How can museums share their collections with as many people as possible without access to much-needed financial resources or staff time? This was the exciting challenge faced by a steering group within the Fife Museums Forum, a collaborative network for museum professionals working in museums across Fife, charged with the task of publicising member museums and their diverse collections.
Following the example of leading museums, including National Museums Scotland and the V&A, we decided to reach out to museum audiences by embarking on a project to create a Flickr photo-sharing group for the Fife Museums Forum.
At the outset of the project, we were aware that members of the Forum had very varied levels of experience of photography and using social media. In order to ensure the success of the project, we would have to provide some form of training and support on both counts.
We got in contact with Megan Combe, National Partnerships Officer at National Museums Scotland, who very kindly offered to arrange a workshop on ‘Studio Photography for Social Media’ as part of the Knowledge Exchange programme. As part of their Responsive programme, the workshop would be in partnership with the Fife Museums Forum, but open to anyone outwith the Forum who had a real need for the course.
On 27 September representatives from museums across Fife, from Dunfermline to St Andrews, left the Kingdom and travelled to Edinburgh ready to be let loose on the world of social media and photography!
In preparation for the afternoon training session, Megan had asked attendees to dust off their cameras and practise their photography skills by taking a few shots of museum objects. Armed with cameras and a lot of enthusiasm, representatives from the Forum thought that it would be a good idea to combine our ‘homework’ with a visit to the newly-redeveloped National Museum of Scotland. We enjoyed exploring the galleries and taking photographs of some of the fascinating objects on display (and even had time to sample one of the National Museum’s new cafés)!
After travelling to the National Museums Collections Centre at Granton, we joined colleagues from Verdant Works, Dundee and East Lothian Council Museums. Megan Combe then introduced us to Elaine Macintyre, Digital Media Content Manager, and Neil McLean, Photography Manager, who were to lead the afternoon session.
They shared with us some handy tips on museum photography and digitisation, including lighting and camera techniques. We also learned about online photo applications and some good examples of photo-sharing projects. In response to some of our member’s concerns about the possible loss of rights over images published online, Neil and Elaine gave some very useful advice about the management and use of digital images in social media. This was followed by a very informal discussion session where attendees could ‘ask the experts’ any questions that they had about digital photography and social media.
We also had the very exciting opportunity to see ‘behind the scenes’ in the Photography Studio at the Collections Centre. Neil gave us some very helpful and honest feedback on how we could have improved some of the digital photographs (of varying quality!) that we had taken in the Museum earlier that day. It was also very useful to find out how to take good quality photographs of museum objects without having a professional photographer’s studio and using inexpensive materials, such as large rolls of coloured paper and table lamps.
As a result of the Knowledge Exchange training session on ‘Photography for Social Media’, representatives from our member museums have been provided with the knowledge, skills and confidence to both participate in and take forward the Fife Museums Forum Flickr photo-sharing project. Since the Knowledge Exchange training session, members of the Fife Museums Forum have been avidly taking lots of snaps of their museums’ collections to include on the Flickr page. Equally importantly, our visit to National Museums Scotland and the Knowledge Exchange training session provided representatives of the Forum with a great opportunity to meet with and share experiences with museum colleagues from across Scotland. It was a great day out!
We would all like to thank the National Partnerships, Digital Media and Photography teams at National Museums Scotland for all their support and assistance with this project.
You can view the forum’s efforts at their new flickr group www.flickr.com/photos/fifemuseumsforum.