The Sistine Chapel staff needs some lessons in nudging

A recent trip to the Sistine Chapel prompted a Nudge blog reader named David to write us. The museum ushers, he noticed, spend a lot of time barking at visitors about prohibitions on photography in the Chapel. Is there a better way to nudge visitors to keep their cameras and phones down?

The chapel is almost at the end of the Vatican Museum, which contains hundreds of artifacts, paintings, and sculptures that one can spend hours exploring. Visitors are allowed to bring cameras and video cameras into the museum (and about 70% do by my estimate) and take photos and videos of anything contained within – until they get to the Sistine Chapel.

Once at the entrance to the famous chapel, visitors are instructed to keep quiet and take no photos or videos inside. Inside, the chapel lives up to its fame and praise, but every 30-40 seconds a museum worker shouts, “No photo! No video!” I understand the flash may damage the paintings and they sell photos and DVDs in the gift shop, but they don’t sell any with the visitor in them, and those for sale certainly aren’t as re-sizable or sharable as a digital photo. A flash is not needed to take a good photo – there is ample natural light.

For most visitors (I would guess) this is a once-in-a-lifetime journey and to be able to take unlimited photos and videos in the hours of strolling through the museum, then to get to the most famous part and be prohibited from doing so, is at least puzzling. So most don’t obey and click away. Thus the constant “No photo! No video!” shouts by surely-hoarse-by-the-end-of-the-day workers.

Is there something that could nudge people into not taking photos or videos at the Sistine Chapel without the constant reminder that does not deter most? Checking cameras & video equipment into a locker would lead to an awful wait to get into the chapel. I find it ironic that the third rule of the chapel (quiet please) is largely adhered to by the visitors, but broken every 30-40 seconds by the workers in the hopeless attempt to enforce the first two rules!

Or is the nudge really the posting of signs and the issuance of verbal warnings in recognition of the fact that (staff) can’t stop everyone, but can nudge a few percent into not taking them?

David’s (unauthorized, but flash-free) photo of the scene shows visitors pointing and shooting.

  • Leigh Caldwell

    How about:

     1. If the goal is to raise revenue, simply charge people extra for a special ticket that allows them to take pictures. This will create a different social norm – “This rule is unfair, so I’ll break it” is easier to rationalise than “I’m going to steal something I would normally have to pay for”. Of course it would have to be tested: some people might reason “if photos are OK, it won’t do any harm if I just take one sneaky one” so it could be counterproductive. But it will bring in some money.

     2. Have a display of pictures for sale _before_ you go into the room, as well as after. People who buy one are probably less likely to feel the need to take a photo inside the room; and even those who don’t will have been reassured that they will have the chance to buy one afterwards.

     3. Create a rule that people must turn off any camera shutter sound (as well as flash) on their device before taking a picture. Many people won’t be able to figure out how, and those who do, will impose much less of a disturbance on everyone else.

    But having been brought up Catholic, I think the best option is:

     4. Simply put some nuns at the entrance. Get them to look into each visitor’s eyes as they enter and ask them directly not to take any pictures.

    • Veronica

      That’s pretty drastic, but it will work for sure.

  • jane prusakova

    Sistine Chapel is the last and the most prized part of the tour, the crowd is thick and no one gets punished for taking pictures.  It makes sense for visitors to ignore the warnings and snap away.  

    When we visited Sistine Chapel, I was surprised to see how many people were taking pictures of the beautiful ceilings and far walls with small hand-held cameras.  Not only staff was asking them not to, but those pictures do not come out even remotely well – small cameras can’t focus that far.  David’s shot above isn’t exactly spectacular as far as communicating the intricate beauty of the place. 

    I pay attention to these things because I like my pictures to look good, and I travel with a tiny camera – so I learned to pick my shots.  An average tourist needs to be educated in the matter, and it seems like the staff has a direct incentive to do it.  The visitors could be handed a flyer with a beautifully done professional picture of the place, and a typical picture taken by a tourist using a small camera, with a little text pointing out that they will get a chance to get/buy great pictures, and should refrain from taking their own crappy ones.  There should also be some spots set up where tourists can take pictures of themselves with a decent view in the background.

    Another thing the staff can do to reduce instances of unauthorized photography is to offer visitors something to think about while they wait in line to move through the chapel.  A lot of pictures are taken because people don’t know what to do with their hands and their time.  If there are tidbits of info and small picture cards given out at different spots, fewer people will reach for the cameras.           

  • Anonymous

    Why not just change the order of the visit, so the chapel is visited before people have got used to taking photos?

     Also, if the room wasn’t so bright, that would help discourage people further (the terracotta warriors exhibition, when in London didn’t have people taking photos).

  • Julie Kurd

    I think so.  Check out the nudge in Bryant Park, NYC at 42nd and 6th about not feeding the pigeons, which provides a ‘why’ people shouldn’t feed the pigeons “Pigeons spread disease, destroy flower beds, leave leftovers for rats.  Please do not feed them”

    The other sign is about not smoking “Smell flowers Not smoke…and if you need help quitting smoking, dial…”.

  • Katie

    One of the travel books I read said that the company doing the restoration of the Sistine Chapel did so on the condition that photos not be allowed – I think they have exclusive media rights.

  • Annlpool

    Just returned from Rome. With tour of Vatican, and chapel. So disappointing after an excellent tour to be put in what can only be described as mayhem. Inappropriate dress ( after numerous lectures of what we couldn’t wear) flash photography, talking. Where was this referential atmosphere, respect. The guards just stood around with their arms folded.

  • HoldUp

    With cameras a tiny as they are, I simply got myself a pen cam, and took all the pics and videos I wanted when I was there. What they dont know wont hurt them.

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  • A K Nicholas

    I think the goal is to let as many people as possible go through.

  • Corinna Turner

    I believe that in order to afford the restoration of the Sistine Chapel they had to hand over the photographic rights to a Japanese company for a long period of time. So they simply aren’t allowed to let people take photos. When I was there people certainly weren’t quiet, it was like the Tower of Bable and I was very glad they’d removed the Blessed Sacrament. :(

  • Proud Chula Vistian

    Thank God for smartphones. You may not be able to whip out your huge camera, but just flip your camera and snap pics of the ceiling. What’s interesting is that you’re pretty much allowed to take a picture of anything in the US. Unless you’re super sketch police don’t have time to tell you to put your camera away

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