Instrument Photography Guide

black and white photo of man playing bass guitar

Whether you are photographing instruments in order to sell them or for artistic reasons, instrument photography can produce stunning results with the right technique. Here is a guide on how to take great instrument photos.

What Gear Do You Need?

A camera with interchangeable lenses, tripod, and remote control trigger; a macro lens or extension tubes; a lens cloth or blower brush for wiping off dust from your subject; light stands and their accompanying reflectors or small softboxes.

Camera

The best camera for photographing musical instruments will offer the best quality and versatility for your image needs. You can get a cheaper camera, but if it doesn’t have the features or options you need for photographing musical instruments, it will be hard to use.

If you don’t own any other camera equipment besides your smart phone, you can take pictures with that too. You just need to learn how to crop and edit images on a computer later.

What lenses to use?

The best lenses for musical instrument photography are a macro lens or extension tubes. These allow you to fill the frame with the instrument when you are shooting close-up. A 50mm prime lens is also popular because it offers a natural perspective that looks good especially at close distances. A wide angle zoom lens can also work well, but avoid wide angle lenses that have their widest aperture at less than f/2.8 or so.

A Tripod

A tripod will keep the camera steady for when longer exposures are needed, or a slower shutter speed for when shooting without flash in low light.

Lighting Equipment

You want those instruments to shine! A light box or softbox can be used to soften the harsh light from flash bulbs. You can also use a reflector or small soft box to increase the contrast in your image and fill the frame.

Avoid using a flash if you want to keep your subjects separate from each other without getting that harsh “flash on glass” bad look. An off camera flash is a more natural choice for illuminating instruments, especially when photos are being taken indoors.

Types Of Instrument Photography

There are three types of instrument photography: close-ups, distance views, and aerial perspective. A close up is a photo of the tip of an instrument, like a guitar neck or violin bow. Single string photos often look best when they are taken with a wide angle lens set to “fish eye” distortion to focus on one area while making everything else appear soft.

A distance view examines the entire instrument in its entirety. This can be achieved by either setting up a kit on a light stand or using a tripod and some other equipment, like extension tubes. An off camera flash is a great option for this type of shot.

Aerial perspective is the opposite of the close-up. It shows the instrument in its entirety from above in its natural environment, such as performing on stage with lighting instruments.

Popular Instrument Photography Subjects

If you are just starting out and are wondering the most popular instruments to photograph here is a great list to get you started.

Guitar, Violin, Cello, Banjo, Piano, Mandolin, Saxophone, Fretted Bass guitar sets or Acoustic Drum kits are good subjects to shoot. The most important thing is the quality of your equipment or have the proper settings to make your images look great.

Setting Up Your Shot

Look for a good background for your instrument photo. For example, if you are taking pictures of a violin, try photographing it on an empty stage to create an image that emphasizes its presence in the world. Find a nice neutral wall and place the instrument against it. If you want your photos to look great, use a tripod and make sure the camera isn’t tilting. The best light source is from the side, which is why you should shoot this type of instrument photography at an angle.

Lighting Equipment And Settings

Use a flash would be counterproductive because it can create shadows which ruin the symmetry of the instrument. For those indoor or low-light shots where your flash could be used, use an off camera flash on your camera’s hot shoe to keep the lighting separate from your subjects.

If you want to get creative, try taking a photo of the instrument in front of a plain white wall or background. This will provide contrast between the instruments and the background.

To create a special effect look for a reflective surface, such as a mirror. You can also shoot dry-ice with some fog make-up to give your shots an eerie look.

It really comes down to what emotion you want to portray, just don’t make it too busy and distract from the instrument.

Bottom Line

Camera brands, lenses, and even camera models can change the way your photographs look. What works for one artist can be a disaster for another. This article gives you a good starting point to get you started with setting your camera up for instrument photography. There are many other factors that affect the quality of an image such as aperture and shutter speed. Experiment with these settings to find the one that works best for you and comes closest to creating the image in your mind’s eye.