Flash and Tripod – Not allowed !

Every time I visit a museum, old heritage buildings or even religious structures, I am faced by signs saying ‘no flash and no tripods’. Quite a few places completely prohibit photography. I’ll talk about museums here but the same is applicable to all the other places too. The first question that comes to the mind is why the flashes and tripods are not allowed. Are monopods allowed? Can continuous light sources be used? Why is photography itself prohibited at many places?

Reasons behind these prohibitions –

  • The art works are really old and in some cases ancient. They can be harmed by the bright light bursts of the flash causing irreversible damage. Think of thousands of tourists every year (even in the least visited museum) and the amount of damage the cumulative effect of these flashes can have. Some consider the flash damage a myth but why risk it?
  • The flashes are a nuisance. There are other people in the building trying to appreciate the art. Nothing can be more distracting to them then a sudden burst of bright light.
  • Tripods can disturb the smooth flow of people in the building. Most officials are unaware of the difference between a tripod and monopod and so for easier compliance all such camera supports are usually included in the definition.
  • Copying paintings and selling the photographs can potentially infringe on the property rights of the painter.
  • Museums earn money from selling picture post-cards and other souvenirs. By permitting photography, the sales come down. Some museums therefore charge extra for cameras.
  • To keep the rules easy, some places simply prohibit any kind of photography. No reasons given.
  • Some artworks are really expensive and so the owners or caretakers are scared of their safety. There are movies, true stories and instances on news-channels where initially the thieves took photographs and then stole the art-work. I guess that by discouraging photography, the officials feel less stressed.


Gold Pendant

(Gold Pendant – Once owned by one of the royalties in India. Nikon D200 with Nikkor 50mm lens, f/6.3, 1/4 sec – hand held at ISO 400.)

Appreciating other art-works can improve a person’s visualization of surroundings. I often recommend visiting museums to improve photography. Check out the common mistakes in photography – Common mistakes while photographing. Doing photography takes away the joy of appreciating the art-works. Some photographers complain that they are appreciating another artist by photographing the works but I disagree.

No photography policy is painful to me too at times but when I look at the amount of people that are buying cameras, I can understand the reason behind it. However what really hurts me is when in spite of the no photography policy, some people use their mobile phones and compact cameras and happily carry on clicking images. In fact on my last visit to a museum which had no photography policy, the guards had turned their blind eyes to such photographers. I could have also brought out my camera but my family values made me act responsibly. I enjoyed the trip but did not use my camera inside the building.


So how does one act responsibly and take photographs in such places?

If photography is not permitted, do not try to photograph. Do find out if carrying a camera is permitted or not even if the intention is not to photograph. I have even skipped a visit to a renowned chapel since I was not allowed to enter with my camera, even though I had no intention of taking photographs. Option of handing over my camera batteries also did not help. For me, my photography equipment is a huge investment. I could not risk leaving it behind. It was an uncomfortable suggestion for me. I had to skip the visit. Now I always check beforehand about the rules related to cameras and photography before visiting any such places. Internet can provide a lot of information before hand.

Religious places have their own reasons. Read about my experience with religious places – Religion and Photography. With some compassion, chances can be created for photography where on the face of it, the atmosphere may not be very welcoming.


If photography is permitted but with no flash, no tripod conditions, try these –

  • Use the optical view-finder instead of live-view. Raising the camera to the face reduces hand shake.
  • Use a wide-angle lens where possible. Telephoto lenses apart from magnifying the subjects also magnify the hand shake.
  • Do not carry any heavy items around in your hands on the day of your planned visit.
  • Use a high ISO. A blurred picture is worse than a noisy picture. Noise can be reduced to some extent while post processing (Noise – Add or Remove).
  • Use Auto-ISO. I shift to Auto-ISO mode with Aperture Priority when I expect that my hands can shake. This automatically pushes the ISO depending on available light without letting my shutter speed going too low. (Auto ISO)
  • If your lens has optical stabilization or VR, use it.
  • Use fast lenses where possible.
  • Learn to breathe properly while photographing at low shutter speeds. Do not hold your breath. I prefer to press the shutter release button while exhaling. This seems to provide me with more stability than while inhaling air.
  • Press the shutter release button smoothly and not in a sudden motion. Feel the electrical contact being made while pressing the button.
  • Use pillars, benches or any other supports available to steady the camera. Make sure not to use the art-works as camera supports.

More on holding camera steady and avoiding camera shake – Camera Shake – How to avoid it?


Stained Glass Panels

(Stained Glass Panels from an old Catholic Church. Nikon Df with Zeiss 135mm, f/4, 1/200 sec)

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