You find yourself in an museum — such as the Museum of Flight in Seattle — and you want to take photos of all the unique and rare items housed there. But with dim lighting and crowded displays, how do you get great looking photos of that historic plane or other object?
Since this is an aviation blog we'll focus on planes here, but the same tips can be used for any crowded museum (cars, farm equipment, et cetera). The keys to getting this right are editing and composition, but we'll start with composition because if your photo is badly composed, it's a hopeless case from the start.
Much like photographing a person, you need to choose a flattering angle. The shot taken straight from the side, or looking head-on isn't always a great option. For one thing, you'll often have people, signage, or even other planes in the way that will keep you from getting the whole plane in one shot. So get a little abstract with it.
I took this (unedited) photo of the very first Boeing 747, the "City of Everett" at Seattle's Museum of Flight, standing on a park bench from a long distance with my iPhone. It looks awful, but I had a totally different picture in mind when I shot it.
This photo below is what I envisioned when taking the above pic. Giant light pole, gone. Buildings, gone. I cropped way into it, adjusted the lighting, saturation, and added some blurry vignette around the edges to give it a bit of a retro feel.
In case you're wondering, my editing weapon-of-choice is the Google+ Snapseed app. This isn't meant to be an app review, I'm just saying it meets my needs and I find it easy to use. There are plenty of capable mobile editing apps out there.
I used Snapseed's editing functions for this shot of the Space Shuttle Trainer cockpit.
As you can see, the second photo has a lot more detail to it. Some might have been fine with the original pic, and to each their own. But I wanted the end result to be a representation of what I actually saw.
Here are a couple more examples of how I composed and edited shots from museums. Sometimes you're so close to something there's no way to get the whole thing in the photo, and no room to step away from it. That's when a panoramic shot is appropriate.
The "Enola Gay" B-29 at the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Dulles, VA
Sometimes, going with a black & white edit can really make the subject more imposing. Notice how the sunlight in this one really makes the plane glow.
M-21 Blackbird "Mothership" at the Museum of Flight in Seattle
Be willing to wait or come back to it later if there are people around the plane you want to photograph. Trial-and-error while editing will help you discover your creativity. The beautiful thing about digital photography is that you can take dozens of pics from various perspectives, and nothing is lost.
Once you develop a work flow that you like, it all happens pretty quickly. Most importantly, just have fun with it, and share your pics with others!
Top photo: Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA.
All photos were taken by the author, Paul Thompson. You can share your pics with me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or online via Twitter and Instagram where I'm "FlyingPhotog" on both sites.