Guitar Art - The Difficulty of Photographing Guitars

Discussion in 'V.C.'s Parlor' started by duceditor, Apr 5, 2021.

  1. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert Gold Supporting Member

    Age:
    74
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    Like pretty woman a "pretty" guitar is wonderful to simply 'grab' in camera. But also like with a pretty woman revealing that beauty in a photograph is really not an easy thing. Yes, easier with some guitars than others, but never truly "easy."

    Fashion photography is itself a studied art. It requires the imager see not as a man but as a camera sees. In two dimensions, rather than three. Where every area, unless somehow called attention to in one way or another with photographic 'trickiness,' is seen as no more attention grabbing than another.

    We all know what that means when looking at a women. It can be her eyes, her smile, or another of her "attributes" that our eyes/minds sees - 0ften ignoring (or almost so) the rest of the frame, and maybe even the rest of she herself.

    Backgrounds? What background??? All we see is she. But not in a photo.

    Harsh or flattering lighting? The same.

    And all of that is as true for photographs guitars as it is for photographing a beautiful women. And that is why some guitar photographs do the guitar justice, and other simply do not. For we -- our eyes -- may not when viewing the guitar "live" see those "unimportant" things. But the camera does. And so do our eyes when see look at what the camera recorded. -Like it or not, we do.

    One could spend a lifetime learning to photograph lovely women so that their loveliness is really seen -- so the image really does them justice. And the same is true for guitars.

    I thought it'd be fun -- and for some of us interesting as well -- to discuss this subject. How can we make the photographs of our guitars really do them justice?

    I'll be happy to share what tricks I have learned over the years. Perhaps you will too? If so -- and if this subject interests you -- here's a thread devoted just to that!

    * * * * *

    Not every "pretty" guitar is equally easy or hard to make beautiful in a photo. And there are reasons for that, too.

    Of all of mine this one is by far the hardest.

    Any idea why?


    Supro White Holiday - Entire ALT.jpg


    -don
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2021
  2. Leo Jazzmaster

    Leo Jazzmaster Squier-Nut

    Age:
    45
    769
    May 14, 2020
    West Tennessee
    Maybe the Supro doesn't photograph well because of the white finish? Maybe the white reflects too much light? Did I win? Is that the answer? :p:cool::D

    I feel like my photos of my guitars suffer from bad lighting. Either too much or too little. The reflections of the room and myself in the shiny finish is distracting. A better camera could help me too; I use my camera on my phone.
     
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  3. Leo Jazzmaster

    Leo Jazzmaster Squier-Nut

    Age:
    45
    769
    May 14, 2020
    West Tennessee
    In my opinion, that is a beautiful guitar AND a beautiful picture of it; you must have worked hard to get that shot.
     
  4. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert Gold Supporting Member

    Age:
    74
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    You "won" on each and every observation.

    Yes, the glossy white. Which has to be bright -- to look "white" -- but not so white that the delicacy of its form is hidden -- its 3d sculpting.

    Now add to that the amount (and visual importance) of the chrome on this guitar. It, to look "chromey," has to have highlights that at least appear brighter yet than the white of the guitar's sculpted body, but still not be bland and colorless. (Chrome has a look that we recognize!) AND that chrome has to catch the light while not reflecting anything distracting. EEEK!

    To make the image more "fun" (as in challenging) I used a dark background surface that itself has shape and contour. -Itself easily 'lost' in an image.

    This, btw -- as with all the images I post here -- was done totally with natural ambient light. (I packed all my studio lighting away some twenty plus years ago when I closed my studio(s) and have never even 'unboxed' it!)

    So... the "tricks" to overcoming all this? Whatduya think friends? :)

    -don

    Note too - this was not done with fancy camera gear. The photo was taken, as are a great many of ours here, with just a mid-level smartphone camera.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2021
  5. BluesForDan

    BluesForDan Squier-Nut

    I was fortunate to learn a lot about guitar photography from working at a guitar store with a strong online presence. I watched how the guitars were positioned, how the pictures were framed in the viewer, angles, lighting. Further, I saw post-production work done on these pictures, which is where the vast majority of people fail hard.

    I can't emphasize this enough. Your toes should never, EVER be in the picture. If they are, toss the picture out and take a new one and don't stand directly over the guitar.

    And turn some lights on, open a shade, are these people fungi growing in the dark? I can't believe how many lousy pictures I see everywhere that are too freaking dark. I'm often suspicious they're trying to hide flaws.
     
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  6. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert Gold Supporting Member

    Age:
    74
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    You're right!!! Dammit! I had to do it all over again!!!


    With toes.jpg

    How'd ya know?


    ;)

    -nod
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2021
  7. Leo Jazzmaster

    Leo Jazzmaster Squier-Nut

    Age:
    45
    769
    May 14, 2020
    West Tennessee
    :D:D:D
     
  8. DrBeGood

    DrBeGood Dr. Squier

    Dec 9, 2014
    Sutton QC, CANADA
    Secondary reflective surface is key to getting anything out of dark areas but black.
     
  9. DrBeGood

    DrBeGood Dr. Squier

    Dec 9, 2014
    Sutton QC, CANADA
    I really like my studio concrete floor as a background. It is rich and neutral, so no conflict with what the guitar has to offer. I like minimalism, hence my love for P90's.

    a+.jpg

    c.jpg

    2020-02-05.jpg
     
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  10. BarnyardShark1979

    BarnyardShark1979 Squier-Meister

    Age:
    41
    428
    Jul 9, 2020
    Baltimore Maryland
    This thread gets deeper into it than I ever have. Personally, I'm happy if the photographer can just activate "auto focus" on their phone so their pics don't all look like this (aka like a third of the craigslist/fbm posts I see):
    [​IMG]
     
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  11. Hadronic Spin

    Hadronic Spin J Squier, Esquier Gold Supporting Member

    Age:
    56
    734
    Jan 27, 2021
    Los Angeles
    I will attempt to refrain from being too wordy, and just stick with what and how I shoot.

    The best camera I have is the one in my hands, whether it's a Canon 1Dx or a flip phone. Knowing the limitations of the camera in hand, informs me of how I need to compose. What I am always conscious about is lighting, where it's coming from and how to compose for it. Also, I am very sensitive to foreground and or background clutter. I don't want potatoes chips, shoes or any other non guitar related clutter in the frame.

    That said, composing a guitar as an "environmental portrait" with other guitar related items is a good way to compose. Like Don's Supro portrait in his opening post, is a very subtle environmental portrait. As I look into his photograph, I see a very elegant instrument carefully positioned on a sumptuous leather chair, most likey the chair he sits in while playing the Supro. There is no bag of Dorritos in the frame, nor is there a poster of Joe Strummer on the wall. Now, if there was a poster of a musician playing a Supro, I might incorporate that into the frame, but not overpower the subject.

    The following photograph I took today, I half heartily attempted to take an environmental portrait of my Squier headstock. I did not set anything up, move anything and I was shooting at a bad angle with out of frame hindrances. As I ran the photo through CS, I quickly determined how I could have made this shot a winner. Use my 22mm lens instead of the 28mm, allowing a wider field of view and a slightly deeper depth of field (but not too much depth of field) Angle the amp slightly to cut down on near blowout on the chrome, remove the watch, the Ampoon, the Caline and the clock. Rearrange the guitar picks, and the chord coming out of the amp.

    IMG_1468_LR.jpg

    I don't want to over saturate the frame with all sorts of guitar stuff, that would take away from the main aspect or subject of the photograph. The photo as a whole, if I shot it correctly, would simply relate to the viewer a guitar, with an amp and picks...nothing else.

    I'm a photographer, so this composition junk is always in the back of my head when I shoot. You don't need to have expensive gear and take all sorts of photography classes and all that. Just take the photo, try to keep the background distractions (Dorritos, toes) at bay. What is the most beautiful (either physical or sensory) thing about the guitar you want to take the picture of? Does it sound great? Try some photos of the pickups at different angles and lighting. Does it have a lovely flame maple neck? Try various angle shots of the neck. Is it a beater? Bring out that poster of Joe Strummer! Heck, I recently saw here on ST a fantastic yet simple photo of a guitar. An open guitar case that not only had lovely lining, but also showcased a very beautiful guitar. In the background were about half dozen vertical and closed guitar cases. As a viewer I am drawn to the lovely guitar in the open case, then my mind then goes to closed cases and what wonderful treasures are housed in them. Simple yet effective photograph.

    Remember, there is no wrong way, just take the pictures, try to stay in focus and have enough light. Be creative, experiment and enjoy the photography journey.

    Well, I got winded, anyway...

    IMG_1442-Edit_DxO_LR.jpg

    Regards

    J
     
  12. corn

    corn Squier-holic

    Feb 27, 2013
    San Diego
    Sometimes the best pics come by accident, other times no matter what you just can’t get a good one. I think my problem is I don’t really try to showcase it, I just snap a few pics and hope for the best. But I do notice toes
     
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  13. DougMen

    DougMen Dr. Squier

    Age:
    67
    Jun 8, 2017
    Honolulu, HI
    I have trouble with the gloss finish on guitars reflecting the flash
     
  14. DrBeGood

    DrBeGood Dr. Squier

    Dec 9, 2014
    Sutton QC, CANADA
    I never use a flash.
     
  15. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert Gold Supporting Member

    Age:
    74
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    Flash has its own look. I, myself, rarely use it. Studio “flash” I used to use regularly. But that was with scrims and umbrellas. Plus the units had always on lights that, while not equal to the flash output, were equal relative to the flash and one-another. Thus I could see reflections, hot spots, flattening (or, more desirable, contour) as it would appear.

    On camera flash flattens. -Fine if you want a paparazzi look, but such it WILL be. And it is rarely flattering.

    The key thing is realizing that light is not incidental to a photograph. It IS what you are “photographing.” It is the subject - here a guitar - that is in a sense incidental.

    The camera does not "see" a guitar. It sees and records light. Thus YOU must see the guitar in how it reflects (literally!) that light.

    * * * * *

    On another subject... can one learn photography via schools; via courses?

    IMO, yes. If you view the school or course(s) as a source of information that you will absorb and make your own.

    The problem there -- and, thus, the reason that many will say "no" -- is that people have come to view schooling as something in and of itself. -Either the experience or the imprimatur that comes with having been there.

    When, about a zillion years ago, I looked into "schooling" (in my community going to college and having a "career" was simply expected) and decided on studying "art" (My original focus was in advertising) I approached it a bit differently than most seemed to. -I didn't ask "guidance counselors" and the like, and I didn't go and look at campuses -- instead I asked people who had positions at successful advertising agencies from where they saw the finest portfolios from people applying for positions.

    And when, after choosing, I was at 'school' (The NY School of Visual Arts) I discovered that few students were actually there to absorb information and skills. Including many who had very real talent. And the same was true after I switched my focus to film studies. Most everyone was there for something other than absorbing information and learning how to effectively apply it.

    And so it can be -- or not be -- with various courses in photo imaging -- or even from a thread such as this. It can be a source of fascinating and useful knowledge, or just a 'chat' on a subject that we "wish" we could do better.

    This, BTW, was not all that different from the way most guitarists and other musicians viewed playing in a band, at least in my day. It was a lark. Or if more, a means to another end, be it getting girls, getting high or doing "something" to justify not getting on with developing a life or what could become a true career. And those who 'made it' were seen to be either exceptionally talented or just lucky. (Neither of which was often true)

    Back to subject -- luck has nothing to do with getting consistently good photos of our guitars. Doing so depends first on our getting knowledge and understanding and then through use learning to apply such to the project at hand. And that is why I started this thread -- so those of us with such knowledge can pass it on to anyone who is interested in getting better guitar pix.

    To me developing such skills is fun. Be it here, or about any other subject that interests me enough to pursue it.

    -don
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2021
  16. DougMen

    DougMen Dr. Squier

    Age:
    67
    Jun 8, 2017
    Honolulu, HI
    I only use flash at night, but my little apt. is so poorly lit that sometimes I need it even in the daytime.
     
  17. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert Gold Supporting Member

    Age:
    74
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    If it is a free standing flash -- not just one built into the camera -- there are several ways to improve the likelihood of a good outcome.

    One is to simply place a white handkerchief in front of it. -- preferably few inches away from the flash unit. This emulates what in a studio is called a "scrim." -It spreads the source of the light from a small point to a broad one. Thus less hot spots, less flattening and far gentler shadow lines.

    The 2nd is to bounce the flash's light off another surface instead of facing it towards the guitar itself. The ceiling. A wall. Really anything that is color neutral. This will often give the look of natural light.

    -don
     
  18. DougMen

    DougMen Dr. Squier

    Age:
    67
    Jun 8, 2017
    Honolulu, HI
    I'm not wealthy like you Don. I can't afford a DSLR or mirrorless system. I have a small inexpensive Nikon compact digital camera.
     
  19. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert Gold Supporting Member

    Age:
    74
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    Some of the greatest photography has been done with simple equipment.

    Among my own favorite imagers are Henry Cartier-Bresson and W. Eugene Smith. Neither depended upon fancy equipment. But they came to understand the contents of their images, and how to consistently achieve what they were looking to create.

    My own work in developing imaging techniques for the scientific/medical community did require some 'fancy' gear (which I loved being able to justify putting in the budget!). ;) But now most everything I shoot is done with a simple iPhone, and a common desktop computer with inexpensive, everyday, photo software (such as Affinity). Thus I'd argue that being wealthy has little to do with image creation. That, for those that have it to enjoy, just makes things easier. What is needed, though -- and this equally for the well to do and the rest of us -- is some basic knowledge, developed skill sets, and imagination.

    That is never a popular thing to say. (That because it puts the onus on us.) But if creative productivity is the goal the truth of it can be a door into a far larger world.

    If you have a window you have light. The image with which I started this thread, and, indeed, every other one I have posted to this forum, have been done using that light source. A window or direct sun exposure available to all outdoors.

    That and a simple camera.

    As with guitars, it is not the cost of the gear, but the mind, the skills, and the passion of the player.

    -don
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2021
  20. Leo Jazzmaster

    Leo Jazzmaster Squier-Nut

    Age:
    45
    769
    May 14, 2020
    West Tennessee
    English teacher here, so no worries about "wordiness!" You said so much in a few paragraphs. I learn so much from reading these threads. This discussion reminds me of a film class I took in college. The professor (and the textbook) said that filmaking is "composing in light." That really stuck with me.