Photographing your instrument

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    Violin makers, dealers and connoisseurs can tell a lot by examining a photograph of an instrument. But to do so they really need to get a good, clear look at it… so it is important to take specific views of the instrument, and to take them in a certain way. It’s a good idea to have some reference photos of your instrument in case it is lost or stolen, and if you follow a few simple guidelines you can usually get very adequate results.

    NB For the following discussion I will assume that you will be using a digital camera.

    1. Most importantly, all photographs should be taken square on. It’s very tempting to take artistic shots to show the sweeping curves and flowing lines… and while that might win you first prize in a photographic competition, it’s fairly useless for identification purposes. Here’s a photograph from eBay that is a typical example of a photo that tells us very little.

    Fortunately a violin, viola or cello provides a very easy way of lining things up – the front and back corners. For example, if you are taking a photo of the front just make sure you can see roughly equal amounts of the back corners peeping out from behind, like this…

    Similarly in scroll shots take them as squarely as possible (ie minimise the side surfaces showing). Here are the two most useful views of a scroll…

    2. Make use of the best resolution of your camera. This means setting your camera to take pictures at the highest resolution possible (ie the biggest files) and filling the picture with the image. Don’t waste your resolution by including the neck – just photograph the front and the back of the body, and then do the scroll separately.

    Compare the amount of detail you can see in these two shots of the same violin.

    3. It’s a good idea to use a pale, monochrome background. I use a sheet of ‘fome-core’ (obtainable from art shops for around $10), but a bed-sheet or large piece of white paper will work just as well.

    4. To support a violin or viola while you take the photograph you can just rest it vertically on a wide mouth glass or jar, BUT please also include a safety measure by attaching a loop of string around the scroll and fixing it to some solid point above, just in case the instrument topples.

    Turn off the flash on your camera and use direct lighting. Desk lamps are fine and can be moved around to make sure that you have minimised the reflections. You will find you need at least two lights and they will have to be angled from above or below. If you can get four lights then you will have even more options.

    If you are more experienced and want to get accurate colours you can also set the white balance on the camera, but this is not essential. To set the white balance shine all the lights you will be using onto a white background and follow the instructions for your camera.

    6. Because you are not using flash you will need to use a tripod or some other means to support the camera. You could also use a remote shutter release to avoid any camera shake when taking the picture, but another good alternative is to just make use of the self-timer that almost every digital camera has as an in-built function. Set the delay, click the shutter… then stand back (and stand still!) and wait.

    Below is a picture that I took many years ago with only a compact camera (4 megapixels) and a couple of desk lamps. I used an old roller blind for the background and you can still see the glass that the violin is resting on. There was a small amount of reflection which is acceptable, but you should try to avoid having too much.

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