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Five: Photographing Details

One thing that really helps to create a truer representation of an instrument is to create a series of complimentary photographs. Most of the time, you can't squeeze everything you want to show about a bass into one photograph. I find myself doing this all the time - I'll be taking a photograph over and over again, trying to show the curve of the top, plus the grain of the wood, plus a closeup of the mint hardware, etc etc etc - all in one "perfect" shot. It's like trying to describe your personality with one perfect word - forget it!

Taking pictures of details basically follow all the same principles as shooting the more general views. For instance, the on-camera flash doesn't work so well with the whole body, and it usually works even worse for details. And just like the bunny examples we went over earlier, taking pictures from straight on rarely gives good results. When you're trying to take a picture of something "small", you should still try to use perspectives and angles that help the viewer easily understand the subject's shape and form. For example, I think part of the Sukop's throaty and earthy sound comes from the unfinished wenge fingerboard. Let's say I wanted to get a close up detail of this:

Taken from the front like this, the viewer would probably feel like you're pressing her or his face up to the bass (that's not nice). The picture is certainly a close-up, but oddly enough, the wenge in the picture doesn't really look like wenge as I'm looking at the bass in real life. In real life, the wenge has pronounced grain (which does show in the above picture), but the overall feel is actually smooth and waxy. Moving slightly off to one side and and shooting in the direction of some reflected light gives the right effect (below):

This is picture looks more closely like how the wenge feels, which is what we want from a descriptive photograph. Backing off a bit from the bass also gives a the viewer both a bit more "breathing room", as well as a little more "visual context" - now you can see the "where the fingerboard is" in relation to other parts of the bass.

Sometimes, taking the time to make very small adjustments to the bass before taking the picture can help improve the photograph. Some people may not notice, but then again, others will. For example, what's the difference between these two photos?


For one thing, in the left photo, the black tuners are "getting lost" against the black background (it's the white rabbit in a snowstorm effect). They aren't invisible, but giving some of them a bit of a turn makes them stand out better without having to change the color of the background (right photo). They still look like black hardware (the three in the back show this), but capturing the reflected light bouncing off their surface makes everything clearer. Treat each tuner as if it were like a single flower in a larger arrangement - positioning each one individually affects the whole, right?

The second difference is probably harder to notice - if you look at the picture on the right, you might notice that the neck of the bass has been "propped up" by the bar of soap (both these photographs were taken with the bass lying flat on my bed, and then rotated 90° clockwise for viewing afterwards). What this does is it keeps the bass from looking like it is "backed up against a wall" - it gives it a bit of visual breathing room. Think of pictures you've seen of fashion models in magazines or portraits of people - you never see them backed into a corner right? The psychological implications of this are interesting, and stragely enough, it seems applies to "portraits" of inanimate objects too. Anyway, if I had used my pillow rather than the bar of soap, the neck would have been even farther off the bed/background, and I think that would have made the photograph better. Oh well, next time.

Here's another "detail shot" of the headstock - this time from the front. It's not bad, but it could be improved:

Moving over to one side and taking the picture from a slight angle removes the glare and renders the Sukop logo more visible (it's a centaur with a bow and arrow). Shooting from off to the side also gives a better view of the brass nut and gives a clearer idea of the the bass's construction - from here you can see that the burled wood is a very thin veneer, and this, in combination with the above rear-view, lets you know exactly how the neck and headstock was constructed. This probably isn't a big deal to some people, but there's always someone out there that's interested in this sort of thing! Finally, moving the bass to a different background solves the problem of the disappearing black tuners once and for all - someone should have thought of this earlier!

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