Why I Won’t Visit Museums That Don’t Allow Photography

museum photography not allowed
Photography not allowed! Having fun with the world’s tiniest camera.

In February, I wrote that when I was in Milwaukee, I didn’t go inside the Pabst Mansion because the place doesn’t allow photography.

Not only did the mansion lose out on my $9, they lost out on other potential customers who might have seen my photos and decided to visit the place for themselves.

I’ve drawn a line in the sand. I refuse to visit any museum or tourist attraction that doesn’t allow visitors to snap pictures.

Reasons that some museums don’t allow photography

There are only two possible justifications I can think of for a photography ban (and if I’m missing something, please leave a comment and let me know):

A) Either the museum thinks that photography, particularly flash photography, might damage some artifacts, or B) The museum thinks that if people take photos, they will end up online, people will see them, and then won’t come visit since they’ve already seen some of the museum’s collection.

Situation A can easily be resolved by banning flash photography but allowing non-flash photography.

As for B, that’s a silly theory. If anything, seeing really cool photos of a museum will make people want to go there.

I’m pretty sure that more people are enthusiastic about checking out the Harley Davidson Museum after seeing my photos than they were before. That’s generally how these things work.

harley scott riding

I’ve also heard a few people say that copyright issues are in play when it comes to photography bans, but I don’t understand that one either.

Why am I not allowed to take a picture of a copyrighted work? I can take photos or make audio copies of copyrighted music for my own personal use. Why would the same logic not apply to photography?

Photography bans are futile

Last year, I broke my photography-ban rule and visited the Grammy Museum, only because I’m a huge fan of the Grammys and of music in general.

Of course, I snapped some photos when nobody was looking. And I’m hardly alone – a Flickr or Google search will confirm that hundreds of pics of this place are online, despite their photo ban.

The lesson is this: With all the tiny digital cameras these days and even cell phone cameras, people will take photos in your establishment and they will end up on the Internet, whether you like it or not. There’s no use trying to fight it.

To me, museums that still ban photography are like record companies in the late ‘90s that opposed downloading.

Instead of embracing the technology and using that free publicity to their advantage, they stubbornly stick to an antiquated view that winds up being a lose-lose scenario for everyone involved.

grammy museum photography not allowed

Museums that allow photography now after changing their minds

The Museum of Arts and Design lifted its ban on photography a while back. The director of public affairs explained it this way:

In an age of blogs, iPhones, Facebook, and WikiLeaks, MAD realized that we could not control the dissemination of images the way we had in the past. Since we had begun offering detailed information about works in exhibitions via cellphone, we were already encouraging visitors to use their phones in the galleries. So who was to stop them from taking a sneak shot? Well, the guards, of course, but they cannot be eagle-eyed 100 percent of the time. Hence the change in policy.

Notably, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also changed its photography policy several years back. There was a time that the Hall wasn’t keen on allowing pics of its artifacts and memorabilia inside.

But that changed just before my last visit, fortunately. And that allowed me to post a full article with photos from inside the Rock Hall.

And the Grammy Museum changed its policy and now allows guests to take photos, and even encourages them to share on social media. That’s good news!

Other perspectives on the issue

A photographer examines some of the reasons for photography bans and refutes them:
Museums banning photography is becoming commonplace

Here’s an opposing view from the always engaging Geraldine at Everywhereist. She makes reasonable arguments, but I’m sticking to my guns:
Ten Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Take Photos in Museums

Here’s another opposing (and much less convincing) view. I’m quite sure that people who take photos at museums are there to admire the art in addition to taking photos, but this cynical man doesn’t think so:
These people were at the museum not to admire the art, but to take snaps to prove they were there

How do you feel about museum photography bans?

If I wasn’t a blogger, would I still feel so strongly about the issue? Probably. It’s hard for me to justify paying to visit an establishment that I can’t share with my readers.

But I like taking pictures everywhere I go, so even if I didn’t have a blog, I would probably feel the same way.

If you’re a blogger, how do you feel about photography bans, and how does that affect your coverage of those sights? If you’re not a blogger, do you care about photography bans at all?

And if you’re planning a trip to the nation’s capital, browse our list of the coolest interactive museums in Washington DC.

By the way, many of my pics were taken with a Sony Cybershot DSC-HX9V (read my review), while others were taken with my cell phone.

What do you think about photography bans in museums?