Museum Selfie Day

Museum Selfie Day

Following #AnglesMatter and #GoldenHour, today is international #MuseumSelfieDay (If you don’t know these hashtags, google them, it’s a thing). Museum Selfie Day combines the ancient history of the world with the modern trend of taking selfies. Mar Dixon, a project coordinator and enthusiast of museums, came up with the idea in 2015 after visiting several museums with her daughter. Now, museums worldwide participate in the campaign on Twitter and Instagram and some even partially lift their ban on photography for the day.

What selfies and museums have in common is the search for the perfect lighting! While you may use reflectors, flashes and ring lights to take a photo or wait for the ‘golden light’ of a sunset, exhibits present lighting experts with a completely different challenge.

On the one hand, curators of exhibitions, galleries and museums want to accentuate the special features of each exhibit. While on the other hand, the rooms must have lighting that ensures safety and accessibility for visitors. Lighting in museums is comparable to a theatre’s stage lighting: It is a complex interplay of light and shadow, hard and soft light, brightness and darkness. For example, sculptures and paintings with reliefs are staged with several spotlights to highlight their structures while the walls of photo galleries must be illuminated almost evenly.

Another challenge is the fact that some museum pieces must be stored and displayed under certain environmental conditions. This is because touch, carbon dioxide, dust, light, moisture and heat can all damage valuable old objects and accelerate their decay. Thus, some exhibits are presented in showcases for protection. Hanging a halogen lamp here is taboo: Both the radiating heat and the attempt to change the bulb could destroy the exhibit.

Jewellery Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Photo: DHA Lighting Design
Mary Rose Exhibition, Portsmouth, UK. Photo: DHA Lighting Design.

Modern technologies such as optical fiber cables from SCHOTT can help by transporting light from an externally mounted LED source into the display case. They do this without transmitting electricity, which increases the safety of the illuminated objects. The temperature of the display case also stays constant. Because the individual fibers used in these cables are thinner than human hair, they can be installed flexibly in tight corners and allow all conceivable lighting angles. The light source can also be easily maintained outside the display case.

To put it in a nutshell, lighting in museums is an art itself. Perhaps the next time you stroll through a museum, you will not only pay attention to the museum pieces but also to their lighting. And if you take a selfie today, forgive the museum if it is not you, but the exhibit behind you, that is perfectly lit.

January 20, 2021


Brigitte Sterf
Lighting and Imaging
SCHOTT North America, Inc.