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Careers in Museum Photography

Updated on January 2, 2015
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.

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"A museum is an institution that cares for (conserves) a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary.[1] Most large museums are located in major cities throughout the world and more local ones exist in smaller cities, towns and even the countryside. Museums have varying aims, ranging from serving researchers and specialists to serving the general public." Wikipedia

Let's say that you like photography and you also like do to photographs of things like items found in your home, like doing close ups are good with lighting techniques and know quite a lot about digital editing.

Then let's also say that you like art like musical instruments, paintings, sculptures or that you really enjoy looking at dinosaur bones and other natural things or are a huge history buff.

If you are a collector then don't forget to mention it, regardless of what you collect since this shows that you have a keen interest in preserving things.

By combining your love of photography with your love for anything that can be found in a museum then you can pursue a career as a museum photographer.

A museum photographer not only has to be knowledgeable about many photographic techniques and digital editing techniques but he or she also has to be knowledgeable about a museum specialty and here is where your love for something else apart from photography comes into play.

You have to convince any prospective employer that you are knowledgeable about what they make, sell, or present and a museum is no different. After all they "sell" their "products" much like a movie theater does.

You go for the movie but you also make a decision of where to see the movie based on several other factors. Then you have to convince the employer that you can do the job well.

In a museum the job is to showcase their offerings in the "best" light possible. These photos are often used in promotional material, sold in their gift shops, used in catalogs, restoration proofs and for insurance purposes.

Although most museums hire outside help when they require photographs of their wares you can approach them and induce them to hire you as the in house photographer. This does not mean that you will be working full time or everyday but it does mean that you will be called upon quite often.

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One thing is for certain, you are going to be a very good product photographer since most if not all of your work will feature products. You need to understand how to capture photographs from angles and from perspectives which stand out from the rest.

The museums do not want pieces to look ordinary even if they are really ordinary. You must put forth effort to capture images that show pieces which will make others look at them and almost be in awe.

Close ups really help but most important is how you work the light. A snoot is a good point to start with but there are many other things that you can do to maximize the effect.

The best thing to do is to research the various techniques used by more seasoned and talented product photographers. Look for the ways that they work the light, how they make a presentation stand out, the angle and the perspectives they use.

Important too is their preferred backgrounds as these can really help concentrate attention on the subject and minimize distractions. Black or dark background work best.

This means that you will be handling really expensive and rare pieces at some time or anther and by doing so you will need to become an expert in handling these types of subjects.

Remember that many will probably be one of a kind. However, most museums will either have someone specialized in handling specimens or will give you the proper training.

Also worth noting is that depending on the type of specimen some will be damaged by handling, exposure to the skin, the air and even by being exposed to light. All this information is necessary and you should strive to learn as much about each piece you are scheduled to photograph.

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Do not think that you will solely be working on rare and expensive one of a kind museum specimens all of the time.

As a museum photographer you will probably be called often to photograph special events or fundraisers as these events are important for museums.

Not only do they bring attention to the institution but can also bring in much needed support for each and the museum board looks to always make a good impression on their guests and your job is to bring their images into the spotlight and capture them in the "best light" possible.

So now you go from being a product photograph to an event photographer and to a portrait photographer all at one time.

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Create a photographic portfolio of products, events and portraits and maybe some digital editing work, then approach each museum's HR department or maybe even the head curator or administrator and ask if you can do some volunteer work for them.

If they allow you and after your work is done, then ask if they would consider you as their in house photographer.

This is an unusual way of applying for a job with them but it is the most effective way of getting your foot in the door.

Don't forget to take along your resume and any documentation that they may deem necessary such as college transcripts, specially if they include college level photographic courses.

There are not that many large and well known museums so pick and choose accordingly and keep in mind that you may have to relocate if you really want the job and one is offered to you.

The best museums are usually located in major metropolitan cities such as New York, Washington, and Chicago with other smaller ones in many smaller cities like Miami not to mention world famous ones in Europe.

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© 2014 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 2 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Greensleeves Hubs: I would get into it just to be able to learn about and see the many marvelous exhibits!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      Researching and studying historic, natural or cultural artifacts, and then photographing them to best effect - it's the kind of career which would suit me down to the ground - except that I've never really got to grips with artificial lighting! Now if I could take photos for an open air museum using natural lighting ... ?!

      It's a rewarding field to get in to and educationally useful too for the information and knowledge about the exhibits which it imparts to others.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 3 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Sunder1: Thank you

    • Sunder1 profile image

      rahul 3 years ago from India

      this is totally new field and interesting one also

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 3 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Ericdierker: Thanks. Yes that would be a good job to have

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting, talk about a niche!