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4 Tips for documenting your day at the Museum of Science Boston (or any museum)

Last weekend I spent the day with my family at the Museum of Science in Boston. We started going there 5 years ago, when Sylvie was just learning to walk. Whether you see it as a indoor playground where your littles run to get their sillies out or a place for inspiring inquisitive minds, it truly is one of those places with something for everyone of all ages where you can return year after year and see something new each time.

I debated whether to take my camera because this was a rare winter day when we were all free from sickness and were going to spend the day together. I wanted to focus on my family, not my camera. Of course, the pang of "what if I miss an amazing shot" won out and I popped my camera in my backpack just in case, vowing to be strategic in the process of documenting our day.

I came away with some great photos and 4 tips to share with you about photographing your family at the Museum of Science in Boston (or any museum).

Tip #1: Decide who or what is the focus of your photograph.

Busy public places can be hard to photograph, especially if you want to focus on just your family. Getting a clean composition with no extraneous people means using your light to bring attention to your subject, thinking about the angles you shoot from, and waiting for the right moment.

Fenn has a fascination with spaceships and outerspace. When he climbed inside the Apollo Command Module I worried that I wouldn't get a great shot of him because it was dark and crowded with kids playing. I noticed this little window and stood near it just in case he decided to come close to it. He was there for less than minute but I was able to get a photograph that I really love. This composition allowed me to focus on him and exclude the other museum goers.

Tip #2: Use the light.

Museums are often dark and use light in interesting ways to highlight their exhibits and displays.

You can use the difference in light to highlight your subject, creating a spotlight and drawing the viewer's eye directly to them.

The New England Habitats Hall is a dark room surrounded by classic dioramas illuminated to draw attention to the worlds within. At each window there is a telephone that you can use to listen to information about the display. When Fenn walked up to the mountain lion I noticed his face was perfectly lit by an overhead light. Because the people on the back right are in shadow, they are essentially excluded from the picture. By excluding the others in the room, it feels like my son and the mountain lion are having a private conversation.

Tip #3: Get low (or high)

I'm going to be honest, I was pretty much laying on the floor when I took this picture. People probably thought I was crazy. But I had to do it if I wanted to focus solely on my family.

Another way to isolate your subjects in the frame is to get as low as possible and shoot upward or to get your camera as high as possible and shoot downward.

To decide whether you get low or high, go back to tip #1 and ask yourself, "What am I trying to photograph?"

My answers for this picture were

1) All members of my family.

2) I want to see their faces and their hands.

3) I want to show how independent my daughter is and that my son still needs help.

Because I wanted to show faces AND hands, I needed to be lower than my subjects. Then I moved on to tip #2 and asked myself, "Is the light helping me with my goal?"

In this case, there was a enough light on my subjects' faces and hands to make it work. I squeezed myself into a little space next to the display and waited until Sylvie's hands were up and not blocking Fenn and Matt. Click and done!

Tip #4: Have patience

Your vision of a photographer might be one of her running around a room, snapping away at whatever moves her in the moment. In reality, there is a lot of watching, listening, thinking, and waiting with a lot less clicking than you might imagine. Being intentional and deliberate makes for the best photos.

After going through tips 1, 2 and 3 in my mind, I decided on this composition because it fulfilled all of my goals. What you can't see, is that on the right, behind Fenn is a large white outlet. I knew that if it was visible it was going to detract from the picture so I had to wait until it was blocked by his body. I added another component by slowing my shutter speed (more on that in another blog post) and waited until Fenn was in the perfect spot to hide the outlet.

Only by examining each scene and thinking through my goals was I able to get these images. I would love to know how you used these tips to make great photos of your family.


to learn more about documentary family photography sessions with Karyn Novakowski.


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