Flashy Guitars

1952 Telecaster Reissue
The '52 - © Copyright 2011 by William Beem

Lighting the '52 Tele

Sometimes worlds need to collide. I decided to throw my photography and music together for a moment. It started off with the shot above. I wanted to go with a very low-key look to accentuate the form of my '52 Telecaster (reissue, not original). It was also a good excuse to break out my flash gear again and force myself to deal with their archaic and nonsensical user interface.

The setup was pretty simple. I used a roll of black paper for my backdrop and hung it on the wall with gaffer tape, and then pushed a table to serve as the platform. To hold the guitar up, I used my Quik Lok guitar stand. However, I didn't want the guitar stand itself in the shot. That gave me two problems.

The first was to stand the guitar on its bottom edge and lean it slightly back on the stand. I framed my shot and watched as my guitar immediately started to fall. Try to imagine the panic in my mind as I try to catch my guitar without dropping my camera. Fortunately, I didn't damage either one. I put a couple of Photoshop World workbooks behind the Quik Lok stand to keep it from sliding and I had a solid base.

The next problem was easier to solve. The Quik Lok stand was catching some of the light from the flash and showed up behind the guitar. I have a piece of black posterboard which fit nicely in the stand and blocked it from view.

I've heard Joe McNally say that lighting is a game of inches, and he's right. It took a few shots to get my SB-800 and SB-600 flashes hitting just the right spots to illuminate the edges of the Telecaster. Raise it up an inch or two, move it back or forward an inch or two. Feather the light, angle the light, etc. Slight moves and adjustments, that's all.

Once I had the shot I wanted, it seemed a waste to not use the setup for a few more shots.

Les Paul

Natural Blonde Les Paul Guitar
Les Paul - © Copyright 2011 by William Beem

The Takamine

Each guitar presented its own unique problems and opportunities. Since the shapes were slightly different, I needed to adjust the the angle of light. Some guitar surfaces were more reflective than others. Their surface textures were also different, so I made lighting choices depending upon how I wanted to present each guitar. Basically, one size does not fit all.

Takamine Acoustic Guitar
Takamine - © Copyright 2011 by William Beem

The Strat

My favorite guitar – the one that just feels best in my hands – was the biggest challenge. That's a nice way of saying it was a pain in the ass. You see, my Stratocaster is black with a white pickguard. It has the most reflective surface of all my guitars. Unlike most of the other guitars, it doesn't have a nice border or edge to catch the light for a silhouette shot. Actually, neither did the Tele, but it's butterscotch, not black. In other words, lighting the Tele would show some color. You know what you get when you light black?  Black.

The white pick guard presented its own problem. It was more than happy to reflect light. In fact, it reflected too much light. It took a light of nudging to get it where I wanted. Instead of playing with a game of inches, it became a game of millimeters to get a low-key shot that showed the form, but yet kept something hidden.

Black & White Fender Stratocaster Guitar
The Strat - © Copyright 2011 by William Beem

At the end of the day, I still love this guitar.  Even if it is a pain in the ass to light.



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