the photoshooter's journey from taking to making



Repose. 1/250 sec., f/3.5, ISO 125, 35mm prime lens. 


CERTAIN INANIMATE OBJECTS INTERACT WITH THE LIVING TO SUCH A LARGE DEGREE, that, to me, they retain a certain store of energy

Just horsehair and wood, but it has an elegance all its own.

Just horsehair and wood, but it has an elegance all its own.

even when standing alone. Things that act in the “co-creation” of events or art somehow radiate the echo of the persons who touched them.

Musical instruments, for my mind’s eye, fairly glow with this force, and, as such, are irresistable as still life subjects, since, literally, there is still life emanating from them.

Staging the object just outside the reach of full light, the picture sort of sculpted itself.

Staging the object just outside the reach of full light helped  the violin sort of sculpt itself. 1/800 sec., f/2.5, ISO 100, 35mm prime lens. 

A while back I learned that my wife had, for years, held onto a violin once used for the instruction of one of her children. I was eager to examine and photograph it, not because it represented any kind of technical challenge, but because there were so many choices of things to look at in its contours and details. There are many “sites” along various parts of a violin where creation surges forth, and I was eager to see what my choices would look like. Also, given the golden color of the wood, I knew that one of our house’s “super windows”, which admit midday light that is soft and diffused, would lend a warmth to the violin that flash or constant lighting could never do.

Everything in the shoot was done with an f/1.8 35mm prime lens, which is fast enough to illuminate details in mixed light and allows for selectively shallow depth of field where I felt it was useful. Therefore I could shoot in full window light, or, as in the image on the left, pull the violin partly into shadow to force attention on select details.

Although in the topmost image I indulged the regular urge to “tell a story” with a few arbitrary

The delight is in the details.

The delight is in the details.

props, I was eventually more satisfied with close-ups around the body of the violin itself, and, in one case, on the bow. Sometimes you get more by going for less.

One thing is certain: some objects can be captured in a single frame, while others kind of tumble over in your mind, inviting you to revisit, re-imagine, or more widely apprehend everything they have to give the camera. In the case of musical instruments, I find myself returning to the scene of the crime again and again.

They are singing their songs to me, and perhaps over time, I quiet my mind enough to hear them.

And perhaps learn them.

4 responses

  1. Oh, I could not agree with you more! All instruments have the breathe of life that the composer created, and the musician poured into the piece while performing, which still resonate, somehow, like a bell, still ringing, but barely audible, long after it has been struck. The violin is particularly sexy, sensual in it’s curves, f-holes and curled headstock. Combined with your”magic light window”, you have created some really special shots. I went to the local University last year, and asked if I could borrow instruments out of their library for photographing, (since I am an alumni), but they made it too difficult, as I could not take them out of the building. I just had to shoot the French Horn anyways, even though it was in the hallway, to capture all it’s curved tubing and many valves. Would love to see what you do with a French Horn! Am looking forward to more of your “Still breathing Still Lifes”, for lack of a better term, and doing some more of my own, as well.

    February 17, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    • Here in Phoenix, we have one of the most unique gallery concepts ever, our Musical Instrument Museum, the only facility of its kind in the world. The collection includes musical devices from every culture on the planet, and houses a world class performance space for visiting teachers and artists alike. Spend a little time with John Lennon’s white baby grand, on which he composed “Imagine”, or view the mixing console that Sam Phillips used to master Elvis’ first groundbreaking sessions. Best thing is, all of the exhibit instruments are near-at-hand and easily photographed by visitors. Thanks as always for your great support!

      February 19, 2013 at 4:33 PM


    Michael, These are beautiful photos of one of my favorite instruments. Your sense of the heartbeat contained therein is a reflection of the musician you are. I am reminded of the inordinate amount of time I spent just looking at and running my hands over my bassoon, investigating its many intricacies. I am certain that my performance was enhanced by my knowledge of the instrument I loved.

    February 17, 2013 at 6:22 PM

    • I was a pianist, but I was always awestruck at the complexity of expression that came from a violin. Even better, the best of them were masterpieces of elegant design…..a delight for the ear AND eye. This exercise was a lot of fun, and I truly appreciate your observations.

      February 19, 2013 at 4:28 PM

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