The Anatomy of a Background

0067106d In the studio, with a very limited access to backdrops and props, it can be difficult to enliven the more creative shots of objects. We are well set up now for standard record images against a neutral grey background and it is easy when you need to close in on the details of objects, however, these can start to look a bit ‘samey’ when you have lots of images to do for a project. This is the position I found myself in recently when working on the MIMED collection of musical instruments (see http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/s4mynr). Thankfully, at the University we are blessed with some stunning locations to use instead, but with both of the obvious choices – St Cecilia’s Music Hall and the Reid Concert Hall – off limits for redevelopment, an alternative location required a bit of forethought and planning. Our colleagues at the Anatomy School very kindly agreed to let us use their beautiful Rowand Anderson designed building which provided sympathetic architectural details to arrange the instruments against and Malcolm and I decamped from the studio for 2 days to continue with the project.

Shooting on location like this requires a lot of planning: liaising with the curators and conservation team about which instruments can go and how they should be handled; packing the instruments into crates and delivering them to the location safely (not to mention transporting all the studio lights and camera kit- we certainly didn’t travel light!); arranging with colleagues at the site where and what could be photographed; assessing the challenges of mixed lighting, limited power points, shooting in a busy working environment for both staff and students and- in this case- working between two giant elephant skeletons! Once we were ready to shoot, we then had to carefully arrange the instruments, providing hidden support and cushioning to prevent any damage to the originals. Occasionally, this proved impossible to hide entirely, requiring some post production editing of the images to remove fishing lines, felt pads and foam supports.

Malcolm has put together a short time-lapse of us shooting a Lute. The music in it comes from the recent Stuart Sound concert, performed by Rob MacKillop playing the c1620 ‘Buchenberg’ lute from the University’s musical instrument collection – we felt it gave the time-lapse a far classier nod to Benny Hill!

The following are a selection of the images captured, I hope you enjoy the results.

Susan Pettigrew, Photographer

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