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violin photography, and where I've been


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Hi all. Sorry I've not been around much for the last couple of months. I'm still recovering from my move to Arizona, really. Almost all of my violin stuff is still packed up, and I've had no workspace at all. I'm currently putting together a workbench so I can finish my 2nd violin.

I hope to post more from now on, especially as I get my bench done, pull out the tools, and get back into the spirit of things.

My grandfather died a couple weeks ago, and I drove up to Utah for his funeral. I brought my 1st violin with me, as my brother has a Canon 20D digital camera, and I intended to experiment with violin photography. My brother had actually bought some studio lights a few months back. He wanted to buy some and asked me for suggestions. I had read Michael's nice article from Soundpost Online about photographing violins , and so I'd recommended to my brother pretty much the lighting setup Michael recommended.

So, the night before I drove back home, I set up my violin, four lights, and a piece of the white foam board that Michael recommends as a backdrop. I suspended my violin using dental floss and a piece of cardboard taped behind the instrument from the white board surface to hold it still. My violin spent a number of hours suspended about four feet from the carpet in my parents' living room by a couple strands of dental floss...

Anyhow, here's a small sample showing the kind of results I was able to get. The Canon 20D is a digital SLR camera, and it has 8 megapixels. My brother didn't know how to do most of what I wanted to do, so I figured it out. He has a pretty solid tripod, so I used it, a cable release, and I set the camera for mirror lockup. The lens was a Canon consumer lens with IS, I don't remember the exact range, I think it's like 35 to 135 or something like that. I generally shot using around 70 or so, for a 35mm equivelant focal length of 105-110. Sometimes the 35mm equivelent was more like 130mm or so.

These pictures don't do justice to the detail you can see in the full-size pics.

I'm really not satisfied at all with the way the colors look on screen. My violin isn't nearly as bright orange as these pictures make it seem. I am no Photoshop guru. I used the eye dropper in the Levels dialog to set the white balance to white on the posterboard and a dark spot on the ebony somewhere for the black, and then pushed the slider around for gray. More than that I just don't know how to do.

I'm willing to email original RAW files to anyone who can read them and wants to play around with tweaking the colors, or just seeing what kind of detail 8mp can show.

I'm sure the lighting can be criticized abundantly. It was my first time.

One last comment. These lights are hot. I wouldn't leave them on for more than a few minutes at a time. My instrument got very warm to the touch quite often. I had the lights set up pretty close to the instrument. How far away do you think they should be? In most cases all four lights were within 3 to 4 feet of the instrument.

Without further ado, here's the front of my first instrument.


Back side:


One of the side views (I took from both sides, here's one):


I forgot to take shots from the front of the scroll and the back of the scroll. I got shots only from the treble and bass sides. Bummer. Oh well, next time. Here's the bass side of the scroll.


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Thanks guys. It's almost embarassing to post those, because there are so many things to criticize, but hey, I accept that, and it is what it is. I was really interested in the technique of violin photography and trying to take really detailed pictures of a violin, and showing all the little problems with my violin is just part of the bargain. One of the most embarassing things is the wildly varying distance of the purflings to the edge. This was even when the instrument was finished, but the overhangs were huge. I made the choice later on to sacrifice even purfling distance to achieve a better overhang, and butchered the edges with a knife. It helped the instrument fit its case better.

By the way, it's been around 105 F here the last two or three days. On Saturday it was up to 108 F. And it's only May. Oh Joy. However, when I've got my 2nd violin done, I'm going to take advantage of all that sun when tanning the wood and drying the varnish. That will be cool.

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Nice job. Welcome back.

I'm having trouble visualizing the dental floss system...

Falstaff, my brother had a boom stand where the boom that stuck out to the side had a weight on one end to counterbalance whatever you mounted on the other end. I extended this out a bit and hung the instrument from that stand with the dental floss. While taking the belly and back shots, the dental floss was just one simple loop that hung around the scroll. When I did the side shot I tied a loop of dental floss around the endpin and one around (cringe) the strings up around the middle of the fingerboard, and just let it hang there. I didn't have the violin braced with a piece of cardboard on the side shots, so I always had to wait forever for the violin to stop moving. I also had to raise the ISO on the camera and open up the aperture a little from the f16 to f20 I had been using, because I needed high shutter speeds due to the violin swinging around very slowly. You really do need to brace it with something solid.

I'll post a couple pics showing how it was hung up there.

By the way, I also took most of a roll of slide film out of my own Nikon film camera, and when I get these slides back I will scan some in and compare them with the Canon digital camera shots I got. I'm really interested in seeing how they compare.

Here are a couple more pics which show how the violin was suspended for my photographing pleasure.


Note in the following why I cringed when I mentioned how I suspended the violin for the side shots. Yes, the violin's weight is supported by dental floss going through the strings.


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QUOTE: "One of the most embarassing things is the wildly varying distance of the purflings to the edge. This was even when the instrument was finished, but the overhangs were huge. I made the choice later on to sacrifice even purfling distance to achieve a better overhang, and butchered the edges with a knife."

Welcome back. You have shown some wear on the back therefore: it would only make sense to make those edges close to the purfling look a little stressed/worn.

If you have reasonable humidity inside your home, you might not want to just take your next instrument outside and leave it to tan. It will also tan inside the splits/cracks as it dries out

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Congrats on finishing the move. It took a while. I wish we could split the difference in temp. It was 42 deg F windy and raining here in your old NH stomping grounds this morning. I agree that the photos of your 1st do look a shade more orange/darker than you 1st fiddle is in real life. I wonder if a brightness adjustment would do the trick because the background still looks kinda dark.


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I commend you on your first violin.There are certainly some weak areas but in my estimation quite an accomplishment!I am about to get started on my first,---reading books,buying tools,etc.Give me about a year or so,I hope my first will look as good as yours.I'd be delighted! Best wishes


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Thank you for your posts and great photos of your violin. Welcome to Arizona. I have lived here in the Phoenix area for the past 25 years and will never leave this place. Just my opinion on keeping violins safe in this climate, but it works for me; I have 18 violins which I keep in a safe, and in that safe I keep an open bowl of water. I have to refill it often because it evaporates, but I have never had any of my instruments split or crack,the varnish never deteriates and they are always in excellent playable condition. This works for me very well. I never let the temprature get above 90 degrees in my house (unless the power fails) even when I am away for a month or so. I would look forward to meeting you in person and would enjoy drawing a bow across your first violin.

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