Today, I'm hopeful I'll be allowed to take my camera inside a prestigious car museum. It will be a whistle-stop tour and I won't have time to set up lighting, change lenses, prepare speedlight, etc.

I'm planning on taking just the nifty 50 f1.4, based on the reckoning that I'll be too close for my 70-300 — and also that I don't have a good 24-70 (I have a 24-120 that I don't like) and my kit 18-55 just isn't fast enough.

Plan of action so far is to work Aperture Preferred, Matrix metering, continuous servo AF — but I'm not sure whether to go with Auto-area or 3D. Some of these shots I'm guessing I'll barely have time to stop walking, let alone get comfortable .

I'm considering setting up bracketing to spread the chances of one being better than the others, or even to HDR afterwards; but I'm tending towards thinking I'd do better if I manually "bracketed" aperture instead to try grabbing a selection of high detail shots vs shallow & "arty".
On balance, I'd rather end up with one good shallow DoF shot than a card-full of uninteresting shots sharp across the room.

That would leave me only having to watch my ISO values are keeping exposure times within manageable tolerance.

Does this sound like a sensible plan, overall, or should I be thinking more in terms of "F8 & be there"?


Don't try anything you've never done before. That is to say, don't try a strategy or technique (or, heaven forbid, a piece of gear) you haven't already used multiple times in similar circumstances. When the pressure is on is not the time to try new ways of doing things. It is the time to use the techniques and practices you have already developed in your pursuit of mastering the craft.

There's an old saying that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. The tour is your opportunity. Your best chance of getting some "lucky" shots is to shoot the way you've best prepared to shoot it.

Another old saying with lots of truth to it is that, "You perform the way you practice." If you do things one way when preparing for a performance with the intent to "step up your game" when it comes time to perform you'll usually fail to perform the way you wish.

Use whatever shooting style you've already developed.

If none of your developed skill set and style are applicable to the situation, then take the opportunity now to put yourself in a similar situation and run through it a couple of times.

Since we're using old cliches often used in sports here, we'll close with this one: "Your most significant improvement is usually between the first and second time you do something."

  • I hope I ever get a second chance;) I did resort to 'the best I already knew' & might have half got away with it. Thanks. I added an answer with some results - not great, but better than nothing. – Tetsujin Oct 4 '17 at 8:05

All of the things you are restricted from doing are the things that increase the chances of getting a meaningfully good photograph to "reasonable" from "one in a million luck". I certainly mean lack of lighting setup, but beyond that, restricted positioning and rushed time — and beyond that, inability to really plan ahead in a meaningful way.

In situations like this, the best plan of action is to just enjoy the experience. Take some snapshots if you must, but mostly, enjoy the direct experience. Then, if you want photographs to match, visit the gift shop and buy a postcard or photo book from someone who was afforded the opportunity to really photograph the museum.

  • I thought better 'one in a million' than leave the camera in the car. It's not the sort of place that sells postcards, though you could buy a gear cog from a 2005 engine ;-) I got some pics, not great but better than nothing. – Tetsujin Oct 4 '17 at 7:39

The existing answers here gave me some insight - some after the fact, as I was at the event whilst some of them were being posted.

I had to give it a shot, as a one-off opportunity; so had to accept that I was extremely unlikely to get one picture worth putting on the wall.

I didn't realise until I was there how little room I'd have to get far enough back to encompass an entire car, & the number of people there meant very brief slices of time to actually get any shot at all.
The lighting was also a surprise - I'd expected a light room with maybe highlight spots; instead the place was really dark with the cars picked out in bright, hard lights, often from underneath. That left any thought of f8 right out, I was struggling to get short enough exposure at f1.4, so I knew I wasn't going to get the DoF I'd have preferred & changed tactic to try live with that.

Most of the cars were also close to a wall, so my preconceptions of getting sharp car against soft background were gone too.

My choice of the 50mm 1.4 was made because it's my fastest, but I should have had a 24-70mm 2.8 & lived with the higher noise of a higher ISO.

So, in conclusion - thank you all for the advice.
I tried, I didn't quite fail. Here are a couple of better shots - which, if you're a fan, will perhaps explain why I felt it compulsory to take the camera.

enter image description here
Nigel Mansell's world title-winning car.

enter image description here
Ayrton Senna's winter testing car 1994

  • I had a model of one of Mansell's cars when I was a kid - is that one the FW11? – Alex Oct 5 '17 at 16:25
  • @Alex - tbh, I wish I'd taken a photo of the notice near each car... stupid of me not to, there were so many. I think the Mobil rather than Labatt's sponsorship makes it the FW11 rather than the FW14, checking against williamsf1.com/heritage/carhistory I'm going to blame the flat panic of trying to get a decent photo in 20 mins, with more then 60 cars & 100 people milling around in front of them. Senna's car is right, though, it had its own special place, away from others - of course, there is no race car for that season :( – Tetsujin Oct 5 '17 at 16:49
  • & the roll-bar, rather than air intake - big giveaway. – Tetsujin Oct 5 '17 at 16:56
  • 1
    Good call - I'd not spotted the roll bar. Utterly stunning car, and I'd say you've done a fine job especially considering the lighting which really doesn't look easy to work with. Superb picture of Senna's car too, thoguh I did always love that colour scheme. – Alex Oct 7 '17 at 13:48

A few things that come to my mind:

  • if uncertain of light conditions pack the fastest lens available (you can always compensate too bright light by a fast shutter speed)
  • if on tight schedule plan ahead: get a list of exhibits, prepare a mental checklist of "must have" shots and avoid rushing from here to there on location
  • choose a narrow focus, eg. hood ornaments or dashboards, instead of trying to get everything (and failing)

But overall mattdm seems to be right: under the conditions described you will not be able to match the shots of a pro who had the museum for himself, was allowed to set up lights and work at his own speed. The best is to have fun and enjoy the visit.


As a general rule, the more adverse the lighting conditions, the more I move toward manual control rather than hoping for camera magic. Museum lighting is likely to be at least Ev_100 = 8 and perhaps as high as Ev_100 = 11. This means adjusting the camera 5 to 8 stops below Sunny 16 will provide a normal exposure.

If it were me, I would shoot with a predetermined aperture to allow adequate depth of field and as slow a fixed shutter speed as lens focal length and the availability of image stabilization allow.

For example, I know I can shoot down to 1/15 second with my 50mm f1.8 due to image stabilization (a conservative reliance on only two stops). That's three of the 5-8 stops I need to make up from full sun under Sunny 16. Opening up the aperture from f16 to f8 gives me two additional stops. That's five stops right there and if I'm lucky and the lighting is Ev_100 = 10, I can shoot around ISO = 100 (if the lighting is at Ev_100 = 11, I'd actually have to stop down!). The worst likely case is Ev_100 = 8 and I would have to shoot at ISO = 400.

In practice I would probably set the ISO to Auto from 100-3200, use faster shutter speeds, spot metering, and exposure compensation based on the target of my spot metering and how the histogram looks when I chimp. I would probably prefer a 24-105 over a fast fifty because the wider array of possible compositions it provides and a preference for excluding unwanted elements via zooming over the bokeh/depth of field tradeoff.

  • It wasn't what you'd call a 'traditional museum', very dark with lots of hard spots. f2.5 gave me 1/50th at ISO 1250 [My camera gets really noisy above that] so for the most part I was shooting wide open, which limited my choices. I have the budget right now for either a fast 24-70 OR a 70-200 & I just cannot make up my mind. The 24-70 would have been the right choice for this day, for sure, & live with a bit of extra noise. I couldn't get far enough away most of the time with the 50 & also get more than 1 second without someone in the way. – Tetsujin Oct 4 '17 at 7:42
  • @Tetsujin If it were me, I might consider a large sensor "point and shoot" over a fast DSLR zoom lens. To be clear, I am talking about non-interchangable lens mirrorless cameras with 4/3 or larger sensors priced similarly to a new fast DSLR zoom lens. I'd just as soon switch cameras as lenses and just as soon put a second camera in my pocket as a second lens because I think a second camera can open up more possibilities. But again, that/s me. – user50888 Oct 4 '17 at 14:05
  • It's an idea - maybe a good idea - but, tbh for the money I'd rather have the fast zoom... well, eventually zoomS. If this was the type of thing I had the opportunity to shoot even once a year rather than once a lifetime, then the 24-70 would be first. As I generally shoot portraits I'm still tending towards the 70-200 first - but eventually I want both [+ the 14-24 eventually] Give me a year, I'm sure I'll have all three... but then I'll want a 'better' camera. This hobby sure does absorb any spare cash ;) – Tetsujin Oct 4 '17 at 17:49
  • @Tetsujin The pursuit of better cameras and lenses is why I am considering moving to film...6x6 has about four times the area of a full frame sensor. – user50888 Oct 4 '17 at 21:48

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