Photographing music and musical instruments is something that I have always found rather interesting, as you are often trying to portray the feeling and thought of the careful composure of an instrument and its sound. The piano is by far the most classical instrument, and likely the most famous, albeit likely tied with vocals or the guitar. Photographing the piano and music in general can be a lot of fun, but take your time and read these tips to figure out how to bring your piano photography to the next level.
The first thing to think about is whether you are going to be photographing a piano as a standalone subject or a piano in use. If you are going to be photographing a pianist playing, at an event or even alone, you’re going to have to treat the photography as portraiture more often than not. If, instead, you are photographing the piano as a standalone subject, it’s going to be more akin to a mixture of fine art and product photography, depending on your exact subject.
1. Take your time to learn the piano
Learn what the piano is, if the company that produced it has history, if the piano itself has history, and how you can incorporate that into your exposure. An older street piano might play amazingly well in the bright light with a crowd spaced around it, while a Steinway Grand might require a more elegant and elaborate display to showcase its prominence. Some pianos speak for themselves in crudeness and brutality, their age and use being their allure. Other pianos sparkle cleanly with care, and may be lost on those that don’t know what they’re looking at if they are not told.
Either way, you should learn a lot about pianos if you are going to be focusing on them as a piano photographer. It also would not hurt to learn the basics of playing, things like scales and chords, so that if you are photographing a subject that may not be a piano player, you don’t end up with images of someone that clearly is lost in what they are supposed to be doing, ruining the image to everyone that knows how to play a piano.
2. Lighting a piano for photos is hard! Use artificial lighting if you can
Pianos are incredibly glossy, with different reflective surfaces that will contrast incredibly well together. That means they photograph incredibly well, but can also be a pain to light. Using soft and large light sources with heavy diffusion can really make a piano lustrous, while some hard small light sources can create large concavos shadows that really play well with the instrument.
It will be a balancing act, but I recommend starting off with playing with the shadows cast. Try shooting the piano’s keys from a variety of angles, altering both the angle of the light and the angle of the shot between photos. Using a tripod for your camera will allow you minimal camera movement while you play with the lights, and of course light stands and heavy bags will do the same for your lighting equipment.
3. Move the piano
The most underrated piano photography tip: Some images of pianos look like the piano was just photographed as the subject because it was present. Moving the piano and making it more dominant of a scene is a fantastic way for you to rebalance a composition and really make the photo feel intentional. Intentional photos differ from snapshots and basic photos because they actually have a visual impact on the audience.
This can be simple, such as moving a piano into the center of a room, and spacing the furniture and other items in the room around it to really give it that push as the focal point of an image. This could be accomplished like it is in this image:
Something more complex may require you to take the piano out into the world. If you have the luxury of a piano on wheels that is easily mobile, and hopefully a team of strong people to help you, you can get away with a lot of interesting shots. Even simple shots in your garden, if you have one, can turn out amazing. Take this one for instance:
The piano photographer took the image in a garden and used different natural elements to contrast well with the piano. Using a wooden piano and a blue jacket on the model allowed them to contrast with nature without detracting from the natural environment or attacking it, and the foreground and background elements play well with the added foliage on top of the piano.
Featured Image: https://unsplash.com/photos/MlhJNEUQpBs