken down this year. I treasure this shot as it reminds me that I was there in Waterloo doing exactly this 21 years ago.

Plus with the sculpture shots, there may only be one aspect viewed on-line. I can show odd angles as they attract or repulse me.


One thing I do not do – I do not take photos of other photographer’s photos if at all possible. I can’t explain this – it just seems wrong.

Final note: Big galleries are gracious and confident enough to allow their art to be photographed. Smaller ones may not be. There are even vendors of craft and kitsch at public markets that raise an immortal shindy if you dare to take a picture of their wares. I cannot say whether they think they are fending off commercial spying or whether they are just hoping no-one looks closely at the junk…

Final Final Note: The fish retailer in our local big shopping centre – Garden City in Booragoon – has always had a graphic sign up prohibiting photography. A camera outline with a red traffic symbol over it.

A fish shop. Not the Uffizi, not the Louvre, not the ICBM line at Vandenberg AFB. A high priced fish shop in a shopping centre.

I’ve puzzled over it for years. Fish on ice – even at the prices that they try to get – are not copyright material, or risks to national security, or defamatory objects. The staff, while not perfect, are far from ghastly. Why not take a picture of them? Would they make the fish look bad? Or good?

Perhaps they are afraid of someone from Fisheries and Wildlife looking closely at the pictures…even here the chief danger is a FWL inspector popping up on site with a set of crayfish measuring calipers. Not that he would find anything amiss, I daresay. Not if they saw him coming down the aisle…

A mystery indeed…


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