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Violin Photography


DarylG
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I want to take some quality photos of my violins and have recently purchased a digital camera (sony F717) and am now looking for lights. Are there any advantages to using Lowel Tota Lights verses Smith&Victor Floodlights? Can Home Depot halogen worklamps be used as a cheap alternative? What about umbrella’s or other diffusion equipment when shooting violins? I've read Michael's article, Stewart Pollens article, and the Tarisio article.

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You want to use a wide light source with a central bright spot, to minimize sharp shadows, but not a broad soft one (umbrellas, for instance), which wipes out detail. I've used a lot of sources, including quartz lights different strobe setups and some other special stuff, but found standard photo bulbs in 12" reflectors to give the best light quality. Fortunately, they're also the cheapest solution (next to the Home Depot lights you're thinking of). The only thing I know that works better costs something like $6000 per 16" head, and a specialized power source--that's also a hot light, not a strobe. Two Smith-Victor reflectors, stands (six feet is more than enough), and bulbs might set you back $80 or so. Umbrellas, of all the things I've used, were the absolute worst. I've gone through phases, but now that I'm able to use Photoshop to even out lighting, I much prefer only two lights.

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Here's Michael's Soundpost article. In the article he mentions four lights, with two shining down onto the intstrument and two shining up from below to kill the shadows caused by the two shining down. It's a good read. I'm interested in doing some photography on my violins as soon as things quiet down somewhat (we're planning on moving again, this time to Arizona), and I'm going to read and re-read Michael's article again before I do. I'll probably use some slide film and a roll of print film too. I have a slide/film scanner so I'm looking forward to see how this goes.
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Two lights total? I wouldn't have thought about using umbrella's either until I saw the Tarisio article which shows this:

setup_top.jpg

One thing that I like about the tarisio auction photos is the lack of hard shallows on the tops/scrolls and the lack of glare on the fingerboard, which I was assuming was from the umbrella's. If they are still photographing violins according to the article that is. Tarisio shot:

m6835t.jpg

This was my best attempt from a few years ago with a Nikon 995 and Tota lights, but I want to improve alot on this.

topmed.jpg

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There's an aesthetic conflict here that I often get into with non photographers--shadows vs detail. Non-photogs view shadows as defects to be dealt with, but not photographers, who prefer clarity and detail. I once showed a B&F calendar to a visiting professional photographer. It had five photos with hard lights, and one with umbrellas. When he got to that one he said "this is awful--what happened?" That was Bob Bein's favorite shot in the calendar. Umbrellas are particularly unkind to curly wood, and four of them is fatal.

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Daryl, what focal length lens did you take your violin pic with? Am I correct in thinking it was something fairly short? It just seems the perspective is that of a camera a bit closer to the violin; I think it's the impression given by the bridge and strings, plus the corners. Have you noticed that the relationship of your back corners with your front corners is a lot different than the Tarisio pic? Yeah, I'm thinking you used a pretty short lens and took it fairly close.

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I think the Tarisio shots are great, really. To me they look flat--sort of ironed out and pasty--they don't look like objects, they look like images, with all the shape and texture removed. That's just a taste thing, though.

I've seen violin shots where you felt you were looking at a hole in the paper, and the violin was hanging there behind it--you could reach in and pull it out.

Go to http://www.bright.net/~hhelser/sheila.html and look at the violins, the Fulton collection. It's a pity the photos are so small. He owns the violins, and he photographs them. Larger, they're the best violin photos I've ever seen. Notice how he doesn't worry about shadows, and there's incredible detail---things like nicks and grainlines and wood rays in the back that get lost with softer light. Too bad they're so small there.

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Daryl, I think your shot looks great. Seeing these pictures brings back a lot of fond memories. There was a time in my life that one or more of my cameras was with me everywhere I went. There is just so much in life to see and it's like I'd just love to put a frame around it all and take it home and hang it on my wall to enjoy again and again.

Although I do very little these days - most of that is digital - I still have a fairly nice olympus and and an old minolta. I even think I have one of my really good lights left. I don't know if some people realize how hot those things actually get.

Hey, good luck with your photographic adventure!

Tim

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"Two Smith-Victor reflectors, stands (six feet is more than enough), and bulbs might set you back $80 or so."

I envy the low prices of things in the US compared to here, the best prices I've obtained so far are:

500w globes - $30 ea

Head & 12" reflector - $169 ea

6' stand - $75 ea

Totalling $548 for two sets.

I may try a couple of quartz halogen workshop lights for starters, anything would be better than using my digital camera which only seems to give reasonable photos in bright sunlight.

I have a 40yo Minolta SRT101 35mm camera that's been sitting on a workshop shelf for 20 years, that was starting to over expose on all shots and see if the apparent shutter fault still exists, (as it also has a nice array of lenses that go with it.)

Otherwise one of my sons has a nice Nikon F65 I can borrow.

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The white background is just a standard. I think the real reason for it is that it's hard to suspend the violin and not make shadows on any other color, plus it's hard enough to light the violin evenly--doing the same with the background would just be too hard. Black backgrounds would be OK, but they cause printing problems. Bows are easier to do on something like grey.

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