Travel Photography Subjects: Art

Travel Photography Subjects: Art

I realize some people out there are crazy about art and some couldn’t care less about it. I think I’m some place further away from the crazy end of the spectrum than I’d like and I often struggle with this Travel Photography Subject personally. While I love architecture (another subject for another time) and often its natural connection to the artistic impression of an area, in the past I have often not gone out of my way to photograph art.

That started to change when my daughter began traveling with me on more occasions including a trip this year to Africa. With her interest in everything I began to appreciate the high art (expensive stuff in museums) and the every day street performers, painters and sculptures. Over the past few months I’ve come to appreciate art’s place in defining a city, region or neighborhood even.

These photos are your story of your trip, thus my suggestion is to find a type of art that interests you and seek it out. Don’t worry too much about what you ‘should’ be photographing. Let’s say you end up in Paris but standing in lines and packed into crowds to view the Mona Lisa is really not how you want to spend an afternoon in the city. Fine. But what about the art in Paris interests you? A city like that is rife with art and something has to touch a cord with you. I hope.

When shooting in museums, always check for rules first. There is a wide range of practices across the globe, to say the least. Some don’t permit any photos, others don’t allow flash photography. Most won’t be happy with a tripod being deployed (which can be annoying as lighting varies widely). Be respectful of the museum and the artists’ wishes in regard to reproduction of their work and if in doubt, seek permission. A simple gesture towards your camera and pointing at the art you wish to photograph is about as simple as it gets and most any curator or staff member will understand.

Also, be mindful that many street artists and performers would appreciate a spot of cash tossed their way if you appreciate their work enough to take it home in your camera. And by the way, have I mentioned before what a great source of information street artists can be? If you’re traveling on the cheap, they often know a number of local eats that won’t break the bank.

Art is in the eye of the beholder. Or maybe that’s beauty. Both are subjective and up to you to judge what works and what doesn’t. Whatever you decide, bring back a few shots from the local art scene on your next journey.

And don’t forget to share your art photos in the comments section below.


Previous articles in the Travel Photography Subjects series include Water, Old People, Young People, Religion, Sports, Socializing, Icons, Rich, Poor, Transportation, Economy, Food, Food Preparation and Weather. These posts are not intent on telling you everything you need to do, step by step, to capture perfect, cookie-cutter pictures while traveling.  Instead, they are intent on pointing out some vital elements to capture when on the road and highlight thought provoking questions you may want to ask yourself.  My hope is they help guide you to find your own means to better expressing what your travels have meant to you and present that in the best light possible.  Be sure to subscribe to this site to receive the other nine subjects as they are posted!

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • eli November 15, 2010 11:42 am

    i still work with an art photograph and i wish anyone could share with me how to take and make a sense of art. How to interprate what we see with our mind and take a snapshot.

  • Al Wehrmann October 30, 2010 03:22 am

    I have not commented here before but this topic and the comments you have received compelled me to say something. Taking photos of art as one travels around the world brings the culture home with you. I have photos from art museums, churches, and public places across France, Spain, and Italy. Musee D'Orsay in Paris is exceptional. I only wish they allowed photography in Florence's Uffizi!. It is not about stealing anyone's work, but appreciating the mastery of it. And creating a memory of where you have been (and for those that did not go along, a sense of these places). Yes, certainly, be courteous and follow the rules! I deplore those that use a flash when explicitly asked not to do so - it gives the rest of us a bad name.

    I'm not taking the photo for reproduction for money. It is for myself and my traveling companions to share upon our return home. And, it can become part of my post-travel research. I enjoy visiting a museum web-site, finding the painting/sculpture of interest, getting the correct title (and spelling!) and learning more about the work and the artist. And, it's not just art hanging on the wall, often the wall (or ceiling) is covered in art - you can't escape and I would not want to.

    If I never get back to the places I've been, I have these images to remind me and inspire me. Here are links to just a few:

  • JesseAdams October 29, 2010 04:37 am

    I'm more into the architecture then the art hanging on the walls myself, but appreciate it all and love to get a couple shots to preserve the memories. Here are a couple shots from my trip to Paris.

  • ratkellar October 29, 2010 03:04 am

    I apologize -- my part-time status has limited me -- the US Visusal Artists Rights Act has expanded some moral rights, but US protections are less than the EUs. The law seems like it should be unconstiutional in some parts (based on "void for vagueness") and the first sale doctrine seems to be a better rule in most cases, but a $1 million verdict has been awarded under VARA.
    I'll research first next time!

  • ratkellar October 29, 2010 02:44 am

    As a full-time attorney and part-time intellectual property attorney, Mr. Carey is most correct. This is an area where common-sense "don't rip off the artist" may actually work.
    At the Louvre, I purchased prints of Winged Victory and the Mona Lisa and a couple others. I also photographed both. The Mona Lisa pics show the context of the thronging masses, but still represents da Vinci's art. it is a nice memory. The print is a better representation of the art, for absorbing some nuances. Victory is framed, but the different angles of my own pictures are interesting (to me, at least). Pics of other paintings, sculptures, carvings, etc. remind me of interesting thoughts that arose, some good artistry, an interesting environment, etc., etc. None of these destroy or remove value.
    In Europe, there are rights called "moral rights" in the integrity of what they produced and forbidding alteration or mutilation. Sounds funny to an American, but that's the EU. Similar US rights under defamation are very light.
    Shoot well!

  • Peter West Carey October 27, 2010 04:19 am

    FC: Look into the laws a bit more. I can take a picture of your art, especially if it's in a public place, and show it to my friends. That's what this post is about. Not taking pictures to sell all over the internet. I can even take a picture of your art and post it on the internet as long as I'm not making money or trying to slander you, or otherwise defame you.
    If you don't want to have people take pictures of your art, you have to show it in a private place and put "no photographs" on the door. This is what I mention looking for and making sure it's ok, especially when on private property (some museums).
    You forget that when I'm taking a picture of your art, especially in context, I'm creating my own, which also is given certain latitude when I'm not doing it for profit and just for art's sake.

  • christine giglio October 27, 2010 03:30 am

    TO FC ::::The Mona Lisa and other older works were created way before copyright laws. Which is why we see the picture on bday cards, tshirts etc..... Any newer works should not be used without permission from the artist. They would not allow any photos if you were infringing copyright laws every time a photo was taken.

  • Christine Giglio October 26, 2010 09:37 pm

    A recent trip to Paris was a great time to practice taking pictures of fine and modern art. After the kids were bored with the "old" stuff the Musee d'Art Moderne et de Culture Georges Pompidou was a lot of fun.
    search on the bottom of my blog for France of Paris to see more pictures of art.

  • FC October 26, 2010 03:52 pm

    What one must realise is that art out there is completely copyrighted in their respective artists' names.

    The key to this is that if you photograph a piece of street art, graffiti, drawings, scribbles or framed art like the Mona Lisa - ie; anything at all that is art - then you are essentially reproducing it. Which, without the artist's permission (unless if in the public domain), is an infringement on copyright.

    That's why selling photos of street art is something that we should all should strive to avoid, especially since photographers always advocate the protection of their own art.

  • John W. Rivard October 26, 2010 08:21 am

    I love finding all the little oddities of new places when I travel. Sculptures in strange places, stained glass, architectural details, paintings and their frames all combine to give a sense of place. These types of shots are important to not bore the socks off anyone asking to look at your travel photos. And they are fun to get, asking questions of natives and trying to find places well off the beaten "tourist" path.

  • Stefano Ottolenghi October 26, 2010 05:51 am

    Something from my photostream :)

  • matabum October 26, 2010 04:12 am

    i like the contrasts between people and art as you can see here:

    here i used a film camera to capture simple piece of art:
    and here is a piece of street art that fascinated me:

  • Ronnie Saini Photography October 26, 2010 03:35 am

    I have very limited knowledge about art but I love to take photos at the museums or of public art pieces. I know it could be tricky to take photos at public area, I always believe, one should respect wherever they are standing and to the crowd surrounding them.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ronnie Saini

  • christine giglio October 26, 2010 01:57 am

    During a visit to Paris three years ago, our teens were getting tired of the classic art and we visited the Centre Pompidou. The modern art was fun and we learned a lot about diffrent mediums. Here is a picture of my son (far left) and cousins.

    [eimg url='' title='art.jpg']

  • dan flake October 26, 2010 01:18 am

    I don't have a problem with someone taking pictures of art, as long as they don't try to make money with it. I look at it as free advertising; it may inspire someone to travel to see it. Then everyone benefits, including the local performance artists!

  • Kathleen Andersen October 25, 2010 11:07 pm

    I'm an art history major (mature student, very part-time) at my local university and have always had an interest in world art. I always think of my degree as art geography rather than art history. I take photos in museums as often as I can, and within the rules, but my favourite is always street art and graffiti, some of which is really wild. I also like photographing artists working on their own pieces, showing the scene and their interpretation of it.

    The best experience I've had photographing art and museum objects is in all the Smithsonian Museums on The Mall in Washington DC (USA). There's a few that don't allow flash but many do and photography is allowed in all of them, plus the subjects are well lit. For smaller pieces you'd better know how to photograph objects in glass cases!

  • Eric October 25, 2010 11:06 pm

    Art... I love to look at it, but for some reason have a hard time making photographs of it. I guess practice makes perfect..

  • Kelly October 25, 2010 10:02 pm

    It's usually the interaction of people and art that grabs my attention. But I tend to shoot from the hip so I don't creep people out.

    Tate Modern, London:

  • GaneshPrasad October 25, 2010 08:46 pm

    i find clicking sculptures from different angles interesting. clicking paintings does not excite me much. thank u for the interesting article. sadly, here in India, most of the museums do not allow photography inside the museum.
    I recently started my photography blog: http:// . As a newcomer, i would love to have your comments and suggestions fro all.

  • Maik-T. Šebenik October 25, 2010 06:48 pm

    Palau Nacional, Barcelona:

    Basilica di San Marco, Venice:

    Fountain, Ljubljana:

  • Steven Mileham October 25, 2010 06:17 pm

    After wandering round the museums of Rome with all their fantastic paintings and statues, I ended up giving up taking pictures of the art...

    [eimg link='' title='Pedestal' url='']

  • Scott October 25, 2010 02:06 pm

    Like the included photo, what little art I do photograph is usually incidiental to photographing something else. The lighting, along with the "rules", can make it difficult, and sometimes it's better to just put the camera away and enjoy the art.

  • Dev Wijewardane October 25, 2010 12:36 pm

    I just got back from a trip to Europe and what I found most annoying were the photographers who completely ignored the rules at museums and places of worship. Because of them other photographers who actually obey the rule will suffer as soon we will not be allowed to photograph anything in these amazing places.

    great article and thanks for posting.

    if anyone is interested in seeing the images form the trip, they are on my blog.

  • Jeff Byrnes October 25, 2010 11:46 am

    Art (on walls, in galleries, in museums) is meant to be admired, not reproduced mechanically through our cameras. Performance art however, can be documented as a means of understanding and interpreting after the fact. If you feel the need to make a photograph of a painting, stop and think, would you be happy if someone was reproducing your work? Buy a reproduction. Most works can be found as posters or cards or a little bit bigger such as an 8x10. Visit the gift shop, you'll see what I am referring to.